WHO: Alabama Shakes, Father John Misty
WHEN: Wednesday, June 3
WHERE: Masonic Temple, Detroit
“I haven’t had so many skeptical middle-aged faces looking at me since I played little league baseball.”
I don't think Father John Misty was exaggerating. Maybe I was just accustomed to the young folks from the Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey shows this past weekend, but the majority of the (extremely white) crowd at the Masonic Temple for Alabama Shakes looked to be in its 30s or 40s, seemingly right on that threshold where you’re not sure if you really want to stand for an entire rock show, but you cave to pressure and do it anyway to the chagrin of your feet.
But the audience had good taste in music. I had first seen Misty’s act at a festival a couple years ago, and I was curious how his smart-ass remarks and general weirdo sensibilities would go in front of a crowd there to see a band some (not me) hail as the torchbearers of “real music.”
He didn’t get the love that Brittany Howard would eventually receive, but Misty had more support than any opener should ever dream of. It may have helped that some of his idiosyncratic lyrics were drowned out by the beefed-up guitar and keyboard lineup behind him, but by the time everyone had arrived at the end of his set, cheers were echoing off the walls and folks were jamming in their seats to Misty’s desert-tinted indie rock.
Playing in front of a large neon sign that stated “No Photography” inside a heart, Father John Misty (the persona of singer-songwriter Josh Tillman) ran through tracks off his first two records, 2012’s Fear Fun and this year’s I Love You Honeybear. Highlights included the back-to-back playing of “I’m Writing a Novel” and “Chateau Lobby #4,” Misty’s most manic and beautiful songs, respectively, as well as the “When the Levee Breaks”—esque thump of “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” His beanpole figure danced in place, dropped on its knees during intense moments and once or twice hopped on the drumset so Misty could shake his white boy ass at the crowd. At times he looked like a bearded Elvis when he was moving his hips and strumming the acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder, and he enjoyed a true rock star moment when, at the climax of the pulse-pounding set closer “The Ideal Husband,” he ran into the mainfloor’s center aisle and had a convulsion on the ground while fans stood around and curiously watched.
Those unfamiliar with Father John’s sarcastic asshole shtick may have thought him just that — a too-cool-to-care hipster. And it’s true that, like the similarly named Springsteen song, “Bored in the U.S.A.” ’s loses some of its quiet irony when people excitedly scream after every line, but even if you’re not totally in on the joke, Misty’s undeniably entertaining.
Less than a half-hour after Tillman left the aisle, Alabama Shakes walked on stage to an instrumental of Dre and Snoops’s “The Next Episode.” While the rest of the show didn’t have any hip-hop references, it was still a cool starting point.
Leading off with “Future People” from this year’s Sound & Color, the band quickly stated that this would be a no-frills, no nonsense affair. There were absolutely no adornments on stage, and the few lights illuminated the main floor as much as they did the band. All the more easy to focus on the music. The only thing that might have been superfluous were the three additional vocalists who sang backup on about half the songs.
But hey, I’m not going to tell Brittany Howard how to best showcase her music, and let’s be clear — from the very beginning that this was The Brittany Howard Show. No disrespect to the rest of the band, but, Howard dominated, performing like she got truly cathartic joy from every song. Interaction between band members was at a minimum, and frankly, there was no one worth paying attention to besides Howard, who was so dynamic that her earpiece kept falling out and dangling behind her. She shreds on guitar without being a showoff, and she puts a piece of herself in everything she sings. Plus, Howard seemed to get real energy out of the audience’s adoring love, coming close to the edge of the stage while (wo)manhandling her guitar whenever she wasn’t singing.
“I’m not a very eloquent speaker. That’s why I sing,” Howard told the audience. If she hadn’t had to stop for water every once in a while, I’m not sure there would have been any between-song breaks. Once the band started, they just kept rolling from one number to the next, blowing through what was probably almost all of their catalogue. Only occasionally Howard would say a few words to introduce a song, like when she talked about getting two-timed by a two-timing crook named Ricky right before “Miss You,” a song that could have come out on Chess Records if the first few lines didn’t make reference to a Honda Accord.
The show continued with plenty of songs in the same bluesy vein. Alabama Shakes hasn’t gone full Jack White on us — they don’t necessarily feel obligated to deliver music that longs for scratchy vinyl — but it’s evident that soulful rock is where they make their home. “Alright” was the word of the night throughout their songs. It seemed to be a consistent refrain for Howard, and of course, the jogging-speed power of “Always Alright” sounded fantastic with Howard’s wailed repetition of “I don’t give a fuck about your intentions!” Alabama Shakes doesn’t sound like they set out to make pop songs, but when they happen upon a great hook, Howard sings the crap out of it.
“Gimme All of Your Love” was the high point of that approach. Howard was at an 11 for most of the night, but she turned it up to a 12 for this song, making me wonder how her voicebox is able to function the morning after she performs. She attacked her notes like a basketball player with an open path to the rim, and the audience anticipated the crecendoing blows from her voice and absorbed them with pleasure as they hit with a crash.
After one of those phony encores where the band leaves but kills any suspense by having roadies come retune their instruments, the band returned to the stage to close out the night. Alabama Shakes withheld “Hold On,” either because they’re sick of it (probably) or because they don’t feel the need to play into anyone’s expectations (maybe), but Howard was having the kind of night where she elevated the songs, not the other way around, so it didn’t really matter what the band played. It was only when Howard was introducing the final song of the encore that the audience got its first disappointment of the night — the discovery that the show had to end.