Boston Calling September 2015: Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes at Boston Calling

Festival closing act Alabama Shakes proved itself to be a veritable force of nature late Sunday evening, taking the stage at Boston Calling as a historic supermoon eclipse combination reached its peak in the sky above. It was undoubtedly the most eventful set of the entire weekend, starting with lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard howling at the blood moon overhead and continuing through surprise highlights such as an impromptu marriage proposal, facilitated by Howard, during the performance.

Alabama Shakes remained on stage for almost an hour and a half, performing songs from both of its albums: “Boys & Girls” and this year’s “Sound & Color.” The group’s soulful rock sound made them a perfect closing act for the festival’s diverse earlier lineup, and their distinct Southern charm was undeniable. This was especially the case due to frontwoman Howard, who maintained a constant level of intensity throughout—in one case, playing on even when a string on her guitar snapped mid song. During the occasional guitar solo, she unhesitantly delivered a world-class performance that left some concertgoers riveted while others clapped and whooped with adulation.

The Alabaman quintet was joined onstage by additional instrumentalists and backup singers who rounded out the group’s sound, almost transforming City Hall Plaza into an intimate nightclub lounge. Although the band deliberately omitted “Hold On”—arguably their biggest single—from the performance, they played other hits such as “Don’t Wanna Fight” to great success. Hundreds of hands pumped along to the funky guitar riffs of that song, following along with Howard as she sang over and over, “I don’t wanna fight no more.”

Repetition is a strong factor in the band’s music, and in the group’s performance of “Joe,” a heartwrenching song from the bonus track edition of “Sound & Color,” Howard used it to great effect. About the eponymous Joe she laments, “I still ain’t got what I want.” Another standout performance, of their newest single “Gimme All Your Love,” culminated in a lengthy guitar solo by Howard followed by echoing choruses of the song’s title.

Alabama Shakes closed their set with a tender rendition of “Over My Head,” which concludes their most recent album. Eschewing the band’s typically full-sounding instrumental arrangements for a mostly acoustic performance, Howard drove the song entirely with her passionate vocals. She removed her glasses and closed her eyes, slowly dancing in a small circle on the stage. She screamed, “I’m in over my head”—and if not for the thousands gazing enraptured in the crowd, it would have been easy to believe.

—Staff writer Alan R. Xie can be reached at



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