Alabama 3 in Whelan’s, Dublin, 1 October 2015
From their origins as a country/techno fusion band on the ‘90s London acid house scene, Alabama 3 have mostly coasted along beneath the commercial radar. Sure they sprung into the spotlight as the band that did the Sopranos theme song for a while, but even that never translated into breaking into the mainstream.
Not that they appear to have any problem with that. Alabama 3 may don rockstar stage personas of the Keith Richards variety, like they’re global superstars, but at the same it’s clear that they revel in their outsider, alternative status.
These days the band is mostly operating in it’s acoustic/unplugged guise, appearing as a four piece of guitar, harmonica and two dueting vocalists. It may be far closer to the band’s adopted American gospel and delta-blues roots than the electro-fuelled rave rock that was a big part of the Alabama 3’s strange appeal, but the show is anything but restrained or tame.
Decked out in all-black rockstar chic – with frontman Larry Love sporting Elvis shades and a cowboy hat – the foursome take their stools on the Whelan’s main stage and crack open cans of beer before launching into their set. Even in this stripped back form, seeing Alabama 3 play live is a real workout.
In fact, it’s a testament to the band that, stripped of their 808s and 303s, Alabama 3 still manage to drop some serious and immensely danceable tunage. Guitarist Rock Freebase never over-complicates his simple fretwork, but it somehow builds into a structure that sounds like the presence of way more instruments. On harmonica Harpo Love blasts through a series of squealing lead melodies.
Early on Alabama 3 drop a heavily modified and seriously bluesy version of Woke Up This Morning that sees Larry Love up on his feet, leaping mawkishly about the stage like he’s playing to a stadium. From there the energy never lets up, with bangers like U Dont Dans 2 Tekno fitting in alongside cheeky yet hymnal Too Sick to Pray and a cover of John Prine’s Speed of Sound of Loneliness.
Larry Love may be the overactive front man, but his harsh, wheezy, worn-out Leonard Cohen vocals wouldn’t be much without the compliment of backing vocalist Aurora Dawn, whose sweet soulful rhythm elevates the music, filling the room with far more sound than an acoustic act has any right to.
If anything, this acoustic iteration is more revealing as to what Alabama 3 are all about. It sounds like gospel music, but these guys ain’t singing about god. It’s pure hedonism, worshiping the myth of the rock n roll lifestyle of drugs, booze and sex. It’s a ridiculous act that at times verges into pure silliness – such as when Larry Love jokes about doing coke in the greenroom with everything but a theatrical wink to the audience – but that’s the point. It’s a late night pill-fuelled conversation about the culture clash between deep house and Johnny Cash, but somehow it actually all makes sense the next morning too.