Alabama 3 Academy 2

Joe Costello has a listen to Alabama 3 at Birmingham Academy 2.

The evening is kicked off by Ol’ Times, a band from Galway but with membership from further afield with singer and guitarist hailing from Italy and Argentina respectively. Their self professed mission to “bring rock’n’roll back to the forefront of music” goes down well with the audience, musically at odds with the sweet, pretty, country, acid house music of the headliners as their seventies-infused blues rock may have been.

Alabama 3 were the first band as I saw as lockdown restrictions began to ease in summer 2021, a stripped-down line-
up performing an acoustic set in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral as part of the City of Culture celebrations that year. They are a very different proposition this evening, taking to the stage to Alison Krauss’ Down to the River to Pray expanded to a seven piece or possibly more to promote their latest album Cold War Classics Vol 2, singer Rob Spragg a.k.a. Larry Love imploring the communists and capitalists in the audience to keep the tensions to a minimum for the duration of the show at the conclusion of opening song North Korea and happily they do.

The lyrical preoccupations with geopolitics and the seamier side of life are evident throughout, the crowd being led in a singalong to Hypo Full of Love (The 12 Step Plan) while Vietnamistan borrows liberally from I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die and The Doors before their most famous song Woke Up This Morning is casually introduced in the middle of the set.

The gangster theme continues immediately with Have You Seen Bruce Richard Reynolds? An ode to the mastermind behind the Great Train Robbery and father to harmonica player Nick Reynolds, who I recently learned has an occasional sideline in deathmasks, his work adorning Malcolm McLaren’s headstone in Highgate Cemetery. It also happens to be his 61st birthday and the audience has another singalong to celebrate this landmark.

A countrified U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno Anymore follows with lead vocal duties taken by Zoe Devlin Love before things go a little sideways as they begin Whacked where gremlins take out the technology (wouldn’t have been a problem in Coventry) and a little improv is required to fill the gap with a truncated version of Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz and Two Heads from 2003’s Power in the Blood providing an unscheduled stop gap. Our indulgence is both begged and expected, Birmingham as Spragg points out being the state capital of Alabama after all.

The show is concluded with another cover, The Road Goes On Forever where an already cramped stage becomes almost dangerously overcrowded as the five members of Ol’ Times add to the party atmosphere before Larry Love returns in a new outfit to bid us goodnight and the expected encore fails to materialise, presumably the technical snafu eating up too much time and the house lights come on and the country music plays and we leave but there are no audible complaints and the unscripted diversion has added to everyone’s enjoyment.