Alabama Shakes at Sydney’s Metro

alabama shakes

Call them whatever you will, soul-revival, rock-revival, gospel; Alabama Shakes are a band living up to the hype and their name, shaking up crowds wherever they’ve landed over the last 18 months.

The band has risen from humble beginnings playing four-hour cover sets in local pubs in their hometown of Athens, Alabama to the soaring heights of festivals like Bonnoroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. They’ve received three grammy nominations this year amongst countless other accolades, but the four-piece have remained grounded, producing solid, classic songs that are reminiscent of days of old, drawing comparisons to many greats and contributing to the famed music of Muscle Shoals.

Heading up to their sold-out Sydney gig was a mixed crowd of oldies and youngies amped up and ready for a good time. The support act Bob Log III was on the stage when we arrived, in all his bizarre glory. Wearing a cannonball suit and helmut with a built-in microphone, slide guitar in hand and beating the drums with his feet, the one-man band was a picture of all kinds of weird. We never actually caught a glimpse of his face, but he was going hell-for-leather the entire set. Somewhat resembling a man-sized praying mantis, arms and legs all over the place, he proceeded to bang out some pretty cool tunes in a dirty bluegrass-style which was amazing considering you couldn’t understand a word he was singing.

As Alabama Shakes took to the stage, the air got thick with excitement. You could feel the soul oozing from lead singer Brittany Howard, as she careened around the stage howling and swooning, guitar in hand. She’s been compared to the likes of Otis Reading, Billie Holiday and especially Janis Joplin. It’s not hard to see why, with the way she growled into the microphone, danced jerkily across the stage and even sharing distinctly Joplin-esque mannerisms; she commanded the attention of everyone in the room in a dynamic push-pull effect that was exciting and dramatic. If you could take your eyes off Brittany you could hear the rest of the massively talented band propping her up, consisting of guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, drummer Steve Johnson and touring member Ben Tanner on piano, organ and backing vocals. They insist that it’s not just “the Brittany show” and proved it, creating a well-rounded, tight sound that lived up to their many rave reviews.

Highlights included Hang Loose from their brilliant 2012 album Boys & Girls which got everyone dancing and crowd favourite Hold On which was explosive. The atmosphere was electrically charged and the “whoops” and “yeeows” dotted throughout the set coming from the crowd only seemed to make Howard more excited. You could tell she wasn’t lying when she stated, in her thick, Southern drawl, that she “always has a good time”. Alabama Shakes packed a punch and were a refreshing taste of old school blues, injecting some much needed soul into the masses.

kate holcombe


Review by Kate Holcombe