For many years I would tell anyone with ears that Brixton based collective Alabama 3 were one of the best live bands on the planet. Their unique brand of “sweet pretty muthafuckin’ country acid house music” and incendiary, unforgettable live shows were legendary in my circles. But I must admit a run of less than spectacular albums and a few less than professional live shows saw (me at least) lose interest a few years back. The tragic death of co-founder Jake Black (aka The Very Reverend Dr.D Wayne Love) in 2019 seemed to seal the deal that it was all over for the Alabama 3.
But then something strange happened…Alabama 3 got their mojo back! Call it triumph over adversity, a rejuvenation even, but Larry Love and the boys unified, licked their wounds and released their 13th album ‘Step 13’ in 2021. A tribute to a fallen friend, the title referred to the next phase after death as quoted by A. Ron Hubbard, and was a return to past glories.
Now in 2013, with a new album (Cold War Classics Vol 2) on the shelves and the return of vocalist Devlin Love to the live outfit, it’s time to see if Alabama 3 can still deliver the goods live.
9 o’clock sharp and Alabama 3 hit the stage at the sold out Brudenell in style to newbie ‘North Korea’. Dressed in military jacket and shades, the ever cool Larry Love commands his audience from the off. Stage right is Devlin Love, the diminutive lady with a larger than life voice. She looks even cooler in a black fur coat, figure hugging dress and stack heels. Her vocals and her stage presence gives a different dynamic to the band now that Jake is gone.
But the ghost of the Very Reverend D Wayne is all over this show and he even makes an appearance, albeit a taped one on the overly cool set highlight ‘Hypo Full Of Love (12 Step Plan)’, which is a nice touch.
The set is a great mix of old and new, enough to satiate old fans and new recruits alike. It’s a very dance orientated show, the dub heavy bass throbs from the speakers and you can’t help but move to the groove. New tunes like ‘Petronella Says’ and ‘Whacked’ sound good, I mean really good, like they are A3 classics already after just a couple of years, maybe it’s just a testament as to how strong an album ‘Step 13’ is.
The pair of singers work the crowd like pros, inciting the crowd to get on their dancing feet and sing along to the choruses.
Long time core members keyboard player The Spirit looks suitably miserable all night and Nick Reynolds is always cool, switching between harmonica, backing vocals and sax all night. Larry informs us it’s his birthday and he takes lead vocals on the song the band wrote about his great train robbing old man ‘Have You Seen Bruce Richard Reynolds’. The harmonica induced countrified blues is a killer set highlight for me from one of my favourite A3 albums.
I must admit I’ve not seen them this good in many, many years. Other highlights like the awesome ‘Up Above My Head’, the countrified ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’ and the obligatory ’Woke Up This Morning’ prove that Alabama 3 have the tunes and are an underground alternative institution we should be proud of.
The welcome return of singer Devlin Love seems to be what the band needed at the right time. While no one could ever fill Jake’s cowboy boots, her bluesy, soulful vocals and presence adds sex appeal and spice to the countrified, dance tunes tonight.
Her lead vocals on ‘U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno Anymore’ are frankly stunning, she rules that stage. Encore time sees her return with an acapella ‘Mercedes Benz’ before the full band return dedicating Aslan’s ‘How Can I Protect You’ to the ailing Shane McGowan.
I’ve seen Alabama 3 a bunch of times over the past 20 years, but this show was one of the best. Larry Love and his band have redeemed themselves in my eyes and take their rightful place as one of UK’s most exciting live bands currently doing the rounds. Long may they rule.
Author: Ben Hughes