“Let’s give them a Northern welcome,” says Higher Ground co-owner Kevin Statesir as he introduces Alabama Shakes to the stage of the South Burlington, Vermont nightclub, which is celebrating its 14th anniversary. Statesir marks the occasion at the end of the sold-out show by giving out free, limited-edition Alabama Shakes prints designed to look like vintage posters for a doo-wop dance party.
The young phenoms in Alabama Shakes – who added the “Alabama” to their name as an afterthought, to avoid confusion with other bands called the Shakes – are making their first appearance in the Green Mountain State. Just three years ago, singer/guitarist Brittany Howard and bassist Zac Cockrell were meeting after high school in their small town of Athens, Alabama, to write songs. Last year, the band signed a record deal with ATO to release their debut album, “Boys & Girls,” and they’ve since exploded, instantly selling out most of the dates on their recent East Coast tour.
It’s a South-meets-North night, with Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires – a high-energy, Dixie-punk band from Birmingham, Alabama, with a set of great songs – opening up the show. It’s their first time playing in Vermont, too, and I write down that they sound a lot like the Dexateens, an under-heralded, now-defunct Alabama garage-rock band, before going home and reading that Lee Bains III had been one of the guitarists in the Dexateens.
What ever assumptions there may be about Alabama Shakes given their fast rise and all the hype, Howard just about shatters them when she opens her mouth and a world of raw emotion pours out. Between songs, Howard seems shy, quiet and unassuming, like a Gibson-guitar-toting librarian in a flower-patterned housedress.
But appearances are deceiving. Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg, drummer Steve Johnson and keyboardist Ben Tanner lay down a tasteful groove as Howard wails, shakes and gruffly hollers through deeply personal songs like “Hold On,” a desperate pick-me-up for herself, and “Boys & Girls,” about the injustice of being told she and her childhood male friend were too old to still pal around.
Story and photographs by KIRSTEN FERGUSON
Published on www.nippertown.com, 5/8/12