So this is a joke, right? Right… At least we’re clear on that. Aren’t we? If you’ve witnessed the all-singing, all-dancing identity crisis that is Alabama 3 before, they need no introduction. If not… you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Walking into The Forum to see this techno country rock band (you read correctly) is like walking into the arms of Billy the Kid himself. On acid. In Kentish Town. The place is awash with cowboy hats, stuff with fringe on it and full-time taches (no fair-weather Movember efforts here). But there’s also the odd family of four, a North Face fleece or two, and a woman wearing a tiara thrown in for good measure. Needless to say, there are some vigorous pat-downs on the door.
It’s easy to judge Alabama 3; they’re very, very silly. They’re an acid-house techno country blues electro-reggae trip-hop band from Brixton who sing songs about the KKK (against, FYI) in fake Texan accents while dad-dancing. The founding members go by the stage names Larry Love and The Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love, and they got their big break when their cracking track ‘Woke Up This Morning’ was chosen to soundtrack the opening credits on 'The Sopranos'. Tonight, there are at least eight of them, with Larry Love, The Reverend and the rather pretty Aurora Dawn making up the foreground.
None of this trio actually plays an instrument, mind. The Reverend has a dabble on harmonica but mainly it’s about the drama: the costumes, the bright lights and the showmanship. The three frontiers (we’re not sorry) wear ’70s-style tuxes and sunglasses, and Larry Love sports one glove: it’s a bit like Elvis meets Bono meets Michael Jackson circa Billie Jean, but hey, who said ridiculous fusion was restricted to the songs?
While Larry Love cavorts about showing off his chest hair and The Reverend does some intelligible spoken word, the band behind do a lot of work. There’s possibly some lap steel going on (Larry keeps jumping up and down so it’s hard to be specific), drums, synth and guitars, and it’s all pretty tight. Dawn’s vocals are strong but aren’t utilised enough – she could be much more than the novelty girl on a stage of sweaty dudes. The songs are independently unmemorable and blur together to create one big party atmosphere, though special note must be given to ‘Hello... I’m Johnny Cash’, which is performed with feeling.
As the night goes on, the rattails of packet-bleached hair are loosened: “Can you believe how young we are for over-50s?” shouts a group of three euphoric women over the din. People start smoking indoors, there’s an on-stage wedding, the band-brand condoms on the merch stand sell out and I’m pretty sure some tramps sneak in and make what can only be described as a hoedown pit. It’s a proper hoot.
The fact is, Alabama 3 are impossible to ignore – but are they a joke or aren’t they? Dr. Love and co would indubitably argue that this is the point – their blending of genres and styles suggest they do not wish to be boxed, and more power to them. But, after 18 years together, it’s unclear whether even they know if they’re a joke anymore. And are they being laughed with or laughed at? We’re as undecided as they are.
So sure, there’s some psychologically dodgy, deep-rooted attention-seeking going on here; and yes, they have the British fascination with America; but hell, Alabama 3 know how to put on a good show. Their faithful fans seem to be laughing with them. And as for the rest of the world – who gives a hickory dick?
Words by Mia Bleach
Photos by Rosie Wadey