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Alabama Shakes review from TGE 2015

Very few can rival the energy, spirit and wholeheartedness of Brittany Howard. Alabama Shakes is a band of hugely talented musicians, but the soulful singer remains the only member so strongly associated with it. She’s the living, shouting, hurting, bleeding, truly fascinating person that’s driving the quartet to greatness. And boy, it can’t be any other way.

Two years since their acclaimed debut record transformed them into a worldwide blues sensation, the band triumphantly returned to perform as headliners at The Great Escape. It feels surreal that Brittany, Zac, Heath and Steve played in front of a modest crowd at Komedia in 2012 yet that’s exactly what TGE is all about – showcasing new talent, sieving the quality from the quantity and making dreams come true.

And while it’s all gone well for Alabama Shakes, there was one more band at the Dome who deserved our collective applause – Irish quartet The Strypes. Known to the avid music fans, the boys, all aged around 20, were transfixing. With tunes inspired from of the 60s and 70s, they could very soon give Arctic Monkeys a good run for their money. Vocalist Ross Farrelly could be Jake Bugg’s evil rock’n’roll twin, who also posses the kind of swagger that’s made Alex Turner a present-day icon. But it’s what the four of them do together that sparks magic – and the accent here has to fall upon the fantastic guitar playing and drumming which we never got tired of. Or maybe only a little. The band’s live gigs could benefit more if they throw in a couple of slower songs to alternate the tempo.

That wasn’t an issue with the headliners. In ‘Sound & Color’, their sophomore effort, Alabama Shakes have masterfully shifted the traditional gritty sound of ‘Boys and Girls’ into more subdued tunes. Still, Brittany Howard isn’t one to keep it low-key. Having taken centre-stage with the rest strumming and drumming beside her, the energetic vocalist was at the heart of it all. ‘They’ve been asking me so I’m gonna say it for the record. This is a song about unconditional love,’ she explained before delivering an emotional rendition of ‘Over My Head’. The tempo soon jumped a few octaves for songs like ‘The Greatest’ and ‘Be Mine’. The raw energy of the first album would burst into the melancholy of the second for a bitter-sweet, incredibly soulful and, yes, uplifting and inspiring performance.

But the Americans were not total crowd-pleasers. It seems like the band have vowed not to play their hit song on tour – that’s right, ‘Hold On’ was omitted at The Great Escape, just like the band have skipped it in their previous shows promoting ‘Sound & Color’. Perhaps the quartet is trying hard not to fall into the ‘Creep’ pit? Regardless of this, the Dome concert was Alabama Shakes’ worthy return to The Great Escape; they spared nothing and, true to themselves, wore their hearts on their sleeves.

By Teodora Lyubomirova
Image credit: Mike Burnell

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