A.J. Haynes is crawling on the floor in front of the stage, tambourine in hand, kicking and howling the words to “Trees”. Every eye in the Horseshoe Tavern is on her. Every head and body is moving with her. And that’s when I realize: she isn’t just the lead vocalist of Seratones. She’s the leader of this congregation. And we’ve all been converted.
Hailing from Shreveport, Louisiana, Seratones are a four piece mosaic of Southern sounds. They slide from blues to garage rock in the blink of an eye, with Haynes as their guiding force. Her career started in church at age 6, where she was clearly influenced by the power of preaching through song. She skirts the line between Etta James and Janis Joplin, a sultry and tenacious blend for a band that toys with the boxes of genre. Last Wednesday, those boxes were wide open.
The small crowd at Horseshoe was composed at first, even as the band opened with “Choking on Your Spit”, an up tempo, Chuck Berry inspired jolter full of raunchy, electric runs that also opens their debut album, Get Gone. But the set only moved upwards from there and the audience reluctantly moved with it. From “Don’t Need It”, a dreamy, doo-wop sing-along, to the latin swing beat ballad “Kingdom Come”, each number inspired an ever-increasing intrigue for what might come next. The mood inevitably shifted during “Sun”, a garage rock equivalent of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”. The crowd could feel itself moving almost sub-consciously forward and Haynes reciprocated. She growled and shrieked as the song built and dropped, beckoning for us to come closer and “feel it anyway you like it”. We did just that until preacher and parish were one and the same.
In Get Gone, Haynes is front and centre. Her voice is intoxicating, with its pitch perfect falsetto that has a way of shocking you each time it happens. The defining feature of her voice is the beautifully shaky vibrato that lingers on the ends of phrases, demanding your ear. But when the band plays live they have a tendency to overpower the vocals and that defining quality gets lost in bass and guitars. It seems like Seratones are at their best when they dial back and let Haynes take the reigns.
Looking like a gospel queen with her Jimi Hendrix scarf tied to the mic stand and cowboy boots step dancing across the stage, Haynes made one thing very clear Wednesday night: she is the crux of Seratones.
Can I get an amen?