Last year Brittany Howard stepped away from her band Alabama Shakes and went out on her own, releasing the album Jaime to widespread critical acclaim. After a triumphant performance as part of the BBC 6 music festival in London she stopped off in Glasgow to play a stunning sold out show at the Old Fruitmarket.
And before we go into the gig a little more I want to say how perfect this venue is and how great it is to finally see it being used consistently. I’ve been gig going in Glasgow for twenty years and have only been to this venue one time before this year. Since the closure of the ABC there has been a gap in the scene for a medium sized venue and it seems we have finally found it. Here’s to many more evenings under the fairy lights.
Support on the evening came from Irish singer Aoife Nessa Frances, who looked and sounded like she could have walked straight out of a psychedelic sixties folk band. She was an understated performer, allowing the atmospheric music to quietly make its impact. Her debut album ‘Land of No Junction’ is out now and I would recommend fans of Cate Le Bon, Jane Weaver etc to have a listen.
Soon afterwards Brittany Howard and her band, all dressed in red and black, took to the stage bringing with them a collective force of energy that never dipped for the rest of the night. Freed from playing guitar for most of the set Brittany seemed utterly transformed, so confident and assured on stage. She danced, she twirled, she pointed to the heavens and brought the crowd into every song.
It’s always a risk to play your biggest songs early in the set but tonight that choice only seemed to raise the bar even higher. The sublime Georgia and Stay High showcased her out of this world vocal talent. What’s she’s doing with her sound and her instrument now is totally unique and incredible to witness live.
Cover versions can be hit or miss for me but tonight they were a revelation. By playing a Prince cover and also a barnstorming version of (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher I suddenly understood exactly why she left Alabama Shakes behind. She needed to use all her talent and diverse influences in another way. The bravery to play a set without singing the songs that made her name cannot be overstated. At one point in the set she thanked us for ‘letting me be me’ and in every song, every moment she seemed transformed.
Now look I’m a huge Alabama Shakes fan and I love all those songs so I’m not saying they wouldn’t have been welcomed in the set but you feel like she needed to do this without that safety net, for now anyway. A song like ‘Short and Sweet’ which she played solo, showed how she has taken folk and Americana sounds and made them into something entirely original. That’s why a simple Americana rock band could never contain her. She needed to play songs that had funk, soul and rnb at their heart too.
During the partly spoken word ‘13th Century Metal’ she reminded us that ‘we’re all brothers and sisters’. Her mixed race identity is also at the heart of the powerful ‘Goat Head’. Both these songs are a reminder of the hardships and troubles the world faces. Unity, understanding and unadulterated joy are the only reasonable responses – and she offered us them all in abundance throughout.
Performing solo has set Brittany Howard on a new path – the only way forward for her now is higher and higher. It was a privilege to witness an artist becoming exactly who they always were, at last.