Alabama 3, Astoria, London   ****

Reviewed by John Walsh

Published: 12 October 2007

It's a shock to see Alabama 3 take the stage in their fancy new duds. The Brixton collective used to thrive on a ramshackle, take-it-or-eff-off, outlaw charm. You'd never be sure how many of them would show up, or in what state of chemical dishevelment.

Look at them now: new logo, white suits, rhinestones, matching hats and scrubbed faces, the whole show a polished musical attack. As they swing into the opening tracks of M.O.R., their well-received new album, they look reborn – appropriately for a band devoted to the spurious idioms of American gothic salvationism.

Front man Larry Love's rasping Welsh baritone has sunk even further towards his boots, but he performs with glee, singing the volcanically funky "Lockdown" as if possessed. Sharing the vocals is Devlin Love, a feisty pocket Venus with a voice of piercing sweetness and an arsenal of country-and-western gestures.

After a toxic "Too Sick to Pray", with keyboards maestro Orlando Harrison (aka The Spirit) sweeping his electric organ at a 45-degree angle, the band deliver some crowd-pleasers from their early days: "Hypo Full of Love" and "U Don't Danse 2 Tekno Anymore", with storming harmonica work from The Mountain of Love, a large, stolid man who, when not playing, stands impassively before an open laptop. He is, of course, the programmer of the band's liquid techno-bleeps, but he resembles a weary loss-adjuster attempting to write a novel on stage.

The Alabamas' capacity to fuse elements of rock, blues, country and western, acid house, techno and gospel is better than ever. They turn Jerry Reed's "Amos Moses", the story of an alligator poacher, into swamp blues with dirty guitar licks from Rock Freebase, and give "R.E.H.A.B", from their third album, an ecstatic gospel chorus.

A plodding "Are You a Souljah?" and a dullish, strobe-lit techno interlude stops the dancing in the aisles. But they burst back to life with "Hello... I'm Johnny Cash" to massed cheers, and a twangy "Life in the Fast Lane".
The first encore, "Holy Blood", is a slow, gorgeous, piano-driven gospel duet between Larry and Devlin that raises the hairs on your neck. A blast of their perennial favourite, John Prine's "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness" and then they finish with the album's closer, "Sweet Joy", a wonderful updating of "If You Were the Only Girl in the World", with crashing drums and a baffling guest appearance from the barman of Soho's notorious Colony Room.

"First class," comments the bloke in a ponytail beside me. I say. It's not the sort of thing you hear in Brixton, is it?