Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2017-03-29
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



CONCERT REVIEWS Alabama Shakes; Common
BENT NIGHTS: Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Vern Hester

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Of all the breakout sets at this year's Lollapalooza (Frank Ocean's major league ascension, Florence and the Machine's arrival, Black Sabbath's near-certain swan song), Alabama Shakes was the biggest one yet—not for what they did onstage but for the fact that mother nature prevented them from getting on it in the first place. Getting rained out only intensified the buzz surrounding the band, turning them into one of two of this year's "it" bands. (The other is fun.)

If comparisons of vocalist Brittany Howard to Janis Joplin pervade cyberspace, that can be expected—although not trusted. Alabama Shakes and its full debut (Boys and Girls, ATO Records) is an explosive, unpretentious, raw distillation of hard rock, soul, country, garage, roots and blues that's so potent that all you can do is stand there and react. It's also the kind of unfussy passionate music that makes neo-soul, processed country, and radio-aimed pop sound ridiculously trite. Boys and Girls is music for grown-ups.

What makes the group such a revelation is not only their youth (the band met three years ago while in school) or that they came from nowhere (well, Athens, Ala.), but by self-producing Boys and Girls with an analog system, the band has managed to make something so new and riveting that it defies convention. Howard's voice has the intensity of LaBelle on fire and the delicacy of Minnie Riperton in rapture, but the band is really about its individual components and the resulting chemistry. On every song from beginning to end Zack Cockrell's bass (fleet and precise), Steve Johnson's drums (hard and crisp) and Heath Fogg's guitar (lacerating and jangly) make up a distinctive and cohesive whole. The sound of Alabama Shakes is almost as instantly recognizable as Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, the '70s-era Rolling Stones, Scotland's Big Country or, dare I say it, Boston's The Cars.

Better still is Alabama Shakes' genre-unspecific sound. Yeah, the band's rock and blues alright, but with the crystal-clear twang of whiskey-drenched roots/country, the lyrical passion of deep Southern soul and the hard edge of delta blues. The opener, "Hold On"—with its wall of circling jangly guitars and Howard's jagged banshee wail sounds—almost abrasive at first. But after hearing it a second time, it's obvious that the band has found the key to isolating the key facets of several forms of popular music and fusing it into a whole. "I Ain't the Same" is almost too big, with those guitars swooping in like a fleet of B-52s and Howard getting consumed in the lyrics. But what makes it click is how the bass, drums and guitars are pushed up front—right next to her voice, within the crystal-clear mix. The band may wallow in a jagged hard style but the sonic clarity cuts like a scalpel.

So could the show at The Riviera possibly live up to all the buzz and the album? Well, do bears shit in the woods? With just the four of them onstage with no frills or distractions (with the unfortunate exception of some guy running around in a gorilla suit for a single song), Alabama Shakes kept stopping the show and topping itself. "Be Mine," with its savage guitars and Howard lost in a trance, put the house in shock. When she asked, "Are you scared to wear your heart on your sleeve?" during the measured slow-cooker "You Ain't Alone," it almost came as an elongated punch line that the song kept building to a deceptively powerful climax. "Heavy Chevy" may have been a throwaway rocker, but it was so hard, so fast and so brutal that, yes, this sold-out crowd couldn't ask for a second encore.

It's a bit strange in 2012 to witness the co-mingling of rap/hip-hop artists and old fashioned celebrity. When rap hit in the early '80s, it was loved and hated for what it was: straight-up music of the street. Sure, there was cute safe Will Smith blabbing on and on about how "Parents just don't Understand," but you also had N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" and Public Enemy's "Fight the Power." This was confrontational music blatantly reflecting and projecting the rage that an underprivileged segment of America's population felt making the conservative (white) middle class, well, uncomfortable. Now so many rap/hip-hop artists have become "stars" and it's hard to think of them as "dangerous" or that they could possibly offend anyone. The idea of Snoop Dogg turning up in Sacha Baron Cohen's Bruno, Queen Latifah trading barbs with Dolly Parton (A Joyful Noise) or LL Cool J cracking wise in a killer-shark movie (The Deep Blue Sea) has become commonplace, while these new images actually obscure the artists' roots.

Of the whole rap generation, only Common (aka Common Sense and Ronnie Rashid Lynn Jr.) seems to have managed to have it both ways. Not only does he pop up in movies consistently (Wanted, American Gangster, Smokin' Aces), appear in multi-million dollar ad campaigns (The Gap, Zune, and Blackberry) and have his first memoir out (One Day it will all make Sense) but his HBO show, Hell on Wheels, is well into its second season. With all that going on he still manages to piss people off: the White House controversy, the feud with Westside Connection (eventually quashed by the Rev. Louis Farrakhan, of all people), some snippy repartee with Fox News and the Republican Party (Common brushed that off by retorting, "I guess Sarah Palin and Fox News don't like me..."), and that controversy over his quoting Maya Angelou.

