Live Review: Alabama Shakes and Quiet Life Perform at The Doug FirPosted by Rob Hedberg
It’s a strange experience to attend a show where the headliner performs with less exuberance than their opening act, who stuns the crowd into silence and an immediate ovation directly after each song. The Alabama Shakes have been hyped on the Internet by countless music blogs, and soul and blues fan had been awaiting their first ever North American tour. Their self-titled EP, which garnered attention from countless label heads, is irresistible, genuine, and demanding of respect. The question was, could they reproduce their soulful blues while providing the intensity and powerful drive that even slower tempo songs such as “You Ain’t Alone” require?
Winter in Portland is always delightful. It’s that time of year when you can see a stellar show for cheap on any day of the week. On Saturday the Alabama Shakes performed a 75 minute set for the price of eight dollars. There was no surprise when the venue announced that the show was sold out. Hipsters in cowboy hats, skinny jeans, and cowboy boots piled into The Doug Fir. I honestly thought I was at a rodeo, and it made me contemplate the stereotypes these hipsters were attributing through their fashion sense to blues, soul, and country music. Did they think everyone who plays the blues or country music dresses like Neil Young? After grabbing a rum and coke, I pushed through ravaged girls and a couple of cowboys and situated myself in front of the stage.
When the Alabama Shakes strolled onto the stage none of the members were wearing lavish clothes or pretending to be from a previous generation; they appeared humble and modest. They picked up their instruments, and with passion and desire delved into “Hold On,” its simple chord progression and relaxed beat allowing for Brittany Howard’s irresistible but enigmatic voice to control the audience. Howard’s voice is a combination of the The Supremes, Etta James, and Janis Joplin. “I Found You” displays the influences of ’60s girl bands and Motown and ’50s soul music in The Shakes’ song crafting, and as Howard wailed each word with profound authority the crowd erupted in cheers. Halfway through the show the Alabama Shakes appeared exhausted, and the tumultuous energy from the start of the show dwindled. They never caught a second wind, but incredibly the band played impeccably. When the band emerged from darkness after taking their leave for the encore they began playing the opening notes of “On Your Way,” demonstrating the cohesive union that is the Alabama Shakes. The fast tempo and vigorous guitar work is unique and vociferous, but once again it’s Howard’s remarkable vocals that provide “On Your Way” with a raw essence. The Alabama Shakes misplaced their vigor halfway through their set, but reimbursed the fans with an astonishing encore that captivated the crowd.
Portland’s Quiet Life are a small Americana/folk rock band who are once again headed back to SXSW. They captured the sold out Doug Fir crowd with their songs reminiscent of the Laurel Canyon scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s. As the lights dimmed, the band took the stage, the drummer sat down, and with a look of urgency began “Nighttime” with explosive drumming leading into dynamite guitar riffs that melted the faces of the whiskey-enchanted crowd. The energy emanating from each individual member was evidenced by the puddles of sweat generating on the stage. Quiet Life appeared invincible at points, jamming away with startling proficiency on songs like “Jim’s Wedding Band.” Lead singer Sean Spellman’s vocals on “Storm Clouds” are relaxed yet sentimental, portraying a knowledgeable soul pondering hardships of life; a sentiment that any audience member could relate to. Then the band proceeded into “Cave Country,” which slowed the tempo of the show, and begins with an endearing harmonica and acoustic guitar that the sets the tone and rhythm of the tune. Ending song “The Boss Man” shed glimpses on their cunning song crafting, which synthesizes blues, rock and roll, and folk, producing a tempo that accelerates then slows multiple times, while accompanied by a manic guitar solo. Quiet Life’s set at the Doug Fir solidified them as one of Portland’s top rising bands, who must be experienced live.