Alabama Shakes After the Purple Rain
“At least the rain stopped…the Purple Rain” announced The Temperance League’s Bruce Hazel just before the start of their opening set for headliners Alabama Shakes at the Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre. The local Charlotte rockers found themselves in the enviable position of opening for one of the most popular, and critically acclaimed, rock groups now touring.
Hazel’s reference to the passing of Prince just the day before was poignant as the loss of one of music’s great talents was still fresh on everyone’s mind. Significantly though, it would be one of the few direct references to the Purple One’s passing, in spite of Alabama Shake’s virile front woman Brittany Howard’s admiration for the singer/songwriter/instrumentalist. As the rain did indeed stop, so did any lingering sadness over Prince’s untimely death that was reinvoked by Hazel’s remarks, as the joy and life that emanated from Alabama Shakes that night was more than reflected back at them by the crowd.
This elevated everyone in attendance to the levels of joy that only the greatest music can. Prince would have been proud of all of his admirers, both onstage and in the crowd, that night.
Love was the theme of the night as Howard elaborated upon her love for the Alabama Shakes fans in the audience several times throughout the show. “I don’t give a damn, I love you. And we’re very happy to get to know all of you. So let’s start thinking like that,” announced Brittany just before the band launched into a rousing live version of “Future People” off Sound and Color. Brittany’s comments obliquely addressed the current controversy surrounding the passage of North Carolina’s HB2, which has ended up costing the state some significant revenues which recently included the cancellations of concerts by both Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen. “We are going to play the show. We couldn’t just say ‘No, we’re not showing up and I’m sorry your government is behaving this way.’ That’s not the right thing to do,” stated Howard in a podcast interview for CRN International in reference to Alabama Shakes decision to go forward with the show in Charlotte. Howard did emphatically deride the law itself though. “I think it’s wrong what the lawmakers did…wrong to take their tax money, turn around and then disbar them from living with their identity that they fought so hard to understand and develop.” (see Rolling Stone for the full story here).
Howard and Alabama Shakes’ performance was about the all inclusiveness of their music, and music in general, so nothing really more needed to be said on HB2 from the stage that night. The crowd was a widely diverse cross section of music fans. There were hard core Alabama Shakes fans in attendance of every race, color and gender you can imagine. Amongst the Millennials fresh out of college, who only stopped making out long enough to dance and shake to songs they particularly remembered making out to in their dorms and fraternity houses, were entire families of fans which spanned generations. Such is the powerful appeal of Alabama Shakes’ music.The love took a particular romantic and intimate turn, for one couple at least, when Howard asked from the stage, “Where’s Sabrina?” and once finding her in the crowd, continued with “Jonathan has something to say.” How awesome, and memorable, and just downright beautiful is it that the band took the time to allow a couple to get engaged to riotous cheers during one of their shows? Alabama Shakes is more than just a great bunch of musicians. They’re a great bunch of human beings.
The diversity in Alabama Shakes’ music is as powerfully and ironically inclusive as their fans’ diversity is. This is strikingly apparent in the Alabama Shakes live experience. They are already on as good live as some of the greatest acts in rock, soul, and blues, and they are only two full length albums in on their career. The breakneck pace of “The Greatest” rests just a comfortably next to the pop sheen of “Shoegaze” and the psychedelica of “Sound and Color” in a live setting as they do on vinyl, plastic, or digital download as they stream through your headphones. Perhaps, the most striking and moving performance of the night was the set proper closer “Gemini.” With the band and stage bathed in a purple glow as the slow beat and ripping guitar loped along, one could almost feel the departed Prince’s spirit gliding on the sound waves emanating from the amphitheatre’s sound system. It was definitely a purple moment that paid tribute to the spirit of Prince’s music, even if nary a word from the band denoted it as such.
“To David Bowie. To Prince. How about to YOU!” exclaimed Hazel near the end of Temperance League’s opening set, but here’s to Alabama Shakes for delivering a unique and diverse experience to a city that has rapidly come to define itself upon its diversity and inclusiveness. Performances such as these are moments to celebrate their happening, not that they were threatened with not happening because of the intolerance of others. Love was the theme of Alabama Shakes show, in all its forms, and love is what was felt. Love for those with us. Love for those who are no longer with us, and love for each other in spite of our differences.
See full gallery of the night.
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