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Live / stage review

Brittany Howard

9 March 2020,

Touring one of her "most honest" albums to date, Brittany Howard brought the perfect combination of soul, funk and rock to Manchester. Whilst most recognised as Alabama Shakes’ frontwoman, Howard has also fronted side projects Thunderbitch and the all-female trio Bermuda Triangle. Her apparent musical fluidity and confidence to experiment with genre, ranging from garage-rock to soul, suggests a musical restlessness, yet fails to deny her ability.

To introduce Manchester to Jaime, her debut solo album, which is dedicated to her late sister, Howard governed the stage in a dazzling gold gown, complementing her stage presence. Referencing her influences, Prince and Pink Floyd, her set went on to enlighten crowds on her unique musical ability.

But before taking the crowd into the depth of her performance, Howard took a moment to shout out to the kids in an Australian children’s hospice, with her audience applauding their bravery.

'Stay High' was the first single The Ritz was treated to, with its soft notes and speckled guitar, crowds were left feeling uplifted. The worry-free song, fixated on "keeping cool", makes any internal fret seem unjustifiable, acting as an almost mentally soothing melody.

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Named one of Shadow Proof’s protest songs of the week, ‘Goat Head’ grapples with racial identity, telling a chilling story from Howard’s youth. The tyres of her family car in Alabama were slashed, with the severed head of a goat being put on the backseat – her "mama is white, and daddy is black," she begins. The hushed outro chant of "goat head in the back" shows how this event continues to haunt Howard, ever pondering the question of who did it.

Alongside dealing with race, Howard addresses sexuality and the internal exploration of such, with ‘Georgia’, which transitions from a steady beat to more of a ballad. The song narrates the unconventional story of a young girl having a crush on an older woman, which acts as a needed alternative to the tired theme of a young boy having a crush on his older sister’s friends.

First seen on Jools Holland’s annual Hootenanny bringing in the New Year, Howard’s performance of Jackie Wilson’s soul classic ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’ got the crowd moving; her energetic and soulful rendition arguably on par with the original.

Later in the set, Howard presented the audience with a defiant spoken-word manifesto, '13th Century Metal', backed by broken synths and urgent drumbeats. The track acts as an opportunity for the frontwoman to preach a borderline holy ideal, "to spread the enlightenment of love, compassion, and humanity to those who are not touched by its light".

Howard brought the set to a close with the acoustic track ‘Short and Sweet’, her soft yet powerful vocals position the song on the cusp of a lullaby. Although usually found at the front of a band, Howard's solo presence felt incomparable.

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