Alabama Shakes at Pabst Theater
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The storyline going into Saturday’s Alabama Shakes show at the Pabst Theater was that a band without a single album had managed to sell out the 1,339-seat venue. Based on little more than a Conan appearance and some good old-fashioned Internet buzz, the Shakes have been positioned as the Next Big Thing—lack of recorded material be damned. (A debut album, Boys & Girls, is scheduled for an April 10 release.) But if Saturday’s underwhelming show was any indication, the Shakes may need a few more years (and records) to live up to their colossal hype.
So let’s keep things short and sweet: Alabama Shakes aren’t a bad band, just an undercooked one. The group’s jam-band-tinged M.O. works well on (the eventual) record, and its breakout hit, “Hold On,” is a nice, slinky, summertime jam. But live, the band was a bit out of its element. The biggest disappointment was easily lead singer Brittany Howard, who arrived with promises of a booming, Adele-like voice. Instead, Howard’s vocals were something of a bust, and seemed forced, weak, and downright anemic. Her competent backing band fared no better, appearing listless and distracted (or just plain nervous) while on stage. At least the bass player kind of looked like Wendell from Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas:
With a front-loaded set that clocked in at less than an hour—encore included—the group was clearly in need of more material from which to draw. And yet the sold-out crowd loved every second. Cries of “Rock and roll!” could be heard throughout the night, perhaps signaling the audience’s first encounter with guitars, drums, and some Wallflowers-esque keys. If Alabama Shakes’ retro sound was indeed rock and roll, then a decidedly retro descriptor for Saturday’s show seems apt: Meh.