Mild weather greeted fans on Sunday June 24 at the Central Park outdoor venue SummerStage, as the retro soul sound of the Alabama Shakes got rolling at 5:30 in the afternoon.
The free concert began with lead singer Brittany Howard delivering the opening words to “Going to the Party.”
Fans stood on bleachers in the back and kids rode parents’ shoulders, as the sizzling “Hang Loose” got the venue shaking. With barely a pause, the quintet from Athens, Alabama, offered the number that launched them last year, “Hold On.”
Steve Johnson’s steady drum beat, a catchy guitar riff from Heath Fogg and the passionate voice of Howard were all this tune needed to suck us in. Everyone sang along, wearing the smiles that attest to the power of live music and a timeless tune.
Howard, a dynamo of emotions, continued to grip the fans on the rollicking “I Found You.” The powerful and steaming “Rise to the Sun” ensued, as Ben Tanner’s organ and Johnson’s pounding had us all rocking.
For a band whose core formed in 2009 and who remained relatively unknown outside its home state until last year, the Alabama Shakes have been on a whirlwind ride, helped by the enthusiasm of blogger Aquarium Drunkard and Patterson Hood, frontman of the Drive-By Truckers.
Howard got gritty-voiced, channeling Jack White, for the opening notes of the jiving “Always Alright.” The title track to their debut LP, “Boys & Girls” brings a chance to cool down. Howard snapped her fingers while emphasizing each word; Johnson’s tambourine shimmered along with Fogg’s gentle guitar.
The breather was brief. The quick ’60s soul rock of “Mama” was then met by the dirty bass line of Zac Cockrell that took us on to “Hurricane Strut.” The speediness continued on the diner rocking “Making Me Itch” and the chunky rocker “Heavy Chevy.”
The set came to an end on what might be the group’s most commanding song, “You Ain’t Alone.” Howard’s voice sent chills through the words “you ain’t alone, just let me be your ticket home.” The crowd roared.
The Alabama Shakes will be on the road most of this summer and autumn. Stops will include Rhode Island’s Newport Folk Festival, Chicago’s Lollapalooza, San Francisco’s Outside Lands and Texas’s Austin City Limits Festival.
Here’s a selection of New York-area shows in July. Please note that opening bands aren’t always listed. Shows marked (SO) are sold out, although online services such as Craigslist often have tickets.
July 2 Fruit Bats/Yellowbirds at Knitting Factory July 3 Bobby Womack at Music Hall of Williamsburg July 4 Phish at Jones Beach Amphitheater (SO) July 5 Craig Finn/The Baseball Project at City Winery July 6 Patrick Watson/Loney Dear at South Street Seaport (Free) July 7 Roger Waters at Yankee Stadium July 8 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Beekman Beer Garden July 9 The Dirty Projectors at Music Hall of Williamsburg (SO) July 10 Lee Fields & The Expressions/Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang at Fort Greene Park (SO) July 11 Future Islands/Ed Schrader’s Music Beat/Darlings at Death By Audio July 12 Dan Deacon/John Maus at Pier 84 (Free) July 13 Eleanor Friedberger/Ex Cops at South Street Seaport (Free) July 14 Tycho at Webster Hall July 15 Nick Waterhouse at Maxwell’s July 16 Young the Giant at Central Park Summerstage (SO) July 17 Best Coast/Those Darlins/DIIV at Terminal 5 July 18 Lotus Plaza/Ape School at Mercury Lounge (Late Show) July 19 Lower Dens/No Joy at Bowery Ballroom July 20 Hot Chip/Chromatics at Terminal 5 July 21 Dent May at Glasslands July 22 Apache Relay at Mercury Lounge (Late Show) July 23 Beach House at Central Park Summerstage (SO) July 24 The Gaslight Anthem at Webster Hall (SO) July 25 Wilco at Terminal 5 July 26 Oberhofer/The Soft Pack at Pier 84 (Free) July 27 King Khan & the Shrines at Bowery Ballroom July 28 Caveman at Brooklyn Bowl (Free) July 29 Young Magic/Quilt at Glasslands July 30 Bombay Bicycle Club/Plants and Animals at Webster Hall July 31 Sigur Ros/Perfume Genius at Prospect Park Bandshell (SO)
(Jaime Widder works in sales for Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine and Warwick Thompson on theater.