CONCERT RECAP: Alabama Shakes @ The Sugar Mill, New Orleans, LA 3/15/13

After another sold out show in New Orleans, the mighty Alabama Shakes are nowhere near slowing down. The last time they were in town, riding high on the initial buzz of their debut EP, the Athens band packed the 500 person capacity confines of One Eyed Jacks (tickets were $10 and the fire marshal could’ve easily shut it down). This time around they sold out all 3,000 (!) tickets at the Sugar Mill days before the show and congested the New Orleans Craigslist with dozens of last-minute ticket pleas. With a slew of new songs, and all their contagious passion intact, the band’s current tour is solidifying their lofty position as one of the best live acts around.

Taking the stage just before midnight, Brittany Howard strapped on her blue SG and launched into “Hang Loose” to get the bodies moving. Howard’s wide-eyed charisma and exuberant howls transfixed those who had never experienced her force live, while the veterans in the crowd sang and danced along to every song. The band blasted through all the songs off their only LP, with some new touches like a smooth segue from “I Found You” into “Goin to the Party” and a brief spacey jam before “Rise to the Sun.” The band played a few new cuts, including “Always Alright” from the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack, that managed to expand their highly specific sound into new territory.

Brittany’s wild expressions and dynamic range will always be the clear focus onstage, but the crack backing band deserves just as much credit for the Shakes’ success. The four men backing the leading lady were incredibly tight throughout the set and knew exactly when to keep it quiet and when to explode. Bassist Zac Cockrell kept a cool nodding head while guitarist Heath Fogg played with an expressiveness seldom heard in a rock band. The Janis Joplin comparisons frequently focus on Brittany, but the guys backing her could just as easily be a reincarnation of Big Brother and the Holding Company.

The only thing that could stop the Shakes at this point is their seemingly endless tour schedule. A few songs, such as “You Ain’t Alone” and “Rise to the Sun,” suffered from a lagging tempo that may signify some exhaustion creeping into the road warriors. They clearly have the fanbase, exposure, and quality catalog to sustain a lengthy career, but a long international tour lasting until mid summer is slightly concerning. Hopefully they take some time off after the tour to recharge and record their eagerly anticipated sophomore album.

Setlist:

Hang Loose
Hold On
Always Alright
I Found You >
Goin to the Party
Rise to the Sun
Heartbreaker
Boys & Girls
Be Mine
I Ain’t the Same
“New song”
Heavy Chevy

“New song”
You Ain’t Alone