There aren't many bands who can roll into town before their first album is released and sell out the 300-seat State Room, but the Alabama Shakes did just that Thursday night.
That fact is even more impressive when you consider that the band hails from, yes, Alabama, so it's not like they have any obvious, automatic connections to Utah like a West Coast band might. What they do have, though, is a wave of hype that any up-and-coming band would envy, thanks to accolades piled on the group from the likes of NPR and Paste magazine based on a four-song EP and some kinetic live shows.
Watching and hearing the band in the packed State Room Thursday, though, it struck me that the hype might be a bit overstated at this point. Having read about the band, and heard the praise bestowed on Alabama Shakes by some of my favorite musicians (like Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood), I went to the show expecting to have my mind blown. What I got was a solid, soulful bar band, but nothing earth-shattering.
Most of the attention Alabama Shakes has garnered focuses -- and rightly so -- on lead singer Brittany Howard, a bluesy belter with some serious guitar chops, to boot. Her stage presence is certainly magnetic, especially compared to the inert batch of boys backing her up.
Delivering her lyrics in a voice that easily moved from a dark growl to a sweet, soulful sound, there's no question Howard is one to watch as she develops as a songwriter. When she delivers a line like, "I don't give a fuck about your attitude!" you'd believe her, and that goes a long way in connecting with fans.
The songs themselves hewed to a blues/soul template that clearly struck a chord with many in the crowd more than it did me. While some -- particularly "Hold On" and "On Your Way" -- hit their mark, the hour-long set got a bit repetitive-sounding. Howard's charisma can only go so far in keeping an audience engaged; a little more sonic diversity would have done Alabama Shakes some good.