Concert review: Alabama Shakes puts together a powerful and eclectic show

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There's nothing novel about blending blues, gospel and soul -- but who cares? Alabama Shakes perform with such power and abandon, lead singer Brittany Howard could be belting out the ingredients to shampoo while her band plays a boogie shuffle and audiences would still be rapt.

Alabama Shakes played Stage AE Thursday night, their first show in Pittsburgh, three years after their launch from northern Alabama obscurity to Grammy nominations and critical accolades.

After a competent but unexceptional set by the Deslondes, the Shakes -- after a brief jam -- opened with the surf-tinged "Rise to the Sun." Ms. Howard owned every square foot of Stage AE real estate she touched: grimacing, flailing, headbanging and letting the spirit take her.

The Shakes have only one studio album -- that's how quickly they got big -- and they burned through several of their more well-known songs early in the set.

In "Hang Loose" and "I Ain't the Same," Ms. Howard occasionally traded lead and rhythm guitar duties with Heath Fogg, banging on her Gibson SG guitar with the same mix of brashness and precision that characterizes her vocal delivery.

They played the hit single "Hold On" fifth, making it clear that they didn't intend to define themselves through that one Billboard-charting song.

As if to prove that, Ms. Howard and company followed it with an unreleased song, "I'm Yours," a 3/4 waltz that sizzled for a few bars before bursting into a manic, yowling chorus, like someone let Kurt Cobain orchestrate an Etta James song -- possibly the best song of the night.

They ended the regular set with the hot-and-bothered rocker "Heavy Chevy" and returned for a three-song encore. The second song, a spooky, prog-rock dirge with tinkling keyboard straight from "Riders on the Storm" suggests that they may venture from their roots on their next album.

They ended the encore back on familiar ground with "You Ain't Alone," but the question remained: How will their music evolve from here?

That answer will determine whether Alabama Shakes will endure.

Meanwhile, Alabama Shakes may be some remedy for those who lament having missed out on Janis or Otis in their day. Regardless of what happens next, Ms. Howard and her boys are killing it live right now.

Brett Sholtis: or 412-263-1581.

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