Searching for the irony gap

Alabama 3 | Scala, King's Cross, London
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The Independent Culture

As a rule the problem with conceptual bands is the irony gap. Creating and performing in a chosen persona instantly leaves the artist open to accusations of insincerity, leaving the audience wondering if they're listening to a good tune, a good pastiche tune, or even a good ironic pastiche.

As a rule the problem with conceptual bands is the irony gap. Creating and performing in a chosen persona instantly leaves the artist open to accusations of insincerity, leaving the audience wondering if they're listening to a good tune, a good pastiche tune, or even a good ironic pastiche.

Alabama 3, South London's amorphous gang of hedonists known for their country/techno crossover, are a case in point. Look at the line-up - Larry Love, The Rev D Wayne Love, Captain Empiricist, The Mountain Of Love, L B Dope, The Spirit, Sir "Real" Love, and the fairly sensibly named Segs. That's a whole lotta love. And all dressed up like a gang that's raided a cowboy outfitters.

So it's to their immense credit that the joke is inclusive, and the performance more convincing than a roomful of singer-songwriters. There's no irony in their support of M O J O, Miscarriages Of Justice Organisation, here represented by John Hannah and founder Paddy Joe Hill, of the definitely un-ironic Birmingham Six.

Though the presence of girls sporting glamorous terrorist outfits and toy guns can't be wasted on MC Hill, Alabama 3 persist with the gag. The first number sees Larry (Rob Spragg) sporting a black balaclava, while scenes from May's Guerrilla Gardening protest are projected on a screen. Surely the Brixton DSS can't still be on his case. Rev D Wayne follows, unaccountably made up like Al Jolson and rambling like Jim Morrison on The Black And White Minstrel Show.

Good taste eventually beckons, and by the time the entire band play "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlife", a sluggish homage to the Stones, its title purloined from Bob Dylan, things are starting to cook.

Even that steal is indicative of their approach. They happily snatch from even the most exalted sources. "Mansion On The Hill", tonight a riotous encore with an unlikely guest appearance from the dormant David McAlmont, is also the name of one of Hank Williams's best known tunes, their début boasted their own "Peace In The Valley" and their new record, due out next month is called La Peste, after Albert Camus's great allegory of collaboration, presumably.

Clearly these are young men who found little practical use for their higher education qualifications in the real world.

They sure have a lot of friends though. Hill outraps the Rev on The Sopranos theme tune "Woke Up This Morning", enhanced by the presence of backing singers The Street Angels.

Country-rock chick, Eileen Rose, and the fiddler, Bobby Valentino, liven up "Wade Into The Water", while the splendid set closer "Sinking...", augmented by a previously unsuspected horn section, is a singalong to match the climactic "It Don't Worry Me" from Robert Altman's movie Nashville. A baffling, endlessly entertaining ensemble piece, that's the Alabama 3 live show summed up to a tee. Perhaps they should cover it.

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