Six months ago, I had a wild idea to travel across the Atlantic Ocean for a concert featuring two of my favorite bands. I shared my idea with some co-workers and friends, expecting one of them to talk some sense into me. Instead, all I heard back was positive feedback, encouraging me to go ahead and buy a ticket for the show and worry about the details later. I was working 60 hour weeks at the time, so a little time off and a $50 ticket didn’t sound too bad at all. Lacking a good reason not to, I bought my ticket to see Alabama Shakes perform with Michael Kiwanuka at the O2 Academy Brixton in London.

It was difficult in the months between to keep my expectations level. The week before I was to see Alabama Shakes perform, a friend of mine saw them perform in Brussels. I couldn’t help asking what he thought, was he impressed? Regretfully, my friend told me that it was underwhelming: the crowd wasn’t into it, and so the vibe wasn’t great. Doing my best not to let this get me down, I even stopped listening to the band in order to allow the show to stand on its own. So often a great show is sullied by the nagging desire to hear this song or that, or hear a song performed in a specific way.

I arrived on time for the show (a rare event that truly shows my level of excitement). A throng of people were outside the venue when I arrived, along with black letters on the marquee spelling “sold out” – a good sign. As I entered the concert hall, Michael Kiwanuka was already on stage, and against my nature I snaked my way through the crowd until I was as close as possible without having to start a fight.

While I viewed Kiwanuka as much more than a blah opening act, it was clear that others around me were not as familiar with him. Just as my friend’s experience of Alabama Shakes was tarnished by a disinterested crowd, so too was my experience of Michael Kiwanuka. Not to be dissuaded, he and the band turned up the volume a bit, showing a louder rock & roll side to their live act. On any other night, seeing Michael Kiwanuka perform would have been the highlight. But not this night.

From the first note she uttered, Brittany Howard commanded the stage, and in no small feat, managed to look completely at ease while baring her emotions and letting it all out. She’s got it. In a performance that left me feeling emotionally drained, Howard and the Alabama Shakes appeared to grow stronger and more emotional as the show went on – I’ve never seen a better example of a performer feeding off the energy of the crowd.

With lyrics that are very personal, and at times tragic, it was clear to see that the performance was a cathartic experience for Howard. In spite of her on-stage swagger, she appears humble and – when she’s not singing her lungs out – reserved. She didn’t hide her amazement at the crowd’s multiple ovations, which occurred so often as to interrupt the timing of a set that went like clockwork. Granted it was the final show of the tour, but the band’s chemistry was fine-tuned and their coordination was on point. It seemed like the Alabama Shakes could do no wrong, and by the end of the night, they were performing like they knew it. The whole band was letting it ‘hang loose’ as they were freed from judgment by the crowd’s undying admiration. It was dynamite.

But was it worth it? It was a question I expected from others, and couldn’t help posing to myself throughout the night. While I don’t know how far everyone else at the show traveled to be there that night, it was still reassuring to see and hear and feel a couple thousand other people who appreciated the music just as much as I did. Seeing that the band could feel the support as well was the icing on the cake.

Specifically, Brittany Howard’s performance of “Joe” was breathtaking. A divergence in sound from the rest of the set, it was an exclamation point that silenced the sold-out crowd. You can listen to a live recording below to hear it for yourself. If you’re left feeling a bit emotionally rattled, yet uplifted, then you’ll be feeling a bit like I did after the show ended. It was a rare glimpse of someone doing what they were put on Earth to do, and that is priceless. So was it worth it? Oh yes.

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