"Hello, Austin, Texas. I'm gonna murder you," huffed Alabama Shakes' singer-guitarist Brittany Howard, stomping her feet as the band launched into "Hang Loose," a rollicking tune about living carefree. Billed as one of this year's must-see acts at SXSW, the group delivered on their hype during NPR's showcase at Stubb's Wednesday night, tearing through all but two tracks from their upcoming debut LP, Boys & Girls.
Alabama Shakes' music is drenched in gospel and Southern rock influences, but their real calling card is Howard, a wildly soulful vocalist who has already earned comparisons to Janis Joplin. Her bandmates – bassist Zac Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg, drummer Steve Johnson and keyboardist Ben Tanner – know better than to distract from a good thing. They took a backseat and let Howard's charisma bleed through songs like "I Ain't The Same" and "Always Alright," a pass-the-alcohol adrenaline-starter with genuine swagger.
At one point, Howard paused to explain Boys & Girls' title track, recounting how she was ridiculed growing up for having a boy as her best friend. "Oh, why can't we be best friends anymore?" she sang in earnest. After the multiple SXSW shows that Alabama Shakes have lined up this week – some 2,000 people piled into Stubb's alone – Howard shouldn't have any more trouble keeping friends.
"I Ain't the Same"
"I Found You"
"Boys & Girls"
"Rise to the Sun"
"You Ain't Alone"
"On Your Way"