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Concert Reviews:
Singer brings soulful edge to Alabama Shakes show at Masonc

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Thursday, June 4, 2015

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DETROIT -- Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard apologized a few times during the group's Wednesday night, June 3, show at the Masonic Temple Auditorium for not being "a very eloquent speaker."

"That's why I sing," she told the sold-out crowd. And her singing was more than enough to compensate for any shortcoming during the group's nearly 90-minute concert.

Howard is nothing less than a force of nature. Large of statue and of voice, she's a one-woman musical maelstrom who blends the tortured soul of a juke joint veteran with a touch of impudent, garage rock wit -- and plays a subtly fine guitar to go with it. Howard is, most of all, utterly believable; whether she's tearing her heart out in "Miss You" or "Don't Wanna Fight" for gliding through "Miss You," it's a genuine, in-the-moment performance right down to her emotive facial expressions.

On Wednesday, that was enough to push Alabama Shakes a notch above where the group's music would otherwise have taken things. Following a spiky opening set by Father John Misty (former Fleet Foxes member Joshua Tillman), Howard and company spent a lot of time during their show towing a kind of middle line, never quite rising to the combustive power of the singer's voice. The rest of the band, augmented by an extra keyboardist and three backing vocalists, was happy to lay back in support of its frontwoman, certainly complementing Howard's performances but never really pushing the standard, either.

Alabama Shakes did, however, effortlessly blend the more expansive material from this year's sophomore album "Sound & Color" with songs from its 2012 debut "Boys & Girls." The light tone of the cowbell-accented "Future People" sat well next to the twangy gallop of "Always Alright" and the torchy heat of "Heartbreaker," though the psychedelic soul ambience of "Gemini" was a sleepy sore thumb that brought the main set to a bevelling close.

Fortunately a fine encore of "Don't Wanna Fight," "You Ain't Alone" and heart-wringing "Over My Head" provided a more satisfying finish, though it's unconscionable that Alabama Shakes left its first hit, "Hold On," on the bench. The show needed more of that kind of muscle, something to establish a stronger band presence alongside Howard's exemplary talent.

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