Friday Night: Alabama Shakes at Continental Club
Alabama Shakes doesn't like the "retro soul" label that often is attached to their brand of music. But, if their raucous set at Continental Club on Friday night is any indication, they should embrace it because they certainly owned it.
Photos by Jeff Balke
"Y'all gon' be alright," singer Brittany Howard told the packed midtown crowd about halfway through a rather abbreviated set of short, powerful songs. Her world-weary howl owes as much to Janis Joplin as it does to Otis Redding, but before seeing the Shakes, I was skeptical that Howard and her young band could live up to all the underground hype surrounding them. By the time the set was over, I was convinced.
While they may be young, Alabama Shakes has a backbeat that is beyond their years. Hailing from Athens, Alabama, less than 50 miles from where Redding, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett turned out some of the most beautifully nasty and memorable songs of all time, the members of the Shakes seem to have that deep, gritty funk encoded into their DNA.
Much like the music of Stax, the Shakes' set was crammed full of brief songs that held down a thick groove for the transcendant Howard, who roared through the night delivering a "remember when" performance as in, "Remember when we saw her in that club with like 100 people?"
As great as Howard may be, her band of college age suburbanite-looking white kids laid down a foundation worthy of the old-school comparisons.
Co-founders Heath Fogg (guitar) and Zac Cockrell (bass) along with Steve Johnson (drums) and a keyboardist only identified by Howard as "Styrofoam Jones" obviously did their homework -- hell, Cockrell looked like a cross between Stax bassist Duck Dunn (sans pipe) and Zack Galifianakis -- but there was a rock and roll energy to their playing reminiscent of the punk they grew up on -- think Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears minus the horn section and with a dash of emo angst.