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ALABAMA 3 - London Brixton Academy - 20 December 2001   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Tuesday, 14 September 2004
And so Christmas came to Brixton.

Even though, aside from the chill and ice on the streets, it still looks like the same old shithole it always ever was. And one of the most unusual cult bands there are - one that haven't had a hit single and don't play live half as much as they should, and hardly get any airplay. - have near enough sold out the Brixton Academy.

Last Christmas, their festive bash was in a small room upstairs at Mass to about 400 people. Times change. But not much else - Alabama 3 seem to have got bigger by doing near enough nothing bar the odd live date and a couple of in-at-83 singles. Make no mistake, I was initially attracted to Alabama 3 by a bizarre county&western-techno-acid-house-pedal-steel-folk song called "U Dont Dans 2 Tekno", and near enough every song of theirs I've heard since has carried much the same unlikely sounding blend into something that sounds both unique, familiar, and visionary. Add in a dash of an obsession with things like Elvis, the Blues, the Church, Tennants Super (9% of Pure Heaven), Motorbikes, Drugs, Guns, Ammo, and Pretty Girls and you've got a combination that sounds as unusual on paper as it does to the ears.

The first thing that struck me when they came out - and it does every time I see them - is that really, they look like they should be playing stadiums. There's video screens everywhere with collage films reading "Greetings From Brixton" over shots of police brutality, riots, the Queen, terrorists, exploding hearts, neon crosses, live footage, dancing skulls, flying confedrate flags, almost anything you an think of.

There's 8 members of the band, almost all dressed in faux gangster suits, porkpie hats, and sunglasses. That's two vocalists (one of whom sermonises and 'lays hands' on people suffering a crisis of faith), a guitarist, a bassist/guitarist, a drummer, a percussionist/guitarist, a keyboardist, a sequencer/harmonica player in the band alone. Then there's Gospel trio, three sacrificial virgins wrapped in white with Mickey Mouse masks on, and throughout the course of the evening we also get dancing girls in Stars & Stripes glitter bikinis, a wayward preacher, two enormous Bouncers flanking either side of the stage, BJ Cole on pedal steel guitar, a fiddle player, one of the Birmingham Six, David McAlmont, a speedy local rapper toasting over some songs. That's before several members of the band feint collapsing, necessitating the appearance of a demented Doctor with a "Hypo Full Of Love" administering injections, and a scatty nurse assistant. Overkill? It's almost too much to take in.

Especially when Mark Thomas is standing next to me and dancing like a loon who just dropped his first E. It's strange to see someone you respect and admire, someone who takes risks when most people take the fifth, and someone whose made the world a better place, grooving like a teenager next to you. I wish I'd told him though, exactly how scared the Home Office security staff were when he and 2,000 demonstrators brought St. James Park to a standstill in the summer.

After the underwhelming Dub Pistols, and the inspiration-free Lupine Howl - well I can see who the talented one in Spiritualised was - Alabama 3 arrive in incredible style. Even the most dedicated fan will tell you that it's a risky setlist they play - a grand total of six new songs from their forthcoming third album and sandwich their biggest hit ("Woke Up This Morning") between two unreleased songs. The set starts with the new Don't Mind Dying" (I got peace in my blood/justice in my soul/when Armageddon (?) comes/ I'm ready for war - goes the chorus), overladen with back projections of known terrorists such as the Jackal, George Bush, and the Queen. But no Osama Bin Laden.

As a song though, its *easily* the fastest catchiest thing they've done in years - like Converted on speed with extra whizz. It'll no doubt be released as a single and chart at 60-something. And you ain't seen anything until the gospel community choir of Brixton lament Tennants Super in "Old Purple Tin (9% of Pure Heaven)". Or one of the Birmingham Six introducing "Woke Up This Morning" as video screens play footage of their release from prison, like the A-team, for a crime they did not commit. Or 4,000 people raising their left fist in the Communist salute to the fluid genius of "Mao Tse Tung Said".

 Things do get weirder. A techo cover of a Dolly Parton song - "The Yellow Rose Of Texas" (but its something else completely) and newbies "The Moon Has Lost The Sun", "Bulletproof", "Rehabilitated", and "Don't Fly No Flag" - the latter a national anthem for anyone who hates nationalists with a passion.

As midnight approaches, the local heroes deliver the encore - the rarely heard "Disneyland is Burning" surrounded by the Mickey Mouse masked sacrificial virgins, the stellar "Too Sick To Pray" and the "Peace In Brixton At Christmas" (Peace In the Valley + Hank Williams "Honky Tonking") medley sung by David McAlmont.

You want to go to the latest sermon by the Presleytarian Church of Elvis the Divine? I've been converted.

Set: Don't Mind Dying, Cocaine, Mansion On The Hill, Moon Has Lost The Sun, Woke Up This Morning, Bulletproof, Mao Tse Tung Said, U Don't Dans To Tekno Anymoe, Aint Going To Goa, Old Purple Tin, Sad Eyed Lady of The Low Life, Wade Into The Water, The Yellow Rose Of Texas, 2129, Speed Of The Sound of Loneliness, Hypo Full Of Love, Rehabilitated, Don't Fly No Flag, Disneyland Is Burning, Too To Pray, Peace In Brixton This Christmas.

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