Colourful Sounds From Alabama
Live Report : “Colourful Sounds From Alabama” @ Shinkiba Studio Coast 2016.12.12
“We’re Alabama Shakes,” says singer Brittany Howard three songs into the evening, “and we’re a long way from home!” This being the edge of Tokyo, the statement certainly cannot be faulted, but whilst you can take the band out of Alabama, you can’t take Alabama out of the band, and that is not a bad thing at all. On this return to Tokyo, playing to a sold out Studio Coast, Alabama Shakes show they are equally very much a band of their time and out of it too, channeling, if not embodying, the southern blues and soul that saturates their homeland and their sound.
Bathed in honey-orange tones, the band take to the stage much as if they were strolling out to play a show in someone’s backyard – casual, friendly, waving endearingly at the crowd, who wave back with even more enthusiasm. With the falsetto vocals of “Future People”, Alabama Shakes begin their show in a smooth, pared-down fashion, an opening unexpected for it quiet, where other bands might go for the punchy big-hitting opener. It says much about the show to come, for with this as a precedent, later songs like “Miss You” and “Gimme All Your Love” dwell in poignant and affecting pauses.
The star of the show is front-woman Brittany Howard, whose stage-presence is captivating to the point of forgetting there’s anyone else up there with her. With her green guitar and glasses, she cuts an arresting figure; howling and whooping between lyrics, pulling out classic rock ‘n roll guitar licks. But it’s the voice that mesmerizes – at any time somewhere between Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin, Bessie Smith and Otis Redding – an old soul belting out heartache in “Dunes”, longing in “Heartbreaker” and perseverance in “Hold On”.
There’s a tendency to want to describe Alabama Shakes as “retro” or “postmodern”. Much as that’s something that might be suggested on CD, live the band can’t really be seen as a postmodern reaction to their influences, nor indeed am attempt at nostalgia – rather the sound is one that synthesizes and embodies that warm and enveloping blues spirit. Doused in atmospheric lighting, playing to a cavernous room that seems smaller for their immediacy, Alabama Shakes brought a personal and captivating show to Studio Coast – at times vibrant and energetic, sometimes moody, and always bewitching.
A fantastic show to see out the end of the year, there’s still time to catch them once more – the group will be back in Tokyo on December 18th at Toyosu Pit.