Show Review: Brittany Howard Delivers a Powerhouse Performance at the Wilbur

Photos by Jimena Cieza

By Eden Unger, Staff Writer

Artist: Brittany Howard

Where: The Wilbur

When: Monday, February 12th


Having a seat at a concert is a rare luxury, but at the end of Brittany Howard’s set, I was on my feet — the whole of the crowd at the Wilbur that Monday night were — applauding. Howard, formerly of Alabama Shakes, the award-winning indie roots-rock powerhouse of the 2010s, dropped her sophomore solo album, What Now, four days before the show. I’d listened to it the morning of the show, but my phone speakers didn’t do it justice. The Wilbur, a venue that seats almost 1,100, felt too small to hold Howard’s energy.



Howard’s longtime friend and Bermuda Triangle bandmate Becca Mancari opened the show. Mancari and Howard met in Nashville, which is where Mancari wrote one of my favorite songs of their set, the “Gillian Welch-inspired queer country song.” As the child of a preacher who grew up in the South with a church in their basement, Mancari is no stranger to the pain of the queer experience, but “with it,” they said, “comes the joy of writing music for our experience.” Another standout was the lush and loving “friend love song” called “Don’t Even Worry.” Mancari wrote the tracks for Howard, who co-wrote and produced it.



A short while later, Howard took to the stage with gravitas and drama, backed by an eight-piece band and a duo of backup singers. From the first note of “Earth Sign” — the opening track from What Now — it was clear she was in her element. The effortless grace and power with which Howard held herself, and led her band, were evident.

Between the third and fourth song of her set, Howard paused to address the audience, “It’s been way too long.” Before she could continue, a fan at the front of the floor shouted out “Brittany, I have a tattoo of you on my arm!” She took a second to admire the tattoo and thank the fan before launching into “Patience,” also off of What Now. It's a theatrical song about when to tell someone you love them that riffs on Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

Standing atop a speaker, Howard delivered another one of my favorites of the night, “Red Flags,” which had an almost prog-jazz, neo-soul feel, with big, heavy synths and a complicated drum beat. Towering above the crowd, she belted out the chorus of “Don't let it die, don't say that it's only love,” that had me head-banging.


Reflecting on the last time she was in Boston, Howard reckons that it must have been in 2019, when she “found [herself] on the bad side of an 80/20 relationship.” “But,” she said “It’s ok because at the end of the day, I was right.” Here, she breaks out “Baby,” a tune from her debut album Jaime, where she chastises a lover — “How could you call me your babe? You don't provide for me. You don't ride for me.” It has a dreaminess to it, but is grounded by a solid “doo BAP doo BAP” beat. From this, she transitions seamlessly into “History Repeats,” which has a funky, bluesy groove that reminded me of Prince. According to her Apple Music commentary on Jaime, the song wasn’t written on purpose, “I wrote it two or three years ago, finished it in a day, and totally forgot about it.”

Later in the set, Howard pulled out two back-to-back hits, What Now’s dancey “Prove It To You,” and Jaime’s “13th Century Metal,” which reads as a sort of manifesto, “I promise to think before I speak, to be wary of who I give my energy to. Because it is needed for a greater cause.” But the final song before the encore, “Short and Sweet” — when the band leaves the stage and Howard stands alone with an acoustic guitar — was the one that cemented her in my estimation as a true rock star. It’s a mournful, lonely, ballad, where Howard asks “Oh, ain't there something between us? / Something short and sweet.” It was the sort of moment that you think about on the way home from the show, and again when you wake up the next morning, and for a long time after that.



For her encore, she played “Another Day,” in which she sings, “I am having the time of my life” (and she was! I know I was, anyways). And then, the eponymous “What Now.” At the end of it all, after a night of rocking out, Howard got the standing ovation she deserved.

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