Alabama Shakes debuts performances of new songs at Virginia

By Frances Welch

The first sight of powerhouse front woman Brittany Howard walking on stage led the crowd of the Virginia Theatre into a roaring excitement.

The stage setup was low maintenance for Alabama Shakes, making the members of the band a focal point against the newly renovated, gold leafed walls of the theater. The usual 4-piece had expanded to nine, with additional instrumentalists and three backup singers, a change of pace for the Sound & Color tour.

Hesitant at first, Howard took center stage, with her red floral baby-doll dress and signature dark red Doc Martens, an ensemble that made her turquoise Gibson stand out even more so. After a few minutes, it seemed a wave of comfort took over her and it was showtime.

Without a verbal introduction, the band started with an unnamed song off their new album, setting a tone that the show was going to be different from their three-year Boys & Girls tour.

The crowd seemed hesitant at first, partially from it being a seated venue and having to get a feel for the performance.

Before transitioning into the second song, Howard greeted the audience for the first time.

“We’ve never been here before! We want to see what ya’ll are all about; get to know each other a little bit.”

The band then took off into their latest single from the new album, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” showcasing the powerful backup singers that emphasized the anger and struggle behind the song.

The band then played “Rise To The Sun,” the first song performed off their debut, “Boys & Girls.” This loosened up the crowd, with cheers following the lyrical build ups.

The shining red lights behind the band further enforced the pleading tones behind the lyrics: “I feel so homesick/Where’s my home/Where I belong/Where I was born/I was told to go/Where the wind would blow.”

Howard puts so much passion and energy into her performance. From throwing off her glasses and wiping the sweat off her forehead to hanging over her Gibson in between songs, her commitment to the performance preservered.

About midway through the show, the audience had filled the front of the venue, regardless of the seated individuals in the front rows.

The band then performed “Future People” — the first time the song had been performed since the public release of the single earlier that day. Howard started out with a perfectly executed note in her falsetto, showcasing her ability to sing without her signature guttural growl.

Towards the end of the set, “You Ain’t Alone,” a slower, emotionally jam-packed song off their debut, grasped the crowd’s attention. Pulled lighters swayed above the bobbing sea of heads, making it seem as if the scene was being played directly from the album.

The 1940s and 50s vibe came into its full element at this point, if it had not already been picked up by Howard’s retro victory curl hairstyle.

Some attendees may have been disappointed the Shakes didn’t perform their hit song, “Hold On,” on Wednesday night. But in one of the final songs during the extended encore, Howard put down her guitar and connected with the audience, stomping and finger shaking at the heartbreak behind the lyrics, contorting her face with each lengthened note.

One brave audience member took the liberty to run through the crowd, yelling, “Stand up! Stand up!” And the audience followed suit.

This show was one for the books and perfectly executed at that.

[email protected]