There aren't many bands who can roll into town before their first album is released and sell out the 300-seat State Room, but the Alabama Shakes did just that Thursday night.---
That fact is even more impressive when you consider that the band hails from, yes, Alabama, so it's not like they have any obvious, automatic connections to Utah like a West Coast band might. What they do have, though, is a wave of hype that any up-and-coming band would envy, thanks to accolades piled on the group from the likes of NPR and Paste magazine based on a four-song EP and some kinetic live shows.
Watching and hearing the band in the packed State Room Thursday, though, it struck me that the hype might be a bit overstated at this point. Having read about the band, and heard the praise bestowed on Alabama Shakes by some of my favorite musicians (like Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood), I went to the show expecting to have my mind blown. What I got was a solid, soulful bar band, but nothing earth-shattering.
Most of the attention Alabama Shakes has garnered focuses -- and rightly so -- on lead singer Brittany Howard, a bluesy belter with some serious guitar chops, to boot. Her stage presence is certainly magnetic, especially compared to the inert batch of boys backing her up.
Delivering her lyrics in a voice that easily moved from a dark growl to a sweet, soulful sound, there's no question Howard is one to watch as she develops as a songwriter. When she delivers a line like, "I don't give a fuck about your attitude!" you'd believe her, and that goes a long way in connecting with fans.
The songs themselves hewed to a blues/soul template that clearly struck a chord with many in the crowd more than it did me. While some -- particularly "Hold On" and "On Your Way" -- hit their mark, the hour-long set got a bit repetitive-sounding. Howard's charisma can only go so far in keeping an audience engaged; a little more sonic diversity would have done Alabama Shakes some good.