Review: Alabama Shakes – Manchester Central Methodist Hall

In life, there are gigs that come and go, and gigs that blow your socks off and remain in the back of your mind for weeks on end…Alabama Shakes, live at Manchester Central Methodist Hall, was very much the latter.

With just the one full-length record released and only very recently, it should have come as a surprise that their debut Manchester show had been moved to a larger venue, and then sold out weeks before the event. Yet the hype that has been generated behind the Shakes has been monumental, and their appearances on Conan and at SXSW had whipped excited music lovers into a frenzy, prior to the release of Boys & Girls.

Having met at school and around town in Athens, Alabama, the quartet have only been making their own sound for three years. Yet their blend of blues, soul, country and rock n’ roll is so engaging, so enthralling and so timeless, that their quick ascent to fame and success comes as no surprise. And, though the praise and adoration for their debut album is overwhelmingly justified, it still cannot prepare the listener for the live show that the Alabama Shakes produce.

Following a shaky start at this interesting choice of venue, front-woman and all-round genius Brittany Howard quickly took charge as the preacher, as the crowd gladly became her congregation. Not only is her voice more incredible and alluring than ever imagined – switching suddenly from tender and slow, to rip-roaringly fierce – Howard is a remarkable guitarist, backed by a bunch of equally wondrous musicians. When a band is so at ease, yet so tight and detailed, their climb to success can really be made evident.

 Tracks such as Hold On and Rise To The Sun were obvious favourites and created the buzz moments of the evening, however it was on the rare occasions that Howard set down her guitar and took the mic for a walk, that really enthralled me. Their performance of Be Mine, for example, was one of the finest I have seen for a long time, as Howard roamed the stage, preaching her story of love and desire to the mesmerised crowd and flawlessly hitting notes that others can only dream of.

Despite a lack of chitter-chatter with the audience, which probably went unnoticed by many, having been so caught up in the atmosphere of it all, Howard introduced the band to the crowd, highlighting that she is just one part of a real combined effort. Moreover, the final track of the encore did all the talking, as she thanked the crowd for attending such a wonderful show through the words of show-closer Heat Lightning.

This was one hell of an energetic show and a performance that Manchester will not let go for a long time. To have seen them in such an intimate space is one thing, but to know that they’re set for headliner sets at all manner of events brings a big grin to my face…Brittany Howard and the Alabama Shakes need to prepare for the big-time, as it will creep up on them, very soon and incredibly fast.