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Monday, March 12, 2012

Alabama Shakes w/ Herman Astro @ The Pabst Theater

March 10, 2012

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It's often said that everyone loves a good underdog story. Alabama Shakes appear to be living out one of them. Thanks to a heavy dose of word of mouth, the band have been on a fast rise, even though they haven't even released an album yet (their debut comes out April 10). That sudden attention made their intended lower-level Pabst Theater show into a sold-out, full-theater concert, a feat not many new bands can claim. Some might think Alabama Shakes are a flash in the pan, but sometimes talent wins out over experience.

Although all fairly young, the four members of Alabama Shakes can play a tune with an emotional stamina that rivals many veterans. With roots in Athens, Alabama—they grew up around the rich music of Muscle Shoals—their take on soul 'n' rock and roll takes cues from past traditions but feels so genuine that it never feels like a retread. With Hammond organ flourishes mingling with bass, guitar and an always soulful drum beat, Alabama Shakes stormed into each song of their almost hour-long set, quickly winning over the crowd.


At the forefront of this barrage of conviction is lead singer Brittany Howard. With a soulfully sweeping voice that can turn into an emotional howl in a heartbeat, Howard's honest, unfiltered lyrics left the audience hanging on every word. When she sings "Hold On," her emotional gestures and words leave little doubt that she means it. Sometimes as the songs progressed the emotion boiled over in her voice as they hit commanding finishes. "Boys and Girls," the title track from the band's upcoming album, shares a common theme with the rest of the group's songs, a restless desire to stay true to relationships and love regardless of what others think or circumstances. In "You Ain't Alone" Howard beautifully and reassuringly sung "I'm your ticket home." The band encored with rollicking rendition of "Heavy Chevy," a B-side from the album.

Milwaukee's Herman Astro, who opened the show, have enjoyed their own surge of popularity in the last few months. Performing in front of their biggest crowd so far, the band took full advantage with a lively and energetic set full of mouthwatering grooves that drew from soul, blues, Latin and rock sounds. Hopefully neither band will forget the honest, underdog approach that got them here.

Photo by CJ Foeckler