Alabama Shakes Echo Beach, Toronto ON, June 20

Alabama Shakes Echo Beach, Toronto ON, June 20
Photo: Matt Bobkin
While it initially came as a shock that blues-rockers Alabama Shakes had sold out the 5000-capacity Echo Beach despite only releasing one LP, the signs were there all along. In the band's four years of activity, their soulful and bluesy brand of rock had netted them a track on the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack and a coveted musical guest spot on SNL, among other achievements, so a sold-out headliner at Echo Beach clearly wasn't far off.

After opening sets from alt-country rockers Houndmouth and country quartet Jonny Fritz and the Craigslist Band, the Alabama-based quintet took to the stage for a 90-minute set. The band played ten of the eleven tracks from their 2012 debut, Boys and Girls, and a variety of non-album hits that were not as familiar to the crowd. As soon as she walked on stage, all eyes were on singer/guitarist Brittany Howard but it was upon singing her first note that her presence was truly announced. Her strong, soulful, and bluesy voice was a beautiful tool that she masterfully used to connect with the audience. She conveyed raw emotion in a way that few other singers have perfected, especially this early into a career. On "Heartbreaker," the sadness in her voice resonated in every note, and every time she belted, the passion was palpable.

The rest of the band was tight as well: of note were the keyboards, which pulsated and hummed at the best moments, including a nice little flourishing passage in "I Found You," and during the final song before the encore, "You Ain't Alone." The song was a culmination of everything the band stood for, flawlessly merging Howard's raw, passionate vocals with plinking keys and drum rolls. The set's best moment took place near the end of the song, as the energy gradually built, then simmered with Howard singing a cappella. Then, as if a switch were turned on, the keys and lights came in at the drop of a hat, bringing the song to a resounding climax with no warning, and showcasing the band's ability to control the atmosphere perfectly.

The biggest downfall of the set was the lengthy encore, which featured four non-album cuts. After going through all their hits in the set proper, there was nowhere left to go at the end, and the concert didn't end on the high note it easily could have if not for some poor set list ordering. Even if one did know the songs from their lesser-known releases, none of the tunes hit quite like "You Ain't Alone" did.

Ultimately, the main set was excellent, and the band performed their album very well. Major hits "Hold On," "Be Mine," and "Hang Loose" were just as superb live. The band proved that they didn't rely on in-studio tricks to improve their sound; Howard's voice is just as impressive in the flesh as it is on their recording, and the band's musicianship was just as flawless. While the band still has to grow into their newfound fame, the performance shows that they seem to be well on their way.