Shaking it Alabama-Style

Sometimes you just have to have a night out.  October 2 I did just that.  Alabama Shakes was in Toronto and considering how much I had heard about their previous Toronto engagement at Lee’s Palace, I knew I wanted to go.  So, I packed up a couple of excellent musical companions and on our way we went.

A few things to note – it is more the total events of the night that make musical missions the most fun.  Post-show hangouts in NYC, pre-show dinners on patios with good company, or discovering great eats outside of Lee’s Palace – these are just a few of the memories that have made shows of the past truly great experiences.

This time, as we pulled up to note the extraordinarily long line up at Kool Haus, we paused for a moment to glimpse the Edge studio, where Three Days Grace was performing live.  Side note – they sound terrible live (and from a distance).  You could see the light show and hear the mis-pitch and offset key.  Hmm.  Makes me glad we weren’t there to see Three Days Grace…

After making our way into Kool Haus and procuring drinks, so began the game of people-watching.  Now, I love to watch people.  Checking out outfits, figuring out stories, watching people interact.  How many people will smile and say, “excuse me”  before trodding on your foot? How many people will walk and stand directly in front of you, vying for a better view of the stage?

Tonight’s game was “spot the hipster”.  Now, before you hipster-readers get your scarves in a knot, it is all in good fun.  Hipsters represent a segment of society that I have an affinity for.  Aside from the clothing choices (scarves in summer or a warm concert venue is something I’ve not yet understood).  That said, I do rather enjoy fighting you about the evil of the music empire and your penchant for finding the most obscure music.  And as long as you don’t trend toward the knack of the “hippie hipster” and dredge yourself in patchouli (which I can tolerate, but one of my crew claims, “it burns!”) we tend to get along just fine.

But we had some time to kill and “spot the hipster” is rather like an enjoyable game of “I Spy”. We spotted the eclectic girl-hipster, wearing shorts, leg warmers, plaid shirt and, of course, a scarf and oversized glasses.  We spotted many renditions of the “fat guy” hat (both on backward and forward).  There was a sea of plaid, a smattering of man scarves and a single popped collar.  Many degrees of beards were witnessed. We even managed to find the quintessential hipster boy.

Oh, wait.  The music.

Opening for Alabama Shakes was Toronto’s own Catl.  I’d never heard of them.  Imagine our delight and surprise when a gravel-voiced man took the stage alongside a throwback diva-type and lanky drummer.  And then the music began and I was entranced.  It seems a lot of what I’m listening to lately is pretty blues-y in nature and this fit in perfectly.  Catl describes their music as “stripped down juke joint blues” and, while limiting to their sound, this works as a descriptor.  Catl delivers some dirty, gritty blues that are pure toe-tapping fun.  Sarah Kirkpatrick (of the splendid white dress and bouffant hair) is engaging, to say the least.  Upon further review, I’ve discovered that all three band members are refugees of the punk scene.. which is interesting, since their sound is almost so retro it is new and a bit groundbreaking.  Definitely check them out.

Now, the reason I was there – Alabama Shakes.

Without a doubt, they did not disappoint.  I was hoping to prove to myself – again – that a band you could love on record is one you could adore even more live.  And I wasn’t wrong.  Brittany Howard’s voice is a revelation.  My eyes didn’t leave the stage and save for a quick trip to avoid extraordinary t-shirt-buyer-lineups (where nary a small shirt was left to be found.. damn…), I was cemented to the floor.  It was easy to see why the show sold out, despite Alabama Shakes only having one album (and only one radio-released song thus far).  What I won’t be claiming:  “they sound terrible live”.  True to my expectation, Alabama Shakes exceed their recorded sound.  Brittany Howard’s voice is superhuman.  There isn’t anything she can’t sing – recreating vestiges of Joplin, Chapman, Franklin and James (Etta).  She is a powerhouse.  And despite the fact that the band is fairly new (having only formed in 2009), they perform with a unity and cohesiveness some long-standing bands could learn from.

Kool Haus was a fantastic venue to see Shakes at.  Despite a few moments of inevitable “why does the tall guy have to stand right in front of me?”, the acoustics were stellar, the crowd was engaged and it was just a night of solidly good music.  There is nothing pretentious or overdone about Alabama Shakes.  Howard is a genuine performer.  This isn’t about tricks and gimmicks.  It’s just superb music.  And I was so thoroughly engrossed that I couldn’t even spare a withering glare at the guy blowing smoke directly at me while grooving out.  Have at it, my friend.

photo credit to

What they played?  An hour of amazing music.  A feat, considering they only have one album.  I think my list is fairly complete (save for one of the three encore songs):


Goin’ to the Party
Hang Loose
Hold On
Be Mine
Making me Itch (new track)


I Ain’t the Same
On Your Way

Of course, as is my usual style, I get caught up in the moments and don’t record anything.  Thank goodness for other people’s YouTube accounts.  Hold On, live from Kool Haus, featured below.  Many thanks to Catl and Alabama Shakes for a simply stellar evening out.  And many more thanks to those that managed a much-needed night out with me.  Music is never as good as when it is shared with seriously great people (who manage to spot a hipster from 100 paces… ).  Very, very well played.  And definitely so worth the late night which was followed by an exceedingly early morning and a very sleepy day.  At least I couldn’t stop smiling.


About Betty Beat

Musical afficionado extraordinaire. View all posts by Betty Beat

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