So it was that Alabama Shakes came to Davis Wednesday night and played to a sold-out crowd at the Mondavi Center for Performing Arts.
It's the second time I've seen the band that hails from Athens, Alabama. The first time was at Outside Lands in 2012 where they managed to virtually fill an entire field with bodies all clamouring to hear the soulful songs and bluesy riffs of lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard, guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, keyboard player Ben Tanner and drummer Steve Johnson.
I didn't expect anything less coming into Wednesday night's show and I was not disappointed. It didn't seem like anyone else was, either.
The band played its entire album, plus at least one new track that I had never heard before. Howard didn't name the song either, so I wasn't sure of its name outside of remembering a few lyrics here and there.
The band has been picking up a lot of steam following a whirlwind 2012. And with good reason. Much of the praise heaped on the band comes from a sense that Alabama Shakes has this "realness" at the essential core of its music. It's not the first time praise like that has been given to a band that absolutely bears its soul to its audience, but for whatever reason, perhaps audience members have forgotten what that sounds like in an era of Justin Beibers, Ke$has, Taylor Swifts and sparkling vampires. It's also possible they're just not looking in the right places.
That aside it's hard not to recognize that genuine emotion and heartfelt confessional sentiment that comes across in their performance and maybe it's that honesty that makes them so appealing. Maybe that's why partway into one of Howard's ballads, an audible "Sing it mama!" is heard not by just one female audience member, but another, then another and another.
Watching Howard perform is like watching a raw display of someone coming clean not for the first time, but having to do it over again. It seems painful, like tearing off a band-aid well before its time. You hope it's genuine; you hope its sentiment doesn't diminish with time or with the over-saturation of a genuinely talented band.
It was hard not to notice that the band looked tired, but it wasn't about to stop them from giving a great performance.
"My sources tell me we're in Davis, California," Howard said.
The declaration seemed more like a subtle confession to the long hours spent on the road, touring town to town.
On stage Alabama Shakes sounds very close to the way the album does. It's probably because the album was recorded on a live soundstage and for those just getting to know the band, I can't imagine that being a bad thing. Watching the band, one doesn't get the impression they're watching a large-scale production. It's a reminder of the band's small-town beginnings and one that met largely while in high school and didn't officially form until 2009. It's refreshing to see that play out in the music and in the performance.
The show was short, only a little longer than 80 minutes probably. Yet, I left completely satisfied. I listened to the whole album live plus a little something new. I had watched a band wail out soulful ballads, sweating and churning through mournful guitar solos and spotlight confessionals.
All I could hope was with time, that raw honesty the band exudes would not be artificially manufactured in some record label studio next time, but on a stage like the one the band met on in some high school auditorium I imagine they played on just a short time ago.
Disclaimer: It's not often I break from the role of editor for Patch to share my own experience, but since I was at the show, I wanted to pass this along.