Out of all that, it's obvious that the first thing that separates Common from his contemporaries is that the music remains front and center; he's still considered a hip-hop artist first and a celebrity second.

This brings us to Common's SRO show at The Venue a week ago. If the openers, "Celebrate" and "Get 'em Up," started the show with an explosive bang, with him bouncing and leaping like a top, you were right to assume that this was going to be an empty-headed ass-shaking jam. But being that this is Common, you should have know when you walked in that it would be a thought-provoking, ass-shaking jam.

The second thing that separates Common from his peers is his engagement with the world, cultivating a far larger perspective than just a view from his neighborhood. None of that stopped him from celebrating his Chicago roots (yes, there were shout outs to the North, South and West sides ... ho-hum) or occasionally getting goofy (inviting a female member of the audience on stage to sing "Drivin' me Wild" to her or breaking into a fit of break-dancing), but when he got into heavier topics he was adept at dovetailing the party vibe into something akin to an urban hymn. "Finding Forever," which was pointed at and dedicated to all the children who had become victims of violence, stuck not so much because of its low-key edge but because Common was not only sincere but 100-percent engaged in the message. "Testify," about a good man done wrong by an evil woman, may have seemed like a put-on but it allowed him to get to his point, which was the lack of justice in the world.

In the ass-shaking department, the show went off the rails with "Clique Freestyle," which was all bass lines, percussion and Common ripping through the English language like vengeance personified. But that, "Universal Mind Control" and "I Used to Love H.E.R." weren't merely fueled by Common himself. This crowd stayed on their feet for the entire show and spat the words back at him, creating a reciprocal volley and taking the energy to an extreme level. This was hardly a show where you sat and watched but one where you got swept into the current.

Heads-up: Salonation presents "You're Gonna Die; A Holiday Fantasia" Thursday, Dec. 20, at Metro, 3733 N. Clark St., featuring Big Dipper, Baathhaus, Grades, Honeybuns, the Fly Honeys and many more.

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

BENT NIGHTS Wilson Phillips; Ne Hi 2017-03-29 - I admit I knew what to expect when I walked into Thalia Hall for Wilson Phillips' concert on March 19—lots of gray hair ...

Gay News

MUSIC Girl group Expose celebrates 30 years of show biz 2017-03-29 - This year marks the 30th anniversary of Exposure, the debut record from the girl group Exposé. With multiple hit records to their credit ...

Gay News

NUNN ON ONE: MUSIC Olivia Newton-John: 'Hopelessly Devoted' to performing, fans 2017-03-29 - Singer Olivia Newton-John is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Her hits began on her debut album Let Me Be There, ...

Gay News

RiseUP concert to benefit ACLU includes headlining artists of Hamilton 2017-03-29 - CHICAGO- Members of the cast of Hamilton and other artists are hosting RiseUP, a night of music and entertainment at Moonlight Studios, on ...

Gay News

Entertainment news: Zachary Quinto, 'Walking Dead,' Prince, Lady Gaga 2017-03-28 - Zachary Quinto, Emma Roberts and Julianne Nicholson are set to star in Who We Are Now, the follow-up movie for writer-director Matthew Newton ...

Gay News

Big Noise 2017 announces Spring 2017 Musical, Big Fish, the Musical 2017-03-26 - Des Plaines, IL- Big Noise Theatre Company, a division of Winnetka Theatre, announces the Spring show of their 2017 season, Big Fish, the ...

Gay News

Hell in a Handbag Productions presents Lady X - A Musical 2017-03-23 - CHICAGO, IL ( March 22, 2017 ) — Hell in a Handbag Productions is pleased to open its 15th season with the world ...

Gay News

BENT NIGHTS The Growlers; Meat Wave 2017-03-22 - How California rockers The Growlers suddenly became the latest "it" band is rather unclear. The act's latest full-length, City Club ( ...

Gay News

Party Noire events all about female Black joy 2017-03-22 - Chicagoans can dance it out when Party Noire plays Black joy on repeat. Party Noire is a dance party that began as an ...

Gay News

'More Than a Letter,' Picnic present queer voices this spring 2017-03-22 - Internationally acclaimed and award-winning transgender pianist Sara Davis Buechner is more than happy to be a part of the Chicago Sinfonietta's upcoming concerts ...


Copyright © 2017 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.









About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.