The stage was left a sad, smoldering battleground after Brittany Howard and her tight nine-member band blasted every song from her solo debut, Jaime, from it. The second of a cluster of four shows comprising the Citi Sound Vault series at the Hollywood Palladium, a series exclusive to Citi credit and debit cardholders, Wednesday’s show included no opening act.
As soon as the band members took their instruments and the two backup singers took their mics, Howard came in tow, pumping her fist in triumph, trailing a flowing gold robe deserved by a contender the likes of Howard. Her 2019 release Jaime, the project for which the Alabama Shakes went on indefinite hiatus has received universal critical claim. Named for and dedicated to a sister who died of cancer as a teenager, the lyrical content is rich with her own personal experience and beliefs, and the music is, to use the abused (but in this case deserved) phrase “genre-defying,” zapping from blues to soul to R&B to psychedelia, all of it laced with textures of electronica and tightly engineered. It is a cohesive opus, and the crowd was treated to it in its entirety, albeit slightly out of order and peppered with a few well-chosen covers.
Taking up her guitar, the set began with the dreamy “He Loves Me,” her lead guitarist attempting and failing to chase down her vocal melodies before she displayed her own chops, wailing the fuzzed-out psychedelic tone that unifies much of the album. Following this with the equally heart-throbby “Georgia,” and the earworm-riddled, hook-laden, global-marketing campaign-worthy “Stay High.” The chemistry and cohesion between her bandmates were obvious, likely the result of the 2019 tour supporting the album.
The three covers they performed were apt given the DNA present in her own music. Prince’s “The Breakdown” appeared five songs in, and the generally chill vibe of the majority of the set (which isn’t to say it didn’t capture the intensities of more uptempo signatures) was broken by a cloud-breaking rendition of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” After closing the set with the preachy (and not in a bad way) “13th Century Metal,” the three-song encore started with the Beatles’ “Revolution”, although at times it was camouflaged by the dense sonic palette.
The decentralized architecture of “13th Century Metal” provided the band itself the opportunity to show off. This is naturally where the unaccompanied drum solo finds its prescribed home. But rather than constitute a non-sequitur earsore, this one was loyal to the song surrounding it, at least at first. It began as a leisurely catalog of different patterns asymmetrically chopped up and sequenced to create a sense of restlessness, never easing into a groove, but with seamless transition. It was almost like the drummer had ingested three pills of different rhythms every day for a thousand years and this was the result. Ultimately it did escalate into the requisite mesmerizing 900 BPM neverending tom fills before being joined again by Howard and the rest of the band to finish the song and close the set.
It would be wrong for the show to end with anything but the heart wrenching yet heartwarming pathos of album closer “Run to Me.” Unfortunately, the performance felt truncated and deflated, which isn’t to say dissatisfying. It was, after all, a fairly dense and exhausting set, and Howard may have burned through all of her emotional fuel by then. Even though the song’s inspiration she shared when introducing it was heartfelt and relatable, that it was written at a time when she “wasn’t feeling so good” and she needed something to help her or say to her, “you got this,” it somehow fell a little flat, and not true to the glistening slow-burn of the recording. It could be that most of the band had left the stage, leaving her with only a drummer and a keyboardist. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity: how great it would have been to see a full band join her, “run” to her and leave the audience with hearts full rather than emptied out.
Or, it could be the inherent irony that her plea to “Run to Me” was followed by hundreds of people doing the opposite, immediately after most of her band did the same. I would personally run to see her perform again and would encourage anyone to, but with the advice to be prepared for a lingering sense of guilt that such a jaw-dropping force of light is so often generated by having to endure so much pain.
He Loves Me
The Breakdown (Prince cover)
Short and Sweet
You’re What I’m All About
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher (Jackie Wilson cover)
13th Century Metal
Revolution (Beatles cover)
Run to Me
File Photo: Brett Padelford