Alabama Shakes, Courtney Barnett
Photo by Spencer Griffith
Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary
Wednesday, June 10
After the Alabama Shakes followed its gritty debut LP Boys & Girls
with the ambitious Sound & Color
in April, it was apparent there were changes afoot for the foursome. Last week’s show in Cary proved that the daring outfit’s evolution hasn’t been restricted to the studio, often appearing as a nine-piece ensemble to help re-create the lush arrangements of its freshest material on stage.
From the jazzy, nuanced title track to the slow-burning blues shuffle of “Miss You,”
the Shakes seemingly transformed themselves every few minutes while tackling nearly the entirety of its sophomore album as Brittany Howard shifted from a cool, soothing croon on the former to her trademark room-rattling belt on the latter. The sprawling, psychedelic “Gemini”
had Howard shredding incendiary guitar solos over Heath Fogg’s imposing riffs and Steve Johnson’s primal, pounding drums, while the explosive single “Gimme All Your Love”
was closest to Boys & Girls
’ dynamic bursts of garage-soul.
Though the band still played more than half of its debut, the new songs landed best. Indeed, although breakthrough track “Hold On” was omitted—a gutsy move from such a young outfit—few in the sizable crowd seemed to notice. In fact, the highlight of the set may have been “Joe,” which has only appeared as a bonus cut on some versions of Sound & Color
. One of the few times that Howard laid down her electric guitar to focus solely on vocals, the dynamo instead prowled as if she were in a pulpit while the sweltering Southern gospel tune swelled with organs. Serving as choir leader for the trio of supporting vocalists on each soulful chorus, Howard then went full-on Aretha for the verses, wringing out each syllable with more intensity than seemed possible. When she pointed at the stage and shouted that she had “achieved [her] many dreams,” it was easy to see where she drew her passion.
Photo by Spencer Griffith
Courtney Barnett was an engaging opening act, despite a setting that didn’t always fit her raw style. Her power trio seemed to threaten Koka Booth’s infamous decibel limits early in her short set on “Small Poppies,”
with cymbals clattering around Barnett’s squealing guitar during the song’s climactic second half. The slinky, infectious “Dead Fox”
helped transition to the deceptively breezy “Depreston,”
which portrayed a young adult’s existential reflections with rich imagery. Nimble guitar riffs fueled “Avant Gardener”—its stream of consciousness lyricism managing to be both wry and mundane—while crunchy closer “Pedestrian at Best”
recalled the biting surge of Nirvana. Though a grungy club would likely suit Barnett better, it’s a minor quibble given the rather rare opportunity to see the rising Australian star perform.
Courtney Barnett setlist:
An Illustration Of Loneliness (Sleepless In New York)
Pedestrian at Best
Alabama Shakes setlist:
Rise to the Sun
I Ain’t The Same
Gimme All Your Love
On Your Way
Sound & Color
Don’t Wanna Fight
Over My Head
You Ain’t Alone