Stunning. Riveting. Absolutely incredible. There are hardly enough adjectives to describe the performance roots-rock-blues band Alabama Shakes gave Tuesday night to a nearly packed Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie.
By definition, it was close to ineffable. Then again, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't try, so here goes nothing.
Simply put, North Texas fans witnessed magic Tuesday night.
The Athens, Alabama-based band showed up in full force on keys, guitar, bass, percussion, drums and backup vocals, led by the almighty captain and powerhouse Brittany Howard, who needed but a smile to whip the crowd into a frenzy. And with the first few notes of set opener "Future People," Howard had the audience in the palm of her hand — just like that, she cast a spell across the rows of anxious faces who remained enraptured by her prowess behind a microphone for a full hour and a half.
With good reason, too. Howard possesses an almost supernatural ability to make her voice float as delicately as air one moment and send it catapulting like fire the next. Sometimes it's like watching a tea kettle reach boiling point; others it's as unexpected as a one-two punch to the eardrums. Those instances during "Miss You" and "Heartbreaker" were particularly powerful, not to mention perfectly executed.
But outstanding technique and ability are not the reasons Alabama Shakes have taken airwaves by storm (though every member of the band deserves credit in this regard). It's not their likeness to Motown, or even a tie to any one genre.
Fans Tuesday night screamed incessantly from every corner of the venue because of how Alabama Shakes, and specifically Howard's voice, makes them feel. From the lovesick desperation of "Gimme All Your Love," to the gripping vindication of "Gospel Song (I Still Ain't Got What I Want)," watching the band do its thing is invigorating and contagious.
While Alabama Shakes gave proper energetic treatment to its current radio hit, "Don't Wanna Fight," it paled in comparison to the emotion injected into the rest of the set and reciprocated by adoring audience members. The band didn't even perform its 2014 breakthrough single, "Hold On," though it worked through a carefully curated, three-song encore of "Sound and Color," "You Ain't Alone" and "Over My Head."
Fans Tuesday night screamed incessantly from every corner of the venue because of how Alabama Shakes, and specifically Howard's voice, makes them feel.
The only downfall was having to sit through a clumsy 10 songs from opener Drive-By Truckers. After struggling to find pitch on "The Righteous Path" and blatantly missing it all together on "Where the Devil Don't Stay," the five members finally settled into their boots when Denton musician Scott Danbom joined them on fiddle for "Heathens," a song singer/guitarist Patterson Hood wrote in Denton in 1991.
Things went smoothly for a time — even if every tune seemed to have country/rock/wanna-be metal split personality disorder — until singer/guitarist Mike Cooley had to bashfully admit he forgot the words to a song. Musicality was there during the performance, but execution face-planted.
Needless to say, Alabama Shakes' players were well worth the wait. In a word, they were sensational.