With Drive-By Truckers
Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie
Tuesday, August 18
Brittany Howard is everything right now. On Tuesday night at Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie, she led her Alabama Shakes in a chilling show that was more lounge than garage, more Nina Simone than Betty Davis and more Southern soul than rock. But the Shakes, on top of their game after the April release of Sound & Color, one of 2015's best records, moved effortlessly between earthy blues and dusty soul with some of the smoothest yet most dramatic transitions in the game, peppering in the sudden spasms of filthy garage music that made for some of the night's liveliest moments.
The Shakes were all business in Dallas, their first Southern tour stop after a stint in Europe and shows across the North and the West, including Lollapalooza in Chicago. "It's good to be back in the South," Howard told the crowd before diving into the night's final farewell, "Over My Head." That was after "Miss You" was dedicated simply to "Ricky, who's in jail." The frantic refrain of "I'm Yours" was juxtaposed against the feather-light bridge and left the crowd gasping for air.
The band's decision not to have a branded backdrop with digital visuals dancing behind them fit into the "evening with Alabama Shakes" vibe. The music spoke for itself, leaving no need for the Shakes to identify themselves in 1,000 flashing light bulbs. Frankly, you know when you're at an Alabama Shakes show. Howard doesn't let you forget who's taking you for a ride.
As soon as guitarist Heath Fogg dropped the opening lick of "Future People," Howard captivated the crowd with her cooing and wailing, her controlled shrieks and meticulously halting squeals. In between the punctuation marks lay one of the best vocal performances the Dallas area has seen this year: The live performance was a mirror image of the flawless vocals on the album. She left jaws on the floor as she growled that she doesn't give a damn about intentions on "Always Alright." "Heartbreaker" was more emotive, and at times it was hard to tell if she was singing or literally bawling the lyrics about unrequited love.
"This Feeling" and "Gemini" were spells conjured up from beneath the earth's surface. Howard's dulcet tones and Ben Tanner's gentle keys gave "This Feeling" a ceremonial feel, while "Gemini" pulsated with drummer Steve Johnson's sleepy bass and snare combo, allowing Howard space to explore and to haunt all comers with ghostly verses and mystifying guitar licks.
Howard's teal Gibson SG spoke as loudly as she did on "Rise to the Sun," on which Simone's influence plainly came through, and "Gimme All Your Love." Both were obvious crowd favorites, along with "The Greatest" and "Dunes." 2012's "Hold On" was noticeably omitted from the setlist, as was the case on previous American tour stops. But honestly, few took notice and even fewer took umbrage.
Despite the absence of "Hold On," the Shakes were as generous on the evening as they were prolific, coming back for a three-song encore after running through 17 songs, for a set just shy of two hours. "Sound & Color," the new release's title track, set the tone, mirroring "Future People's" table setting for the set at large a couple hours earlier. Howard then punched everyone's ticket home with "You Ain't Alone" before vowing never to say goodbye with ender "Over My Head."
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Will Alabama Shakes get big enough to sell out arenas instead of packing theaters? Their fans in Dallas Tuesday would argue that if chops alone put bands in that position, the Shakes would already be there. If they haven't quite reached full-on arena status, they've definitely outgrown theaters. Such regulars are they on the mega-festival circuit these days that fans are used to seeing them in front of tens of thousands of people. Getting an intimate viewing in a crowd of around 5,000 at Verizon somehow felt like a well-kept secret.
Rise to the Sun
Gimme All Your Love
On Your Way
Don't Wanna Fight
Sound & Color
You ain't Alone
Over My Head