Alabama Shakes Unleash Fresh Songs in New York: Live Review

Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz

Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes performs onstage at Mercedes-Benz Evolution Tour with Alabama Shakes and Questlove at Terminal 5 on July 24, 2014 in New York City.

The acclaimed band kicked off the first night of the Mercedes-Benz Evolution Tour at NYC's Terminal 5

With their much-anticipated second album on the horizon, Alabama Shakes are truly coming into their own as a major act. With only one album under their belt, 2012's excellent Boys & Girls, which earned them several Grammy nods, the young quartet's powerful live show earned them a recent headlining slot at Atlanta's Shakey Knees festival alongside the National, Modest Mouse, and the Replacements, among many other big draws.

On July 24, they were tapped as the main attraction for the New York City stop for the Mercedes-Benz Evolution Tour at Terminal 5, getting a warm-up act in the form of a DJ set by Roots drummer and seemingly tireless entertainer Questlove. Prior to the show, frontwoman Brittany Howard and guitarist Heath Fogg admitted to a bit of nerves, admitting they "didn't get a good practice in" before coming up for the gig, so it would be "an adventure."

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Whatever nerves, they weren't noticeable when the band took the stage. They played their biggest hit, "Hold On," almost right off the bat to huge applause. And while Howard's powerful vocals are enough to command a room, the Shakes have truly evolved when it comes to their live presence. Whereas they used to be a bit more crowded together, the band situates itself to a more backing role like a traditional soul-style revue, letting Howard be the main attraction. For much of the set, she put down her turquoise Gibson and prowled the stage, displaying a tried-and-true embodiment of old-school showmanship, enrapturing a crowd that seemed only somewhat familiar with the group's catalog.

The Shakes' sophomore effort is in the final stages of completion -- it should be finished in August, they say -- and they're throwing in some surprising sounds that could seem a bit odd, but are grounded in their throwback Southern soul style. "I want to say like metal, I'm serious, and neo-soul. Scuzzy," Howard said of what the as-yet-untitled album will feature. Of the new songs they played, there was a noticeable garage-rock edge there led to clap-alongs by an unfamiliar, enthusiastic crowd. 

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Still, a real throwback feel came in the form of "Gimme All Your Love," a slower jam that builds to a massive crescendo and, according to the band, has led to some of the best audience responses at their recent shows. And proving that they know how to work a room, they followed that up with "You Ain't Alone," bright lights and a massive disco ball firing up Terminal 5. Soon after, a brief break led to a frenzied send-off that left everyone wanting more. Thankfully, it's only a few months until Alabama Shakes deliver on the promised they showed onstage last night.

The Mercedes-Benz Evoltuion Tour will roll through eight more U.S. cities through November and will also feature performances by Young the Giant and Mayer Hawthorne.