The best thing about covering shows is seeing bands that you love. Now this may seem self-explanatory, but what I really mean is seeing how they perform. Will they bring the passion and fire that made you love their music in the first place, or will they be a product of studio overproduction? Unfortunately, you can never tell and that’s why you go, to find out. With that in mind I headed over to the Arroyo Secco Weekend Music and Arts Festival to check out Alabama Shakes, one of the bands that I’d been hoping to see for a long time now. I was a bit apprehensive though, because I never want to be letdown by a band that I’m really into. In truth however, I seriously doubted that someone who seemed to put so much of her soul into her music would suddenly come up short live. Thankfully, my apprehension was completely unfounded…they were unbelievable! Right from the beginning, lead singer Brittany Howard was wailing away and literally working up a lather. The band was equally on point from keyboards to back-up singers; especially on kick drum, where it badoomed so menacingly Jon Bonham would have been proud. However, the star of the show was Howard, whose voice was equal parts uplifting and harrowing. She’s a lethal cocktail of Aretha Franklin’s sweet smoothness, Mahalia Jackon’s spiritual bellowing, with the jolt of a Joe Frazier left hook mixed in. It was powerful and poetic.
Outwardly, her voice and emotions seemed raw and wild, but she was in complete control, like a Formula 1 racer in charge of one of the most powerful engines in the world; knowing how to navigate every winding curve and the very moment to shift into high gear. That command was on full display on songs like “You Ain’t Alone” and “Miss You” where she belted “I’m Yours” and pounded her chest so ferociously you swore she was reliving some past moment of her life. And that’s what made the experience so special, it was about her, not us. Not once did it seem as if she was playing to the crowd. She was doing it for herself, as some form of catharsis, not as a performance. She was singing because she had to; we were just allowed to witness. When she finally did address the crowd, she was humble, almost shy, as if she felt like the outsider…how we wish we could have been insiders into her world!
In the end, all I could do was just stand there, mouth agape, like some school girl mesmerized over a teenage heartthrob, heart pounding, wishing to be nowhere else in the world but there. How could I not? It was Alabama Shakes…it was Britney Howard! I don’t necessarily believe in a god but I do believe this, if there is one, he put her on this earth to sing!