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Alabama Shakes stirs a hearty buzz at Day 2 of the Beach Ball

Brittany Howard, lead singer and guitarist for Alabama Shakes, performed Sunday at the Buzz Beach Ball at Children’s Mercy Park.
Brittany Howard, lead singer and guitarist for Alabama Shakes, performed Sunday at the Buzz Beach Ball at Children’s Mercy Park. Special to The Star

No space, it seems, is too big for the musical force that is Brittany Howard, lead singer and guitarist for Alabama Shakes.

Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park, the band from Athens, Ala., headlined the second day of the Buzz Beach Ball, an annual festival sponsored by radio station KRBZ (96.5 FM) that features a variety of music styles.

Alabama Shakes played the final set, and for the occasion they brought fortification, including three background singers. Embellishing Howard’s voice could have been an exercise in gilding gold or painting lilies, but in this case it worked.

Howard has a voice that is as powerful as it is agile and as evocative as anyone’s. But I wondered going in how she and her band would sound in a venue as big as the home of Sporting KC. In addition to the backup singers, the band was fortified by two other musicians. The extra help gave their music all the heft it needed to fill a stadium and reach the 14,000 fans scattered about the floor, seats and other places they took perch.

The set list tapped into both studio albums and showcased the band’s love and appreciation for taproot soul, blues, R&B and rock. “Hang Loose” aroused the biggest ovation, but it was but one of several outstanding moments.

Howard can be an electrifying performer, a singer who hurls herself into songs like “Dunes,” “Gimme All Your Love” and “Always Alright,” testifying and evangelizing like a woman wounded, scorned or deep in a state of repentance. She played rhythm guitar throughout the 70-minute set, sometimes furiously, as during “Rise to the Sun.” She also let loose with some leads, most impressively during “Sound & Color.”

After Howard delivered a short sermon about the need for all of us to express more love and kindness, they closed with “Over My Head,” a song about being so deep in love that “I’m never saying goodbye.”

Their set capped a day of more than nine hours of music. Here’s a recap of some of what preceded Alabama Shakes.

Kaleo: They’re from Iceland but they play several strains of American blues: Texas blues, Delta blues and scuzzy rock blues, in the vein of the White Stripes and Black Keys. Its seemed like their set was cut short to make up for lost time. It was memorable, nonetheless.

Glass Animals: They’re a British band that fuses indie-rock with electronic rock and wafts of trip-hop. Much of the crowd adored them. I don’t really get it.

They issue lots of energy from the stage, and there is plenty of percussive groove. And they add lots of electronic baubles and trinkets to the arrangements, so things get a little experimental at times. But for my tastes, the melodies are too simple and the songcraft is lacking.

Nonetheless, they drew what looked and sounded like the largest and loudest crowd of the night. The cover of Kanye West’s “Lowdown” went over very well.

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear: Kansas City’s own drew a big crowd to its inaugural Beach Ball performance. The folk-rock duo, featuring Ward and his mother, Ruth, on guitars and vocals, is bolstered by drummer Tom Hudson and bassist Brent Kastler. Their music is based in coffeehouse folk, but the rhythm section gives it the power it needs to thrive in a large outdoor venue.

The crowd greeted them warmly and enthusiastically, especially during “Silent Movies,” which generated one of the loudest singalongs of the day.

Portugal the Man: This troupe from Alaska accents its indie rock with several flavors: psychedelic rock, garage rock, prog-rock, alt-rock. The genre-switching adds variety and energy to the music that is generally hook- and groove-heavy. A few songs stood out, like “Atomic Man/Gimme Shelter” and “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.”

Lewis Del Mar: Singer/guitarist Danny Miller and drummer/producer Max Harwood are the heart of this New York band. They are folk-based, but they manipulate the form, infusing it with soulful vocals and Latin beats laid upon electronic soundscapes. Miller is a manic frontman, adding even more energy to the music.

The Head and the Heart: They’re a Seattle band that traffics in foot-stomping folk-rock songs, embellished with extra percussion and gang vocals (a la the Lumineers). If it’s a sound on its way out out of fashion, it didn’t show during their set, which drew a big crowd that appeared to be familiar with nearly every song.

Bleached: This Los Angeles band (three ladies and a gent) sounded like a blend of the Go-Gos and Joan Jett with some Darling Buds thrown in. It’s girl-pop with lots of harmonies but with a crusty, punk edge. Good stuff.

Eagles of Death Metal: Josh Homme wasn’t part of the lineup, but co-founder Jesse Hughes was, and he led his band through one of the day’s more invigorating sets, one that tapped into the blues, garage rock and the kind of straight-up rock that recalls the Stones and the kind of punk that recalls the Stooges and the MC5.

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