Tuesday 11th December 2012 in Live Music Reviews
by Tim Hughes, Music Editor, Oxford Mail

Alabama 3 bring a taste of Southern comfort
10:18am Tuesday 11th December 2012 in Live Music Reviews

By Tim Hughes, Music Editor. Call me on 01865 425494. Follow me on twitter: @OxMailTimHughes

The Alabama 3 swagger on to the stage at Oxford’s O2 Academy like drunken barflies being thrown out of a desert honky-tonk joint at dawn.

A mis-matched gang of reprobates and outlaws, sporting sunglasses and a mix of suit jackets, cowboy hats and extravagant facial hair, they are as far as it’s possible to get from the indie guitar bands who usually frequent this end of the Cowley Road.
It is almost 17 years since this bunch of South London acid house fans began mixing their beloved techno with layers of blues, country, soul and gospel, and it sounds as fresh now as then. Always much more than a band, Alabama 3 are a cast of cartoon characters, their shows crossing the frontiers between gig, pantomime, rave and Southern revivalist church meeting.

Quite frankly, you never know quite what you’re going to get next.
Opening with Mansion on the Hill, singer Larry Love unleashes those growled vocals – a voice more gravelly than a JCB and so grumbled it makes Leonard Cohen sound like a young Charlotte Church.
The whole thing is set to a bouncing dance synth groove with distorted guitars and heavy bass, leavened by the soaring vocals of a sleek-looking Aurora Dawn.

They follow up with Bullet Proof and the twanging country of Up Above my Head. And it isn’t long before co- frontman The Very Reverend D Wayne Love, looking like a cross between the moustached crooner Tony Clifton and a 1970s New York detective, turns on the crowd.

“Does anyone have any super glue?” he asks in response to a persistent heckler. “Can somebody stick this guy to the ceiling?”

The audience, a weirdly eclectic mix of baseball-capped teenagers, 30 and 40-somethings, cider-sipping clubbers and couples, stirred into recognition at the bluesy opening bars of Woke up this Morning. It is a perfect mix of growled vocals, hook-laden chorus, chunky beats and electronica – made famous for its use as The Sopranos theme tune – a fact employed to good use by The Very Rev who embarks on another diatribe – this time against the evils of the Mob.

The sing-along continues with the epic You Don’t Dance to Techno Anymore – a pure country farewell to raving, which, if not for the subject matter, could have been sung by Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson; and the deliciously upbeat distorted gospel country of Rehab.“This is a song about a dead rock star,” goes the introduction to I Blame Kurt Cobain – and, indeed, some songs later to Hello... I’m Johnny Cash.

In between there is a stomping version of Gil Scott Heron’s ant-racist anthem The Klan – its slick country delivery belying its hard-hitting lyrics, and showing Alabama 3 can be deadly serious when they need to be.

They end with a bit of bouncing in the air to Shoot Me Up before returning for an encore of Sinking, a chunky Too Sick to Pray, and the gentle come-down of Peace in the Valley rounding off a tight two-hour set of style, substance, satire, quick wit, great songwriting and perfectly-stated political message. And that’s not even mentioning those floor-trembling killer beats.

They may look like a novelty act, but there is grit and musicianship behind that whisky-soaked aviator-clad facade.

Are they the best live band in the country? Very probably. Certainly, when it comes to putting on a show few bands come close.