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Concert review: Alabama Shakes dazzles a sold-out Ybor crowd in Tampa

Alabama Shakes performs at the historic Cuban Club in Ybor City in Tampa on Friday, April 29, 2016.

Brittany Volk, Times

Alabama Shakes performs at the historic Cuban Club in Ybor City in Tampa on Friday, April 29, 2016.



While one of the biggest popstars ever took to the stage at Raymond James Stadium, 5 miles away another powerhouse performance shook a sold-out Ybor City crowd Friday night. Alabama Shakes, led by beautifully bespectacled Brittany Howard, proved that sometimes a show doesn't need fireworks and leotards to entertain us.

"It's been a long time, hasn't it? I've missed the s--- outta y'all!" yelled Howard.

Alabama Shakes was last in Tampa Bay more than two years ago when they rocked Jannus Live in St. Petersburg. This time, they came ready to perform the Grammy-winning album Sound & Color, and it's also one of our favorite albums of 2015.

And even though we were so close to Beyonce, the atmosphere couldn't have felt more different. Grandpa, your hipster babysitter and lots of man-buns were all counted for, all thumping to the retro beats. You know it's good music when you've got a diverse crowd.

Good doesn't even describe Howard's voice, though. It's a national treasure and she's a true force of nature. Her stage presence is softly commanding, letting her defiant wails lead the way. She didn't talk to the crowd much, but she spoke through her body language. During the soulful "Gemini," I swear she pointed right at me.

Her insecurities and ego play with each other throughout each song. Moving swiftly from soft to loud, Howard left notes hanging in the smoky air, the crowd begging for more. A big smile crept on her face as applause erupted in the middle of the epic "Gimme All Your Love," as everyone in the audience screamed right along with her.

Crowd-favorite "Hold On," off their first album Boys & Girls, came in the middle of the set. It's the song everyone in that parking lot knew the words to; anticipating the lyrics before Howard could even get to them.

Howard's got a lot of motown attitude mixed with raw emotion. When she's not playing her teal guitar, she's mosing around the stage like Diana Ross. But lots of credit goes to her band, especially when Howard stepped out of the literal spotlight during "Be Mine" to let guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson play those bluesy retro beats. Drinks were in the air and our hips were shaking as Howard pleaded "Be mine!"

We're yours.

A man next to me was so moved during "You Ain't Alone," he had tears in his eyes. As he was taking a video, another guy came and put his arm around him. Two strangers held each other as Howard softly wailed, "Are you scared to tell somebody how you feel about somebody? Are you scared what somebody's gonna think?" It's those moments that make great live music a truely special experience.

And Sound & Color, an ambitious album, definitely transports you to another galaxy. Led by Howard's raw talent, it's loaded with many variations of musical genres. Layering both new sounds and old soul, it's no wonder this Queen B has her share of dedicated fans.

"Every time we come here, it gets a little bigger ... but I'm not a great public speaker, so without further ado, I'm going to sing a song for you," said Howard, leading into the final gospel of the night, "Over My Head."

Thanking the crowd for the hundredth time as she walked off stage, she reassured that Alabama Shakes would be back. "This ain't a goodbye. This is a see ya in a little while." And we'll be there.

[Last modified: Saturday, April 30, 2016 2:42am]


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