Alabama 3: The Garage, London

SOUTHERN MUTHAS DO HAVE EM!

THE ALABAMAS tonight are decked out like The MC5 doing an MI5 sunglasses thang — pissed— at a Panther convention in Texas, a bunch of stetsonned, vagabond confederates here to twang away the seasonal blues. And do they? Well, isn’t that the Pope in the corner, shimmying to their good-time country acid house music all night long?

‘U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno’ — their sure-fire hit single if only they’d release it — is dispensed with early on, and the hippy-baiting ‘Ain’t Goin’ To Goa’ gets changed to something ominous about Lanzarote. But it’s some of Alabama 3’s less obvious songs which really shine like freshly-panned gold tonight. ‘Speed To The Sound Of Loneliness’ becomes an extended roadhouse techno-blues Idaho, and how bizarre is the swampy-gospel hillbilly of ‘Converted’, that gets everyone singing, “Let’s go back to church” with ironically-raised eyebrows? “Rolling your wheels down the wrong side of the road,” Presleytises Larry Love, before handing over mic duties to The Rev D Wayne Love as smoothly as a Father Ted interchange.

Here, in the First Presleyterian Church of Elvis & Divine (or whatever they call it), Alabama 3 pay homage to the blues of Woody Guthrie and Muddy Waters et al, but also to the underclass of late-20th century urban living. And you’ve gotta get off it now and then and have a laff, to cope with everything else, haven’t you, Lord?

Unlike your regular church, though, Alabama 3 don’t preach or judge. Much. They just start their 12-step guide to enlightenment, which mainly seems to involve — irony strikes again — erm, sucking them off and giving ’em Rolls Royces. Loads of people mime jacking-up to ‘Hypo Full Of Love’, and then the band get all revolutionary on us. It’s ‘Mao-Tse Tung Said’, featuring one succinct phrase from the corrupt commie despot, and a bloke dressed up as Russian dictator Lenin, shouting. But then everyone around us starts doing some sort of cultish Revolutionary Power salute, and we realise that the Alabamas are actually dangerous desperadoes out to kill or maim Tony Blair. And we love ’em all the more for it.

When ‘Peace In The Valley’, that closing track on the A Life Less Ordinary soundtrack, wagon-rolls in, it’s such a positive note to end on. Plunge to the depths of despair. Hank Williams on the jukebox, then rise out of the mire with a bottle of whisky in one hand and a country-tinged, anaesthetised world view in the other. OK, brothers and sisters? Single mums, disability benefit claimants, Liverpool dockers and their mams all get a big-up, and then they’re offski. To be raucously called back, quick smart.

The last time I saw ’em, they had a congregation of about six in Wolverhampton. Now darned if they aint gonna be a cotton pickin’ international religion on their own! Some motherf***a’s been messin’ with the phone line.

© Carl LobenMelody Maker, 10 January 1998

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