|Alabama 3/Boss Caine - York, Fibbers - 31st May 2014|
|Written by Ben Hughes|
|Wednesday, 11 June 2014 04:00|
Alabama 3 have been quoted in the press as being "the greatest live band in the country" and with good reason. I have seen them plenty of times in the past and they have lived up to that reputation on most occasions. Their live shows veer from full on rock 'n' roll to hardcore dance or countrified acoustic depending on the mood or what members are available.
Unfortunately, the last couple of times I have seen them I have been disappointed to be honest. They have lacked that certain spark that made them a great live band in the first place and I was left feeling they truly did peak back on the 'Outlaw' album nearly 10 years ago now. I do remember saying in my review from The Duchess back in 2011 (when I felt they were a bit of a shambles really) that I would give them one last chance: well tonight's the night, guys.
First up tonight is local band Boss Caine, probably the perfect opener for Alabama 3 if you ask me. Gravelly voiced Americana, countrified Blues, simple songs straight from the heart and soul and the pen of frontman Daniel Lucas. He is possibly the hardest working musician I know of, his band played a gig at a wedding this afternoon and following this set tonight they hastily have to exit for an acoustic show in the round on the other side of York: three gigs in one day is not bad going, and in the morning he will drunkenly stagger onto a London bound bus for more gigging.
It's a stripped down Boss Caine show tonight due to lack of space on stage more than anything else I believe, and tonight Dan and his acoustic guitar are joined by smiley faced fiddle player Kieran O'Malley. The fiddle adds an extra haunting, folky feel to the songs tonight. Songs filled with sentiment, tales of love and lost love and probably some drinking, sung in Dan's trademark 40 a day/bottle of whisky soaked Tom Waits drawl. The material is the sort of quality, stripped back and laid back, countrified Blues that Tyla pulls off when he is on form, lyrics that mean something, songs that can soothe the soul or tug at a heartstring, the sort of music I love.
Opener 'Dead Man's Suit' is quite mesmerising from the off, upbeat acoustic goodness, wonderful stuff and 'Truckstop Jukebox' with lyrics that will strike a chord with old record shop browsers like you and me, again it's one I know and is a stand out track.
Search out Boss Caine if they come your way and if Mr Lucas is not on stage you can probably find him at the bar. In fact no, don't wait, get on their Bandcamp page now, pour yourself a glass of red, settle back and thank me later. Music for ravers, rockers and sad, broken-hearted music lovers the world over.
Taking a peek at the rather long Alabama 3 setlist taped to the floor on two pieces of A4, I am pretty sure we are in for a good night. Lots of older material, I was expecting tonight's set to feature heavily on latest album 'The Men From W.O.M.B.L.E.', songs I am not yet familiar with, but a roadie dashes on and scribbles off 4-5 songs, mostly titles I didn't recognise which makes it makes it even better for me.
Larry Love takes centre stage in mandatory cowboy hat and shades for opening song 'W.O.M.B.L.E./This Is How We Build It'. Joined by just half the band including female vocalist Aurora Dawn, it's pretty much dance beats and sampled vocals that tell a step by step guide on how to build a house track. Deep dance beats fill the packed room as Larry does his trademark side to side groove, for a song I'm unfamiliar with it's quite a mesmerising opener.
The rest of the nine strong band squeeze onto the Fibbers stage and it's straight into classic after classic. 'Hypo Full Of Love' with The Rev D Wayne's cool spoken word sermon and the usual synchronised side to side swaying from the whole band has always been a personal favourite and one of those songs that's even better live, tonight is no exception. By the end of the song carnage has already rained down, The Spirit's keyboard has already has some abuse from its owner, fallen from its stand and hit the floor, sending cans of Red Stripe flying. He seems unfazed by this and carries on regardless, as a roadie can be seen hastily mopping up spilt lager from the floor around the band's feet.
The heady mix of blues and dance beats of 'Mansion On The Hill', the intensity of 'Power In The Blood' that seriously sends shivers up the spine, and the harmonica soaked 'Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness', a song that has always struck a chord with me. They fly by in quick succession and to tell you the truth the band are sounding mighty fine, this is the Alabama 3 I love.
Tonight is a full-on rock 'n' roll Alabama 3 show, they sound edgy, intense and on fire for the most part, yet at times on the verge of falling apart, but I do like that element, you just don't know what's going to happen next. D Wayne is wild eyed and looking like things could kick off at any moment, and there are heated words with certain audience members. I'll tell you one thing, an Alabama 3 show is never dull.
Keyboard player The Spirit shuffles on and off between songs, clutching a can of Red Stripe, looking a bit out of it to tell you the truth, like he's not really there. Head to toe in black crumpled clothes like he has just been dug up or pulled out of a cupboard somewhere, it doesn't affect his playing at all, I think that's just the way he is.
I was a big fan of Devlin Love as a singer and when she left, I felt the band lost a big part of their live sound, but fair play to Aurora Dawn who now after what, 3-4 albums has firmly stamped her 6 inch heels over the sound of Alabama 3. Her spot on soulful vocals adding that certain touch of class and sexiness, especially to the newer dance orientated songs such as 'I Am A Deterrent', she is handed the lead for several songs and can sure hold her own.
A couple of tracks from 'Outlaw' sound particularly fine tonight. 'Have You Seen Bruce Reynolds' sees most of the band leave the stage for D Wayne to take the lead telling the tale of the great train robber to the awesome harmonica accompaniment of the train robber's son himself who has been a full time band member for many years now. The countrified shuffle of 'Hello...I'm Johnny Cash', a tongue in cheek tribute littered with Cash song references is a definite highlight. It's also great to hear older sing-a-long floor fillers like 'U Don't Danse 2 Tekno Anymore' and 'Ain't Going To Goa'.
Okay, so it's not all perfect, things do fall apart on a couple of occasions. After a few bars of 'Lockdown and Loaded' the song breaks down, Larry removes his shades and addresses the crowd with some speech about old Stones bootlegs being shit and how rock 'n' roll ain't perfect and, yeah, fair enough. They re-start the song and fair play it kicks hard and ends up being one of the highlights, no momentum is lost tonight. But things do fall apart again in closing song 'Too Sick To Pray' where Larry misses his cue and is singing out of time with the song. Again, as D Wayne and Aurora give each other the sort of look that to me says "here we go again," it's stopped and re-started and I'm beginning to think maybe they spent too long in the pub this afternoon. Out of time vocals finally catch up with the beat of the song and band members give each other funny stares but they get it through it this time and no one seems to notice.
I don't really know what's going on with Alabama 3, songs were falling apart the last time I saw them, that time the excuse was that it was Larry's birthday, what's the excuse this time? I know rock 'n' roll ain't perfect and that's what I love about it, but for nearly 25 quid a ticket I don't really expect to see a band of this calibre having to re-start songs. They never used to be like this. Having said that apart from those two incidents the band were spot on tonight, just as good as they have ever been. Would I pay to see 'em again? Yeah, too damn right I would!
Alabama 3 are the real deal, a true rock 'n' roll collective and like all great rock 'n' roll bands they occasionally fuck up and fall off the rails, but we still love em for it, don't we? Quality night.
[Boss Caine and A3 pics ©Marc McGarraghy/Yellow Mustang Photography]