The persistent rain didn’t stop Alabama Shakes from shaking up Deer Lake Park on Saturday night, as frontwoman Brittany Howard kept Vancouver fans warm with a red-hot, 90-minute performance.
2016 has certainly been a busy year for the Southern rockers. Their top-selling sophomore album Sound & Color took home three Grammys in March including one for Best Rock Song, and their relentless touring schedule has propelled the band into superstar territory. It could not have happened to a more deserving group of musicians, either – despite having only released two studio albums so far, Alabama Shakes sound as if they’ve been doing this for decades.
I had the pleasure of covering their set last year at the Squamish Valley Music Festival when they opened for Mumford & Sons, and Brittany Howard didn’t just steal our hearts that night; she stole the entire festival. Local fans have been eagerly awaiting the Shakes’ return, with tickets to Saturday night’s show selling out weeks in advance.
Howard was feeling the love. “You know it’s been a while since we’ve been back to Canada,” she told us. “Thank you for welcoming us! This time we didn’t have any issues with border patrol or nothing, so something must have changed. We may have to come back!”
Yes, please! The Shakes tore through songs like “Heartbreaker” and “Hold On”, both from 2012’s Boys & Girls, with Howard delivering every lyric as if her life depended on it. The group doesn’t sound like anything else on top 40 radio because their music transcends genres as well as eras: imagine CCR fronted by Janis Joplin performing with the raw passion of Prince. And I know it sounds crazy, but if you’ve ever seen Alabama Shakes perform live, you’ll totally get the Prince comparison.
Saturday night’s show was mostly comprised of songs from Sound & Color including “The Greatest” and the title track. Howard had the crowd on its feet for rock anthems like “Don’t Wanna Fight” and “Gimme All Your Love” but they saved their loudest cheers for one of the night’s quietest moments: a lovely take on “You Ain’t Alone”.
Apparently one of the “perks” of being a rock star is having fans throw crap at you while you’re performing – just ask Tom Jones. One Shakes devotee tossed a t-shirt onstage, narrowly missing Howard who thought the guy had thrown his underwear at her. “Are these drawers?” she asked. “I thought somebody threw some drawers up here, and that’d be the third time that happened.”
“I don’t encourage it,” she continued. “You need them, it’s cold, keep your drawers on please. Safety first. But thank you.”
More hits followed, and after thanking the crowd for not leaving early, the band wrapped up at 10 p.m. with a beautiful rendition of “Over My Head”. Then, as if on cue, the rain began to pour when Howard sang the lyric “It feels so good, I’m never saying goodbye”.