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Alabama 3, Astoria, London, 1st December

"If I can't dance to it, it's not my revolution" - Emma Goldman

If Red Emma was still around, she'd have been heartened by the end of Alabama 3's triumphant return to London. As is customary when the band plays the ultra-tongue-in-cheek 'Mao Tse Tung said' - fists were raised in defiance as people sang along to "Change must come through the barrel of a gun". But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, as a lot more went before that.

The band had already kicked off when I arrived, so it was a quick run to the bar for a beer and then a wade through the absolutely packed Astoria to start dancing. Onstage, they seem to change every time I see them. D Wayne has de-bulked somewhat since he played New Year's in Dublin last year (and was considerably more sober as well, as he spent most of that set mumbling incoherently) and Larry's hair has grown a bit and was sticking out from underneath his trademark cowboy hat. They were, as usual, surrounded by numerous musicians (seven as far as I could tell), The Spirit standing out most on the keyboards with his shock of bleach-blonde hair.

Despite plugging their new album considerably, they didn't shirk on the old stuff either and the set was a well-mixed concoction of the classic tracks from "...Coldharbour Lane", the best cuts from "La Peste" and a sizable chunk of the new stuff. So we had 'Speed of the sound of loneliness' following 'Strobe life', with 'U don't dans 2 tekno' alongside 'Mansion on the hill', 'Cocaine (killed my community)', threaded through with 'Lord have mercy', 'Two heads', 'Power in the blood' and 'R.E.H.A.B'.

In between them all was the expected preaching and ranting from D Wayne and Larry, from the tale of Martians coming to earth to spread the Gospel, the story of how 'Power in the blood' was to be called 'Orange men are not the only fruits' until the record label told them it might be offensive to some people, to a short rant about union-bashing monsters before they launched into 'Woke up this morning' (in case ya don't know, the theme music to "The Sopranos").

There was no lack of politics through the set either, with declarations of support for the striking firefighters, a blistering version of 'Woody Guthrie', with a singalong chorus of "Don't need no country, don't fly no flag". Their longterm commitment to MOJO, the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, wasn't absent, with a speaker from the organisation giving a thankfully short speech (nothing more annoying than a too long bit of preaching to the choir), followed by the recently released Robert Brown rapping with the band.

They finished up the set with the massively crowd-pleasing 'Hypo full of love', but it wasn't long before the audience's insistence brought them back. Rock Freebase, with his slide guitar, joined Larry for a great acoustic version of 'Let the caged bird sing', as D Wayne stayed in the dressing room praying for the audience's misbegotten souls, before the band came back for a big singalong version of 'Peace in the valley' and then the essential 'Mao Tse Tung said' with all the fists in the air. And that neatly brings me back to the start.

Alabama 3 are one of the few absolutely essential live acts around, and their mix of country, gospel and techno is quite unlike anything else you'll hear. If you haven't seen them already, check them out as soon as possible.

Donnacha DeLong.

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