The group’s Sunday, July 29 show at Paper Mill Island, 136 Spensieri Ave., Baldwinsville entertained and amazed a crowd of about 1,500, with an encouragingly youthful demographic filling much of the space. Young children sat on shoulders, held up cell phones to record, danced and clapped, clearly touched by the soul of the five artists on the stage. When children are moving, naturally affected by the music, it’s a sign of a great band.
Much of the material for the night came from the Alabama band’s 4-month-old debut record, Boys and Girls (ATO), and showcased its solidity. There are no throwaway tracks on the CD or low points in the live show. Songs including “Hold On” and “I Found You” touched a sensitive chord and “Heartbreaker” had the crowd joining in Howard’s growling and haunting howl. The wandering waltz of the latter song plodded along and exploded periodically--the musical release serving as a signal for Howard to burst vocally, which she did with brutal conviction every time.
The group is genuine in every lick they get lost in and every lyric that hits an emotional nerve. Whether Howard is ripping hearts out with incredibly moving “You Ain’t Alone” or singing the sexiest song you’ve ever heard in “Be Mine,” the crowd couldn’t help but connect. Arms were raised and mouths were open, cheering constantly throughout the performance. Feet moved, bodies bounced and the band ate it up enough to give the appreciative audience a double encore, complete with a ripping Led Zeppelin cover of “How Many More Times.”
The music was magical and was transformative—the group communicates the kind of songs that completely remove you from whatever reality you’re inhabiting at the time. And that’s a beautiful, rare thing.
The show was quick and to the point (with two encores it lasted about 90 minutes), reflective of the group’s typical three- to four-minute album cuts. The only disappointment was that they--Heath Fogg on guitar, Zac Cockrell on bass, Steve Johnson on drums and road-keyboard player Styrofoam Jones--didn’t extend the songs further. The band is capable and tight and the crowd was hungry right up until the end of the second encore, taking the music up to 10 p.m.
Alabama Shakes has already conquered festivals like CMJ in New York City, South By Southwest in Austin, Texas and Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn. and been crowned the cover darlings of music publications like American Songwriter. It takes a lot to break into the mainstream headspace of the masses, but Alabama Shakes is on its way. The band is too good not to be recognized as one of the best things happening in music today, and 1,600 lucky music lovers got to see for themselves in an intimate setting. You got to hold on to the Alabama Shakes because they’re rising fast.