As concerts go, it’s hard to beat a great band playing at the top of its game. That’s exactly what it was like to experience Alabama Shakes rocking the house at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre last night, and while the 16,000 seat venue was only at about 75 percent capacity, one would have been hard pressed to find a single soul who was not dancing or feeling the band’s power.
The evening began when Los Angeles-based folk / indie rockers Dawes roused the house with a powerful 45 minute set. The amphitheatre was only about 50 percent populated when Dawes began, but lead singer / guitarist Taylor Goldsmith’s voice and presence instantly captivated the crowd. The fact that Dawes’s songs are very catchy certainly didn’t hurt in winning over the audience, but it was likely Duane Betts’s powerful solos that cemented the deal. All in all, it was a pretty sweet set.
Alabama Shakes fired up their set at 9:00, and from that moment on, the mostly 20-somethings and 30-somethings who filled Irvine Meadows fanned the flame until the show was over. Everyone stood to greet Brittany Howard as she assumed her position at center stage. The band then vaulted into play with “Dunes,” which they immediately followed with the punkish “The Greatest.” After that, Howard addressed the audience, saying: “You give it to me, and I’ll give it on back to you,” and give it they would.
For the next hour and a half, Shakes kept most of the crowd on their feet and dancing. The applause, whistling, and screaming rarely ebbed except during the delicate moments within various songs, when the audience was captivated by Howard’s intense emotional appeals for love. Naturally, many crowd members voiced their responses at the soonest appropriate moment.
The band, consisting of Howard, Heath Fogg (guitar), Zac Cockrell (bass) and Steve Johnson (drums), could have held the amphitheatre just fine on its own; however, with the accompaniment of two keyboardists and three backup singers, Shakes’s sound was formidable. While some songs definitely stand out better than others on the band’s two albums, it is hard to identify a single song that is not a powerhouse jam or an otherwise intense emotional ride when performed live. That being said, to experience their show is to be grabbed hold of, tightly, and not released until the end (or until one chooses to beat the parking lot traffic and light out before the show’s conclusion).
The 20 song set included nearly every song from their catalog. Highlights included: “This Feeling,” “You Ain’t Alone,” “Miss You,” “Heartbreaker,” “Gimme All Your Love,” and “Don’t Wanna Fight.” There’s no denying that Britney Howard is a great blues artist, and to experience Alabama Shakes eliciting the kind of emotion from a crowd as it did last night is a powerful thing. Hopefully the band will continue to produce and perform great music so that the honeymoon can keep on going for a long time.