Before Alabama Shakes performed at the 2016 Grammys, much of the telecast's audience might not have been familiar with the bluesy rock band — even though they won four awards and were nominated for Album of the Year. But approximately 10 seconds into their performance, lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard threw her head back to let out a note that proved just how powerful her band can be.
The first Alabama Shakes song I ever heard was "Heartbreaker," off their 2012 debut, Boys & Girls. It features swooping licks, woozy guitars, and such powerful lead vocals from then-24-year-old Howard that it feels like her desperate snarl is reaching through the speakers to grab you by the throat.
With the release of 2015's Sound & Color, the band didn't push their boundaries so much as click into a smoother gear. The album was confident, relaxed, with a presence that takes so many artists decades to achieve. Howard's vocals had only grown more confident, tearing into deceptively slow songs like "Gimme All Your Love" and crooning sustained notes on "Future People" that hang above the guitars, until she finally lets them slide back down. Howard often gives herself over completely to wailing a single note — precise, but still passionate.
So when Alabama Shakes took to the stage at the Grammys to play Sound & Color's defiant "Don't Wanna Fight," I knew they were about to win over some skeptical viewers (or at least the ones who let their attention wander after Kendrick Lamar's titanic performance).
And based on the performance that followed, I can only assume the band converted plenty of new fans. The Shakes and Howard proved their worth in less than 10 seconds, as Howard opened the song by yowling a single note — beautifully controlled, but still jagged at the edge.