People are pretty good at picking up on bullshit. We know when others are being fake and we know when we are being lied to. This is especially true for our musical acts, and Brittany Howard might be the most genuine musician ever.
Everything about Alabama Shakes screams of realism. They took the stage at Masonic Temple Theater to rousing applause with their minimal stage set up. It’s rare to have an opening act have a more complex lighting and stage setup than the headliner, but opening act Father John Misty’s performance looked like the Aurora Borealis compared to the Shakes. No crazy stage setup and a very minimal light show. The rest of the band dressed in clothes most of us would call “lazy Saturday attire,” and gave way to Ms. Brittany Howard to take control of the night.
I have been to many shows and know the pseudo-love fans express for an artist, but this was something else. The crowd adored her; a real, genuine, love for her and it’s not just for her abilities. She is obviously talented beyond comprehension with her vocals and her lead guitar work is nothing to discount either. Every lull in the music was filled with incredible love for Howard and the rest of the Alabama Shakes. She would give a modest “Thank you” to acknowledge the admiration. Everyone went wild for all the soaring lyrics and when she would let loose on her guitar. But, there is something more about her, something genuine that puts her beyond a typical artist.
Howard confessed to us between songs, “I’m not a very eloquent speaker, that’s why I sing,” just before telling us the story behind one their newer songs, “Miss You,” being about “A guy that can’t keep his ass out of jail.” Despite admitting she didn’t feel very confident just speaking to crowds, she engaged all night with the sold out Detroit crowd. At one point, she did something she had “always wanted to do”, giving the hip-hop command of, “All the people in the back say ‘Heeeey.’ Say ‘Hoooo.’ Now everybody scream!” Instructions followed enthusiastically by the whole audience and met with huge I-can’t-believe-how-crazy-you-are-smiles by her band mates. This is what makes her more than just another singer: authenticity. A sweet, honest, flawed, incredibly talented woman giving us what she is, with no bullshit.
As for the show, Howard’s voice was everything I had imagined it would be – powerful, fierce and soulful. The rest of the band, however, struck me as reluctant stars. Perhaps they intentional give Howard most of the spotlight because she asks for it, but even still bassist Zac Cockrell and guitarist Heath Fogg couldn’t be further behind Howard, outside of actually standing backstage to play. They are great musicians, but it was odd to see them so reluctant to be front and center. Even for guitar solos, Fogg stayed well back of the stage.
Another small gripe about the show was that they didn’t play “Hold On.” I was a bit confused and disappointed I didn’t get to hear it live, but the show was great enough without it. I never understand a group with only two albums not playing their most well known hit. They had 4-5 different songs I thought could’ve been subbed out to make room for “Hold On,” but I didn’t let it ruin my night, and neither did anyone else. (Side note: Father John Misty opened for Alabama Shakes and he was, without a doubt, the best opening act I have ever seen. His performance deserves it’s own review. Coming soon.)
The crowd at Masonic Temple was also one of the most diverse I have ever seen. There was about a 50/50 girl to guy ratio. I would say the majority were hipsters (my god the beards and clothing choices), but not an overwhelming majority. There were a decent amount of hippies (dreads and all) and quite a few older folks (55+). What brought us all together is the undeniable truth that people love talent and they love honesty. No matter your background, you crave something real. And Brittany Howard spilling her heart both in song and in conversation is as real as it gets.
Setlist: (via Setlist.fm)
Rise to the Sun
Gimme All Your Love
I Ain’t the Same
On Your Way
Don’t Wanna Fight
You Ain’t Alone
Over My Head