A review of The Alabama 3 plus support The Whiskys at The Ironworks on Sunday 8th December 2013. You can also see pictures of the gig.
The A3 tour manifesto insists that local bands will be invited on stage to provide the support act. And for Inverness this means The Whiskys. “Hope you’re up for a party”, says The Whiskys front-man Kris Douglas: and given tonight’s main event you just can’t be sure whether this is an invite or a warning. The Whiskys have had a busy year with several festival appearances and other significant support slots tucked into their belts. Given this, it was hardly surprising that the majority of the sizeable crowd were acquainted with the band and those that weren’t warmed to them soon enough.
That said, they have had a few significant changes in personnel and a shift in emphasis as far as their overall sound is concerned. The threads of their previously more dominant folk influences are still there but they have clearly developed a more distinctly rocky vibe. Initially I thought the band were a wee bit subdued, but it really is only a matter of minutes before Kris Douglas starts to generate that familiar intensity in his performance that grabs the attention of most audiences, gets them buzzing and sweeps the band through the set.
For me, it wouldn’t be The Whiskys if I didn’t get to hear ‘Take You There’ and ‘No Regrets’ and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s no secret that Pearl Jam just happen to be one among a few influences and this was most to the fore on ‘Stay With Me’. However, it takes guts to cover a well-loved classic so respect is due in taking on King of The Swingers from The Jungle Book and absolutely nailing it. By now there weren’t too many empty spaces at the Ironworks and as far warming up the crowd was concerned? Huge cheer, job done – and no doubt some new fans.
Okay – let’s get the standard preamble over with. The Alabama 3 are a pop, punk rock, blues and country techno situationist crypto-Marxist-Leninist electro band. They are not from Alabama and there aren’t three of them. Formed in Brixton in 1996 they now tour world-wide. And we are truly privileged that they particularly like this part of the world.
What’s the manifesto?
You might not know them but you will have heard them – if you haven’t then you must have been in some kind of cultural hibernation and it’s time to wake up. Their politics are part of their DNA and from the off this manifests on stage in the guise of the mask that has become the face of the anti-capitalist protests world-wide. And the mask stayed on for the rest of the gig. The Alabama 3 take to the stage remove the veneer of gloss from studio productions and unleash some raw, intense, unfiltered, magnificent theatre.
You might not buy into the whole realpolitik manifesto, pseudonyms, false accents and alter egos that hallmark the sheer creativity of this collective; but by close of play this far north is dragged so far south that people are applying sunscreen. Folk have been wrung inside-out by a relentless juggernaut of sound featuring a bass response that worried full bladders, loosened dental fillings, corrected a few squints and tested the foundations of the Ironworks venue to the max. But they are very, very, happy people.
As you might expect from a band with punk anti-capitalist ideals you are going to get value for money; and we were not disappointed. They delivered some of their very best, and I suspect the crowd would have settled for nothing less. Rewinding to 1996 and ‘Ain’t Goin to Goa’, ‘Woke Up This Morning’ and they’re slow song for the evening, the sublime cover of the John Prine classic ‘Speed of the Sound of Loneliness’. Into the noughties with the likes of ‘Mansion on the Hill’, ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’ and ‘Lockdown’. In total a 20 song set and every one a gem, but, as we might expect they are here to let us know loud and clear that they have a new album. Just released, The Men from W.O.M.B.L.E.
Before you drift off to fond memories of Great Uncle Bulgaria and Co. stop right there. This is A3 and so of course it’s going to be quite different – try World of Militant Beat Liberating Executioners. I counted five new tracks in all from the opener ‘W.O.M.B.L.E’ to the penultimate song in a five long encore, ‘Count Your Blessings’. Suffice to say, none of the new material jarred in the least.
Utterly fabulous from first to last, keep an eye out for their next trip north, not to be missed I’d say.