This is the second or third year I’ve been blow away by a group I’d never heard of during the opening act for a headliner at Montreux Jazz.
Until the iPod and audio compression came along, and until I moved to Europe and lost touch with most of my musician friends, music was always a big part of my life. Now it seems live performance is the only music I can actually enjoy. I’ve heard criticism that Montreux Jazz is isn’t what it used to be, that it’s stale, a festival for people who want to see and be seen. I’m not interested in arguing about that; I like Montreux Jazz for the intimate venues. I’ve been to at least one or two concerts almost every year since I’ve lived nearby in Lausanne, and every year I hear something amazing.
This year it was Alabama Shakes, billed as an American soul/rock bank from Athens, Alabama. That’s not a genre I listen to often, but the power and emotion of lead singer Brittany Howard really pulled me in. You could hear how all the members of the band were experiencing the music, not just playing it. This was the real stuff.
It takes courage to play a few Boogie Woogie numbers, but they did, without descending into nostalgia or kitsch. There was plenty of “Wurlitzer” and I was liking that. Looking around the audience, almost everyone was dancing a little; this was the kind of music you don’t stand still to.
Near the end of the show, Brittany Howard told us how last year she had a job delivering mail, and now the band was in Switzerland “looking at the beautiful lake and the beautiful people.” She was happy to be there, and so was I. When she said “Merci beaucoup,” the crowd was delighted.
I’m not going to write a detailed review of the show. Let’s just say that after Alabama Shakes, Alanis Morisette with all her energy and exuberance seemed a little too polished, as if she’d lost a bit of her “edge.” (Her band on the other hand, was really groovin’.)
Some of the people I spoke with after the concert weren’t as impressed with Alabama Shakes as I was, but then again, it wasn’t the kind of performance they were looking for. As for me, I like finding something fresh, especially when it turns up unexpected.