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Can we all just agree now that Alabama Shakes are the genuine article? That they’re worth all the hype you’ve been hearing from little blogs, big websites and NPR? That so-called blues made my college-educated hipsters doesn’t quite measure up? That we’ve found a voice that really makes us want to drink whiskey and kill all the crooked haircut bands? Sure we can, c’mon now.
There were no dissenters Wednesday night at the Troubadour, where the quintet from Athens, Ala., (pop. 21,000, give or take) made its Los Angeles debut to a sold-out crowd thick with representatives of the record industry, publishing companies and radio stations. Alabama Shakes roared through an hour of tunes that made believers out of those who generally watch shows with arms folded, and sweaty maniacs out of those who partake with arms outstretched.
Frontwoman Brittany Howard – she was the one with a tattoo of the state of Alabama on her right arm – belted out songs with innocuous titles that nobody knows yet but will soon enough: “Party,” “Hang Loose,” “I Found You,” “Alright,” “Boys & Girls,” “Be Mine,” “Rise to the Sun,” “Morning Blues,” “Mama,” “You Ain’t Alone,” “Heavy Chevy,” “Heat Lightning,” “Ain’t the Same” and “On Your Way.” The band played “Hold On,” the first single from its forthcoming album “Boys & Girls” (April 10 on ATO), second, before confidently plowing ahead as if their catalog was already chestnuts.
Howard – whose vocal and stage presence recalls veteran SoCal songstress Lisa Kekaula of the BellRays – worked up quite a head of steam, going through a kerchief and a couple towels, and some of the fans up front probably could’ve used them too. Her bandmates Heath Fogg (guitar), Zac Cockrell (bass), Steve Johnson (drums) and Ben Tanner (keyboards) were competent foils, finding their groove early.
“Bless my heart / bless my mind / I got so much to do / I ain’t got much time,” Howard sings in “Hold On,” but let’s hope she does. After an hour at the Troubadour, you just wanted to give Alabama Shakes a big, sweaty hug and say: “Don’t change. Don’t get a stylist. Don’t collaborate with anybody, especially a rapper. Don’t go on tour with Kings of Leon. Don’t “brand” yourselves. Don’t alter the way you walk, talk, eat, drink or breathe. Just keep on doing what you’re doing, and everything will be fine.”