“This is our first show in town ever ever ever,” says Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard. “It's the other side of the world y'know?” she continues, almost to herself.
It’s hard to separate the band from their long line of influences, in particular singer and guitarist Howard. While they allow the boisterous audience in a sold out Forum the appeal of connecting with them as an amalgam of familiar rock tropes, it also means the band struggle to be more than that. For a group few people in the room had heard of a year ago, they can’t be blamed for being a little overwhelmed, or for leaning heavily on the past.
The less said about Bob Log III’s gig-as-gimmick support slot the better. While a sparkly jumpsuit, chrome mask and some helium balloons may work well at a party, these distractions from simplistic slide guitar, inaudible vocals and some basic blues widdling is not enough to make you forget this was the same shtick that he was pulling in 2007 and it was an irritating diversion then too. However, the crowd, most of who have never seen him before, is won over by the novelty.
From the outset the five-piece band is incredibly tight, but remain defiantly in the background of Howard. In fact, Bono would be defiantly in the background of Howard were he to appear on stage. Hang Loose showcases her jaw-dropping talents, and playing their ‘hit’ Hold On this early is a bold move. Following with their contribution to the soundtrack for the film Silver Linings Playbook, Always Alright is a rip-roaring ride through the Deep South that allows her a Chuck Berry impersonation. Bassist Zac Cockrell in overalls, nodding trucker cap, voluminous beard and physical stoicism looks hilariously cartoonish, other members stand stock-still as Howard absorbs attention. Cutting an Odetta-like figure with her semi-acoustic tucked under her arm, her wildly expressive voice and nerdy glasses, she roams the stage, never letting the intensity drop. The joy in watching someone do what they were born to is almost overwhelming. I Found You is another batch of roots rock straight out of the deep fryer, as is the ensuing Rise To The Sun. “We’re from the south,” says Howard, wiping her face with a towel before fixing us with a stare. “But ya’ll are super southern!” she says cracking up and launching into a blistering take of new song Making Me Itch.
There’s an argument to be had about whether soul music should be note perfect, but here isn’t the place for it. Here is the place to talk about how drummer Steve Johnson’s cymbals burst briefly into flame at the start of final song Heavy Chevy, a feat that causes the hundreds to scream with delight and frantically video the song. On exiting, the crowd is rife with dodgy takes on the band’s southern accent. All agree the house was rocked and, regardless of who Alabama Shakes remind you of, that’s what they came to do.