Day Party Crawl
By Dan Oko, Fri., March 16, 2012
Michael Kiwanuka/Alabama ShakesRadio Day Stage, Austin Convention Center, Wednesday, March 14
Some scruffy American rock bands need a gimmick to help distinguish them from the ever-hopeful pack. Not Alabama Shakes. The Athens, Ala., fivepiece instead has Brittany Howard, frequently a pyrotechnical vocalist, accurately compared to Janis Joplin. The hype around the band meant its late-afternoon showcase took place before a capacity crowd. Howard and her crew unleashed a crackerjack run of soulful Southern rock, including the fresh radio staple "Hold On" off a full-length debut due out next month. Each number, from opener "Going to the Party" ("There's going to be dancing, there's going to be a fight") to "Boys and Girls" (drawn from Howard's childhood) built on the previous, uncorking a swirl of yearning and passion that the jeans-clad, retro-minded Howard embraced. Her impassioned performance earned the Shakes two standing ovations in their efficient 40-minute set. Prior to Alabama Shakes, London strummer Michael Kiwanuka, another buzzed-about student of Motown soul, sang and occasionally stammered his way through a highly hummable set of acoustic numbers, his only accompaniment a bassist introduced simply as Pete. The son of Ugandan parents, Kiwanuka arrived when the first-time Austin visitor played "Lasan," a shuffling track produced for his forthcoming album by Dan Auerbach, then introduced his song "Home Again" as about "being home anywhere in the world." The singer-songwriter, who's been compared to Bill Withers, closed with an homage, singing Withers' classic "I Don't Know."