Nattering away with a particularly lovely man a few urinals from mine, it occurred to me that he was very probably in the band. His dapper black suit, white shirt, sunglasses and very polished shoes… The attire at a gig may have sparked a sharper person’s radar a little sooner, but my powers of perception aren’t quite as sharp as they should be. On November 4th I was within weeing distance of Reverend Be, one of Alabama 3’s many vocalists.
Reverend Be has collaborated for years with a band that I’d argue, to the bitter end, are one of the greatest collectives of their generation. At the very least they have to be one of the most underrated bands of all time. And here I am in the gents, next to my idol, oblivious.
Attempting to describe the sound of Alabama 3 is no simple task. If the complete works of Primal Scream, Johnny Cash, narcotics and Jesus were shaken around in a bag you’d still be some way away from hitting the right note. They undress socialism, faith, love and capitalism with their teeth. Their music is full of conflicting philosophy and assertive politics and yet… you can dance to it. And I mean, you can really get down with your bad self.
After reading the concert flyer and then reading it properly, it dawned on me that their performance at Leicester’s very own venue ‘The Donkey’ would be an acoustic set. The self-professed ‘Sweet, Pretty, Country, Acid-House Music’… Turned… acoustic? How in the hell would they nail down the ‘Acid House’ bit with just harmonicas and double basses? With merely guitars and basses made of wood, and… pianos? I feared that this may stifle its strange sense of disco and funk and reduce it to something merely ‘Sweet, Pretty, Country’. I slapped myself across the face after mulling this over. I then prayed to be reacquainted with common-sense, logic and reasoning. I also begged for forgiveness from Larry Love, Reverend D Wayne Love and the rest of the folks at Alabama 3. All those instruments were on display at The Donkey and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.
The Donkey, to those unfortunate enough to be uninitiated, is only a small venue. But it’s one with real character and a very special atmosphere when gigs are on. Giant moose heads poking out of walls, delicious beers and an eccentric owner with an incredible beard are all on display. The general rule of thumb is that the smaller venue the better the gig and that was very much the case on November 4th.
Alabama 3 played a little while later than expected. This was on account of front man, Larry Love, running late.
Deano, 44, a man who has followed the band since its conception in 1995, said: “They’re always late… But, they’re well worth the wait.”
Perhaps on account of embodying rock and roll, the crowd felt more than obliged to let that slide.
Warren, the lovely and heavily bearded Owner of The Donkey and friend of the band explained: “They’re proper rock and roll mate. Larry’s easy going and salt of the earth; just how you’d hope him to be.”
Then an elderly man was carried out on a stretcher after falling ill. The show had to go on, however, and by god did they deliver. The stripping back electronically didn’t hamper the performance in the slightest. Virtually all of their songs have their feet wrapped in the roots of country music; half of them parade around the stage dressed as cowboys. After that, it’s just a case of the varying degrees to which each song embraces this sort acoustic country style.
Half-way through the set they played ‘Old Purple Tin – 9% Pure Heaven’. One of their numerous lesser-known songs, it’s brilliant and entirely acoustic. “In my left hand the Bible, in my right an old purple tin.” It’s essentially a sombre ballad that juggles the difficulties of growing up as a religious person with the pressures of adult life and, consequentially, the narrator’s dwindling faith. This dwindling faith is curbed by the consumption of really very strong cans of beer. Though when I say ‘sombre’, it’s as sombre as a bunch of fun-loving cowboys on stage can be.
As the night swung on, ‘Too Sick to Pray’ made an appearance. Though this isn’t worlds apart from ‘Old Purple Tin- 9% Pure Heaven’ in terms of topic, its sound is truly funky. Larry Love danced and strutted around on stage all night long like a hillbilly peacock and moved his arms around like an octopus on ice. He’s one of the last true frontmen; a bastion of Rock and Roll. They pick apart politics like chicken on a bone. But most of all they’re very, very entertaining. Their lyrics cut to the core of everything they decide to address and their music makes you throw shapes that you never knew existed. It’s both a national tragedy and treasure that such people can roam our toilets unnoticed.