Alabama Shakes, Bob Log III @ Forum Theatre, Melbourne (24/01/2013)

“Hey who likes guitar songs? Well that’s good cause that’s all I do.” Bob Log III’s act is pretty straight forward; jam on the guitar, joke about how incredible that jam was, and repeat. In his self-intro, the man with no chords started off stage, appearing in all his jumpsuit and helmeted glory, complete with a few foil balloons and a light up guitar case for show. The act that he then delivered was equal parts comedy, kitsch and swamp blues bliss. Cutting himself off with the guitar before he finished a song’s intro, Bob Log III’s guitar had a life of its own, while the mystery man’s job was to keep the growing room amused with requests to kiss the sound man and an invitation for any willing ladies to come and sit on his knee. With one last defiant fist raised to the sky, and a quick walk through the crowd of punters, Bob Log III proved an unexpected, albeit amusingly welcome start to the evening.

The Big Day Out lineup this year is chock full of return acts, many of whom have hit our shores a number of times. Amongst the reruns, though, there are a few new comers; none more anticipated than Thursday night’s headliner Alabama Shakes. Last year’s Boys & Girls was met with critical acclaim, and it was predictable that this show would sell out with fans of said album developing their taste for the Alabama outfit over the past year.

The band emerged with little fuss, took their places and weren’t up for a big intro, leading subtly with ‘Goin’ to the Party’. The slower intro was telling of many factors in the set to come. With the exception of vocalist Brittany Howard, the band were entirely subdued, taking their places and keeping them. There was little to do with lighting, as well; the dim lit stage remaining visually similar throughout. But rather than a lack of visuals detracting from any value, the simplicity only raised more attention to the quality of Alabama Shakes’ sound. The Forum was a perfect fit for the musicians; the sound quality top notch and the atmosphere of the venue impressing Howard as much as the audience. The band’s jaunt into flashy showmanship was saved until quite late in the game, with drummer Steve Johnson setting his cymbals on fire for set closer ‘Heavy Chevy’.

The winning element and key focus of the show was Howard’s flawless, grin-inducing delivery. There was serious feeling in everything delivered, with the big moments countered by the sensitive emotion of tracks like ‘You Aint Alone’, on which Howard left her guitar and embellished every moment of the song with physical gestures to herself and the crowd. In addition to how captivating Howard was on stage, there was notable credit in the band’s set list. With only one LP to their name Alabama Shakes delivered an 80 minute set, made up of most of Boys & Girls, along with some rarer numbers and new material, including the heartfelt ‘Gospel Song’ that featured in the encore.