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ALABAMA 3 AT THE PRINCE

LIVE AT THE PRINCE, MELBOURNE April 8th 2012
www.au.timeout.com

The hair is whiter, the cracked voices deeper and the creases in their faces more marked than ever, yet the Alabama 3 roll on. As unruly a bunch as has ever shared a stage, they continue to forge their idiosyncratic path, wavering from country and blues to acid house and four-to-the-floor techno, all the while powered by a wicked sense of humour, fierxe political beliefs, and any substance – legal or otherwise – they can get their hands on (crystal meth is “a soft drug for hard bastards” leading singer Rob “Larry Love” Spragg once told us).

As on their first jaunt to Melbourne, they’re welcomed onstage by Mark “Chopper” Read, in keeping with their tradition of bringing notable outlaws along for the ride; Howard Marks and Bruce Richard Reynolds (the mastermind of the Great Train Robbery) have filled the role in the past. Gone, for the most part, is the outlandish cowboy gear of the past in favour of a slicker, more futuristic look, enhanced by the band’s latest female vocalist, Aurora Dawn. Dressed in sharp lines and sharper shades, she only lets the studied cool slip when pausing to swig deeply from a wine bottle.

The set mixes old and new, the latter generally darker, heavier and more bluesy, with 'Vietnamistan' the rollicking standout from last album Revolver Soul. Yet while these tracks, dealing variously with the UK’s social unrest, the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the internet, suggest a band continuing to forge ahead, it’s the golden oldies that get the crowd writhing.

‘R.E.H.A.B.’ sees arms raised aloft with its cries for salvation, “Hello… I’m Johnny Cash” and ‘Mao Tse Tung Says’ are grin-inducing dancefloor bangers, while ‘Woody Guthrie’ and ‘Hypo Full of Love’ showcase two sides of the band. One ends with a soulful plea on behalf of asylum seekers, the other tells the tale of the band’s ringmaster, Jake “Reverend D Wayne Love” Black, as a sexually depraved dealer selling love on street corners.

It’s a heady, toxic mix, one that has won them an army of loyal fans the world over. It’s just a shame that to everyone else they’re merely the band who wrote the track in the opening credits of The Sopranos.