The only music they’ve released so far is a four-song EP, but Alabama Shakes are already getting a lot of attention. They wowed a lot of people at CMJ in New York earlier this year. I heard about them through the Twitter/Facebook equivalent of word of mouth — comments from people bowled over by Alabama Shakes concerts. Paste magazine named them the best new band of 2012. Arriving this week for their first gigs ever in Chicago, the band sold out the Hideout on Thursday night (Dec. 15). And wow, did Alabama Shakes live up to the hype. This was the most joyous, energetic and lively musical performance I’ve seen in 2011, and a Hideout crowded with enthusiastic fans was the perfect place to see and hear Alabama Shakes. (They’re playing again tonight (Dec. 17) at SPACE in Evanston — see it if you can!)
The bespectacled young woman at the front of this band, Brittany Howard, has a powerful, soulful voice. But she’s also a talented guitarist, and it was just as thrilling to hear her playing riffs and solos as it was to hear her belting out the words. What a passionate, uninhibited performance it was. The band seamlessly blended Southern rock and soul — like country cousins of the Dap-Tone bands, or a more R&B-leaning version of the Drive-By Truckers. Alabama Shakes played a solid hour of songs, sounding vibrant throughout, and the crowd was shouting for more at the end — even if it meant playing some of the same songs over again.
This jaw-dropping show was preceded by a nice opening set by the Lawrence Peters Outfit, led by Hideout bartender and drummer-about-town Lawrence Peters, featuring some tasty, old-fashioned country music. Quite different from Alabama Shakes, but a good complement. Alabama Shakes attracted a fair number of people who had never been to the Hideout before, and they seemed a bit confused by Hideout owner Tim Tuten’s typically long and strange band intros, but Tuten seemed to win them over with his final rousing words, encouraging everyone to start shaking for Alabama Shakes.