|Alabama 3 - York, The Duchess - 22nd November 2011|
|Written by Ben Hughes|
|Friday, 02 December 2011 05:00|
Alabama 3 are one of the UK's best kept musical secrets; you may not know them, but you will probably have heard them. The theme tune to The Sopranos anyone? 'Woke Up This Morning', yep that was them. Strangely enough they hail from Brixton and not Alabama. They describe themselves as playing "sweet pretty muthafuckin' country acid house music" and that's a pretty good description. Like Johnny Cash jamming with Primal Scream they came on to the scene with debut album 'Exile On Cold Harbour Lane' in 1997 and have been wowing those in the know with incendiary live shows ever since, events that have gone down in history as classics by fans.
Led by the charismatic duo of gravelly voiced Larry Love and the Rev D Wayne Love they preach songs of love, drugs, religion and politics, sometimes all in one song. They sound like no other band I have heard, mixing up blues with dance grooves they pinch samples from many classic songs, and mix it all up in a way that only they can. It's diverse, original and their first four studio albums are pretty much essential listening to me.
Live there are three types of Alabama 3 show; The Rock 'n' Roll A3, The Acoustic A3 and the Dance A3, and the great thing about them is you never know what you are going to get on a night to night basis. I have seen them 5 times over the years and the dance orientated shows are oddly the finest. In this mode they kick like Faithless do live; it's hardcore, the bass rattles deep through your bones and it's intense to the max. But don't be put off by the word 'dance', these guys are more rock 'n' roll than a lot of so called rock bands out there. But what did we get tonight? Well this was a whole different Alabama 3.
Now the last time I saw them was last year and I was slightly disappointed, they lacked the usual energy of previous gigs, and I went into this gig hoping that was a one off. The first half of the set relies heavily on new material I am unfamiiar with, it's mostly a mid paced groove, and before long I yearn for a song I know. It's not like they don't have good songs to choose from, their greatest hits album from a few years back is testament to that, and that album is just the tip of the iceberg. I guess they are concentrating on pushing the new material, that I understand. The new album 'Shoplifting 4 Jesus' I haven't heard as yet so cannot really judge the new songs on tonight's show.
This is the problem as I see it, the new material is not as strong as their classic stuff and this is made apparent from the crowd reaction too. The drunk fella behind me shouts for 'Cold Harbour Lane' and I know where he is coming from.
When they are on the ball it's top quality; as they delve into the back catalogue we are treated to 'Up Above My Head', 'REHAB', 'Too Sick To Pray', all are awesome songs, and the energy levels increase immediately. A welcome addition up front now is Aurora Dawn who replaced the sadly missed Devlin Love a few years back. She seems to have settled in well now and her powerful, rich voice adds texture to the songs. With dark shades ever present the interaction between the three up front is good and pleasing to watch, D Wayne as ever preaches to the masses in his (fake)yankee drawl, Larry works the crowd, his trademark sideways swagger ever present, and Aurora's energy and sweet voice bring it all together. Yet there seems to be something not quite there tonight, at times it's like they are going through the motions. Even the excellent 'Mao Tse Tung' lacks the usual intensity, half way through they break into 'Vietnamistan' - it is an odd segue between two great songs that somehow loses momentum.
Ending the main set with the excellent 'Hypo Full of Love' is a highlight, one of my favourite tracks and it just shows how bloody good this band can be. At this point I am a happy man. Encore time sees Larry and keyboard player The Spirit do a sweet version of 'Peace In The Valley' before the band come on for another unfamiliar track that maybe is unfamiliar to them too as they fuck it up. After a seemingly heated discussion mid-song with the bassist, Larry slams the mic on the floor and he nearly walks off but is stopped by D Wayne, who then tries to cover the mistake by saying it was one of their improvisations, but Larry is having none of that. Addressing the crowd he apologises, saying they fucked up."This is not the X Factor, this is a rock 'n' roll band, do you forgive us cos this is not something we normally do?" It's Larry's birthday,"so he got a little high and missed a couple of cues," D Wayne informs us. So after an impromptu singing of happy birthday to an obviously embarrassed Larry Love all is forgiven and they close with an incendiary 'Woke Up This Morning'.
A strange gig indeed; it was a match of two halves, the first half was an unfamiliar groove and the second half was the great songs we all wanted to hear. They looked tired and burnt out tonight, maybe they have just been touring too hard or partying too hard. I love Alabama 3 and don't want to bad mouth them, but I ain't going to lie. I know they can be so much better than this, I have paid good money to see them in the past and I would do so again, but it has to be said after the last two shows I have witnessed it's three strikes and you're out guys.
[Photo Kudos to Matt Seddon]