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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Astoria, London, October 7th 2007

I’m not quite sure why journeys to Alabama 3 concerts have to be so dramatic. This one took us from London to Oban, to Ballycastle and Bushmills Distillery, to Campbeltown and Springbank Distillery, to Arran (dinner only, as mobile ‘phones kept us abreast of France’s astonishing victory over the All Blacks), Largs, Glasgow and London - just in time to get into the queue snaking round the side of the pickle factory at 7.30.

It’s Sunday night, there’s a strict curfew, and the band are due on stage at 8.15 sharp. And give a minute or so they are. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something a little different about the Alabama 3. It’s not just the now slightly road-worn off-white suits and rhinestone studded shirts – a sartorial wink at the title of their new album M.O.R. And nor is it the addition of second guitarist Steve Nicked (Steve Finnerty) whose style contrasts with and complements the driving rhythms of ace Fender Thin line maestro Rock Freebase, resulting in a deeper and richer sound on some of the songs. And it’s not just the brass section – featured on MOR and here on some of the songs both old and new – which also adds a new aural layer to the A3 experience. And it can’t be the still remarkable voice of ever-present Devlin Love who now has to be regarded as an essential element in both their sound and their stage-show. Well – it’s all of these and more. These “techno situationist crypto-Marxist-Leninists” are being very obedient – there’s no smoking (of anything) on stage, and not a great deal of drinking either. Apparently they’ve got new management. And here’s a word that I don’t associate with the lexicon of the First Presbyterian Church of Elvis the Divine – they’re almost, well…slick. “Trust me to leave them just when they’ve started to get their act together” says former bass player, Mr Segs.
And they certainly have. With assistance from the usual range of suspects - Errol T, the Rev. B Attwell, Sister Francesca Love, M C Pablo, and a rather tired looking yet funky Mr Segs on a blistering version of ‘Up above my head’ that closed the main set – they turned in a cracking four and a half star set. It’s a clever mixture of old and recent favourites – ‘Too sick to pray’, ‘U don’t dance 2 techno’, ‘R.E.H.A.B.’, ‘Speed of the sound of loneliness’ (the second encore) and a brilliant ‘Honey in the rock’, and ‘Hello I’m Johnny Cash’ (both from the last album Outlaw) and songs from MOR. There’s ‘Fly’, Lockdown’ (with the brass section taking the stage for the first time), ‘Are you a souljah’ (which is pretty good on the album but seems to suffer from slight timing problems tonight) and ‘Amos Moses’ – about a one-armed alligator hunting Cajun, and a hit for country singer and composer Jerry Reed in 1970. Here it’s given the full Rev D Wayne Love swamp-funk treatment, with support from Francesca and Devlin Love, and Rock Freebase’s guitar. Larry Love, as tireless as ever, growled his way through ‘Middle of the road’, a tribute to the excesses of bands such as the Eagles, featuring Finnerty’s Harrisonesque guitar. The whole thing – as I’ve already said – was bought to an end with ‘Up above my head’.
There followed a rather long interval when I imagine the majority of the band were taking (at the very least) an extended nicotine moment in the alley at the back of the theatre.
They eventually returned to play ‘Holy love’ – an impressive duet between Larry and Devlin Love and some excellent and soulful piano playing from the Spirit – “Here’s some motherfucking gospel singing for you on a Sunday night”, before finishing with ‘Sweet joy’. It’s a bizarre Black and White Minstrels moment (a television programme that my late father insisted on watching just to wind everyone up) because it’s a bluesy almost anthemic reworking of the 1916 popular classic ‘If you were the only girl in the world’ much beloved of the monochrome vaudevillians. Original composers Clifford Grey and Nat D. Ayer don’t get any writing credits on the album – instead they’re shared with Proclaimers Craig and Charlie Reid who are also featured on the recording. They’re not on stage tonight – although by this point almost everyone else is. It’s a suitably climatic finish - with the stage gradually emptying before Freebase and Nicked – supported of course by the excellent drums and percussion of Sir Eddie Real and LB Dope – jam it out to the end. Spirit
Clutching copies of Drive Time, a ‘for sale at concerts only’ remix of some of the MOR tracks, along with some new recordings of older tunes (and well worth a listen if you can find it) we were ushered out to a side exit. When we got outside we were assailed with a pungent burning smell – the band at the top of the alley lighting up again? No – as it turned out there was a major fire on Oxford Street and chaos ensued as we tried to get home.
- Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

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