By Laina DawesIt's amazing the cultural difference between Alabama and Toronto. Not only was opener Lee Bains the III's heavy 'Bama drawl slightly alarming, his band Glory Fires quickly demonstrated that Toronto's indie bands better start working on their musical chops.
Debuting tunes of their upcoming debut, There Is a Bomb in Gilead, the opening band deftly blew away probably half of the local talent that has ever graced the Lee's Palace stage. Impossibly young to be churning out some petty intricate tunes, the technique and depth of their musical skills and knowledge was simply astounding, switching between some Southern-fried boogie, country twinge and some soul that would make Charley Pride, well, proud.
The friendly interplay between opener and headliner was also a match made in heaven. Alabama Shakes guitarist Heath Fogg and drummer Steve Johnson joined the Glory Fires for their finale, and the band later joined Alabama Shakes for "You Ain't Alone."
But the sold-out crowd was there for the headliner, and they put on one mesmerizing performance. While Alabama Shakes singer/guitarist Brittany Howard has been getting rave reviews for her incredible voice and passionate performance, the band are really group effort, as she acquiesced to Fogg and bassist Zac Cockrell, sharing knowing looks and really conveying that this is a family unit, not a platform for her.
Performing tracks from their debut full-length, Boys & Girls, 23-year-old Howard was self-contained between songs, laid-back with a maturity that was surprising for her age. On "Hold On" and a new track written on the road "Making Me Itch," she and the band let loose, powerful, deliciously raw, but in perfect unison.
When Howard sang the record's title track you could feel it in your bones, as she is able to do what a lot of young female singers can't: convey real emotion and deep sadness so the audience feels her pain, too.