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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
CONCERT REVIEW by Nick Morgan
ALABAMA 3, The Astoria, London, October 11th 2005
What better place to start a congested autumn season of Whiskyfun concert reviews than the crumbling majesty of Charing Cross Road’s Astoria theatre? Did you know that the Astoria began its life as a pickle factory, owned by Crosse & Blackwell, now famous as manufacturers of that most English of tracklements, Branston Pickle (which, I’m assured by those who know, Keith Richards always takes with him on tour with the Stones)? Alabama 3
Why, even Charles Booth visited the place when conducting his famous survey into life and labour in London in the late nineteenth century. In 1927 it reopened as a cinema and went through a variety of guises before ending up as one of London’s leading gay nitespots and a regular venue for leading bands, under the management of the Mean Fiddler Group. Apparently it’s listed for demolition when a new tube station is built at Tottenham Court Road – all I can say is that if the new station isn’t built soon the whole place will simply fall down.
And talking of falling down, what better band to start with than Whiskyfun’s favourites the Alabama 3, who remarkably have been on the road on a punishing schedule promoting their new album Outlaw since we last saw them in Glasgow in May. I have to say that from start to finish what we got was a show that can only be described as slick (not a word one would normally associate with a band of self-styled Brixton anarchists) and very different from the one we’d seen in May, or their most recent Glasgow gig the week before this (as my Argyll correspondent assures me).
Alabama 3 Following a short set from the feisty (Zoe) Devlin Love and harmonica player and part-time A3 member Nick Reynolds (he’s the son of Bruce, you know, the Great Train Robber) we were treated, after a rapid stage set up, to a troupe of burlesque dancers strutting and, err…, showing their stuff. I hope the poor social worker who got so offended by flesh at the last Astoria gig wasn’t here for this – as it was only going to get worse. The band then mostly assembled for their Mobyesque Robert Johnson sample ‘Me and the devil’ (from their ‘rare’ album Zero Tolerance), during which front man for the night D Wayne Love gave us a short insight into the walk he’d taken along the Thames that morning, complete with vultures and all, apparently a sign that the devil is really coming for you.
With an apparently incapacitated Larry Love last to take the stage, and remaining seated all night, the band kicked off with ‘Too sick to pray’ as Larry was ministered too by an increasingly unclothed vamp (Samantha Love, unless I’m mistaken). Now I’m not surprised if Larry’s manic style of joint-breaking limbo dancing has caught up with him, though it certainly didn’t stop him from using his hands and arms for all they were worth to whip the audience into a frenzy. But with Larry a little to the rear D Wayne stepped to the front, and led, if not with his chin, then certainly with his mouth. “That was a blues classic from Jimmy Johnstone folks. Now did you know just what Jimmy’s role was in the great victory of the Lisbon Lions in ….” He also told us later that “Jock Stein said change must come from the barrel of a gun”, which somehow I could just about believe.
Anyway they shot through a bevy of classics as if they were throwing out the family silver (‘Don’t go to Goa’, ‘U don’t dance 2 tekno’, ‘Woke up this morning’ and ‘Mansion on the hill’) before Outlaw tracks ‘Up above my head’ (by this time wee Devlin was back on stage belting out vocals like a, well…, pickle factory worker), ‘Honey in the rock’ and ‘Have you seen Bruce Richard Reynolds’, with the ex Train Robber making his customary London appearance for his narration at the end (“the Whiyld Bunch”). And although I’m not claiming that this is a complete set list, I’m sure they didn’t play ‘How can I protect you’, typically perverse as it’s not only a catchy tune, but also their latest single.
The main set was brought to an end with sensational versions of ‘Bullet proof’ and the anthemic crowd pleaser ‘Hypo full of love’. It was about this time that the girls got back on the stage too. For the short encore Samantha tastefully unclothed herself of a Native American Indian’s outfit during ‘I’m Johnny Cash’ and predictable mayhem ensued with ‘Mao Tse Tung said’. Alabama 3
Not as long as the past few gigs we’ve seen, but very well balanced in terms of songs, strong efforts from everyone in the band (the wraith like Spirit, guitarist Rock Freebase and percussionist Sir Real Love seemed to stand out) and from our usual Astoria position, a nicely judged sound level (could they have turned it down this time?). What more could one ask. Oh yes – and if you’re asking what all the fuss is about then why not ask Santa (yes, it’s that time of year already) for a copy of the just released live DVD Hear The Train A' Comin, recorded here at the gig we saw last December. If you’re lucky enough to get it, this is what you should do on Christmas Day evening.
At bedtime, call up to your partner with some plausible excuse like, “sorry darling, I just want to watch another re-run of the Queen’s speech on TV’, then shut the doors, wedge them closed with any available upholstery and soundproof them with a handy mattress. Load the DVD, but before you press play ensure all volume controls are turned up to full (including the sub-woofer), and you might want to make a few pin holes in some of the speakers just to get that real Astoria feel. Then pour a glass of your favourite, charge your plate with seasonal pickles, and let the fun begin. - Nick Morgan (photos by Kate)



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