Live Reviews - Reviews

Alabama 3 – Mandela Hall, Belfast


It has been an interesting time for Belfast in terms of some of the gigs hosted here in the last couple of weeks. The Breeders entertained Limelight recently, with Kim Deal announcing her departure from the Pixies the day before. Now it is the turn of Alabama 3, who are playing at the Mandela Hall just a few days after the death of James Gandolfini, star of the Sopranos, which helped introduce the band to millions by using their song in the credits.

But before we experience the diverse palette of Alabama 3, it is up to the last minute inclusion of Malojian to warm up the room as the crowd begins to fill. Despite being a member light, Malojian work the crowd with their usual aplomb. Their reliable catalogue of catchy folk shows why they are firmly in the top bracket of bands that the local music scene has to offer right now.

Soon Alabama 3 are strutting to the stage and the set begins with ‘Disneyland is Burning’, which is a much more gentle song than its name suggests. This leads into the more upbeat ‘Facebook.con’ and ‘Power in the Blood’, which give you a real flavour of the 90s acid house influence on the band – probably also where they all developed the habit of never removing their sunglasses. The bass thuds out across the room, gripping you until you are at the very least pumping a fist.

Acid house often takes back seat in relation to the band’s other influences, notably blues, rock n roll and country – their songs often being a sort of blend of them all. DJ Montana occupies the right of the stage while at the back stands a bass player in a suit with a trilby, and on the left is front man Larry Love, looking (and dancing) like a mix between Bez and Keith Richards. Added also are the embellishments of vocalist Aurora Dawn and the spoken word of Jake Black (aka the Very Reverend Dr. D Wayne Love), leaving you with a band that is both aesthetically and musically never short of charisma – Jake Black taking the chance between songs to offer his views on David Cameron and Nelson Mandela, amongst others.

Given the timing of the gig, and not content with dishing out a mere song dedication, the band take the opportunity to ask for 30 seconds of silence for James Gandolfini, which is well observed by  the crowd. There is also time for a little mini rendition of ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ which leads into ‘Woke Up This Morning’ –  by far the band’s most recognisable song – which unsurprisingly gets the best reception of the night from the crowd, who are going crazy during what is definitely the peak of the gig.

You would find it very hard to find a band that can create the same sort of atmosphere as Alabama 3. They manage to carry the tough and tense dynamics of an acid house or techno gig, whilst also portraying the meaning and soul of country and blues. You feel that, even without the Sopranos, the band would still harness huge acclaim with their originality and political voice.

It is all summed up pretty well by a quote from horror novelist Stephen King: “The thought of not having Alabama 3 fills me with horror.” Ryan McMurtry