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Photography: Glyn Akroyd / @GlynAkroyd

Alabama 3

O2 Academy 1/12/18

“Does humour belong in music?” queried Frank Zappa. The jury seems split on that one, humour denoting a damning lack of ‘seriousness’ for some, or an engaging conveyor of meaning for others. For ALABAMA 3 there seems to be no doubt; their adoption of alter-egos for the band members; the southern preacher personas of front men The Very Reverend Dr D Wayne Love and Larry Love (the First Presleyterian Church of Elvis The Divine); lyrics with an acerbic humour running through them. This levity of image and content has polarised the critics and has resulted in them remaining something of a cult despite more than 20 years of touring, and the release of over 20 albums. To NME they are “a monumental waste of time” while Time Out reckons that “they swing like the devil’s own dick”. Personally, I’m swingin’ with Satan on this one, as are the gleeful disciples escaping a suitably biblical downpour to pack out the O2.

A white suited Larry Love and band hit the stage running, going straight into Let’s Go Out 2Nite from 2011’s Shoplifting 4 Jesus, a suitably upbeat foundation on which to establish tonight’s party, and a song which immediately has the crowd singing along. An Alabama 3 gig is always a party, their mash up of acid house beats, blues and country melding old and new forms of dance music into a vibrant whole, injected with a dressing of counterculture polemic laced with the aforementioned dry, dark humour. And it’s the protest nature of much of their music that elevates it above and beyond mere dancefloor escapism. Songs like Don’t Fly No Flag (“Don’t need no country, don’t fly no flag, don’t cut no slack, for the Union Jack”) and Facebook.Con (“I’ve got 25,000 friends but all I wanna do is disappear”) tackle the subject of identity, both political and personal. If you look at their back catalogue there’s not a lot they haven’t taken a pop at: fascism, totalitarianism, new age mysticism, the (lack of) justice system, and their latest release, 2016’s Blues, covers enforced migration, the Aberfan disaster and the Jonestown massacre. But if protest ain’t your bag then there’s enough tight grooves, hooks and beats to keep you more than happy on the dancefloor.

After a couple of songs, on strolls the Very Rev Dr D Wayne Love, black suit contrast to Larry’s white, a bad preacher/good preacher combo who don’t really sing but rather talk their way through the music. Larry Love swaying from side to side in that trademark crouch, finger pointing skywards in exhortation, D Wayne with that slight, knowing smile, dispensing philosophical certainties as though at the tail end of a three-day bender. They are aided and abetted tonight by two backing vocalists, whose identities I cannot confirm, but add an uplifting blend of soul and gospel that raises you right out of your pew in a righteous fever.

The set list draws fully from their 20 years of recorded material, old favourites like Woke Up This Morning, (Don’t You Go To) Goa and John Prine cover Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness sit easily with later material such as Nothing To Lose But Your Chains and Rattlesnake Woman, the crowd, judging by their reaction, seemingly well up to speed with the newer songs, singing along, dancing, arms aloft. Rock Freebase and Steve Finnerty’s guitar playing interlocks shimmering slide, nimble finger picking, ripping solos and grungy hooks, melding with Harpo Strangelove’s bluesey harp licks. The sound is filled out with key/synth washes, played by The Spirit Of Love, bubbling and soaring over LB Dope’s pounding, mid-tempo groove.

Absolutely stonking versions of R.E.H.A.B. and Hypo Full Of Love ratchet up the temperature to ‘sweat dripping from the walls’ levels before the band leave the stage under a single spotlight for the reading of a revolutionary, call-to-arms poem (“Tory politicians fiddling kids and expenses” gives you the idea). Everyone listens, then applauds wildly before the band are back in the groove for an anthemic encore of Facebook.Con and Too Sick To Pray.
See you in the congregation for the next party conference, comrades.

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