The Alabama Shakes played to a sold out crowd at the Kool Haus earlier this week. Having missed the band’s previous, almost instantly sold-out Toronto show at the Lee’s Palace, I was curious to see if their live performance delivered as much of a raw, roots rock punch as their recent album, Boys and Girls.
The four piece band from Athens, Georgia, took the stage at 10:15, opening with “Goin’ to the Party,” followed by “Hang Loose,” delivering tight arrangements to what can only be described as an eclectic crowd. Lovers of soul, rock and blues, ages 19 to 60 were in the house to catch a band that has gone from virtual obscurity to opening for Jack White in the past year alone.
Before heading in to the popular “Hold On,” Brittany Howard, the Shakes’ dynamo on vocals and lead guitar, coyly asked the crowd, “am I playing to men and women or animals and beasts?!” A beast herself on vocals, Howard is the real deal. At times Janis Joplin, others Etta James or Aretha Franklin, there’s nothing this woman’s vocal chords cannot do. Calling the next track her “jammy jam,” Howard passionately delivered the eponymous track off the album, “Be Mine.”
The Shakes rounded out the set with some pre Boys and Girls repertoire playing the track “Mama,” as well as a new track called, “Making Me Itch.” Of course the crowd was left begging for more and the band was happy to oblige. The three song encore featured one new track “I ain’t the same” and ended with the beautifully harmonized “On Your Way.”
The band was formed in 2009, yet sound as though they’ve been playing together for much longer. These are some phenomenal musicians, fronted by a charismatic, dynamic and soulful woman whose voice seems almost anachronistic. I’ll never get the chance to see Joplin live, but I feel that much closer having seen the Alabama Shakes.