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a3blog

Awaiting the arrival of their favourite country and western acid house freaks, Bruce and Fran were reassured that even 10,500 miles from their spiritual home in Brixton the 3 still attracted a motley crowd: grizzled men; grizzlier women; grey-haired dads bringing their sons along for enlightenment; fresh-faced (comparatively speaking, of course) newcomers unaware of their imminent conversion.

There was Rock Freebase chatting up a couple of young girls. Through the mob weaved The Spirit of Love, then back again. And then, hang on, if that isn’t Chopper Read… It is. With his wife and kid, the latter covering his ears as the Gun Street Girls tear through their warm up set. Should have expected it, what with harmonica player Nick “Harpo Strangelove” Reynolds having made a bronze “death mask” of him on the band’s last visit to Melbourne. But still, a welcome surprise.

Shortly afterwards, he reappears from backstage to take centre stage, resplendent in a pair of mirrored specs.

“Get ready to welcome the best fuckin’ band to have come out of the UK since the Rolling Stones,” he says, once the techies remember to turn the sound on. “Well, who else has there been? The fuckin’ Rolling Stones and these guys, the fuckin’ Alabama 3.”

The former standover man, more commonly seen these days wandering the streets of Collingwood with an ice lolly in hand or playing footy with his boy in the streets, thereby joins the likes of members of the Birmingham Six and Howard Marks as an A3 MC. As he leaves, the first bars of a souped up Monday Don’t Mean Anything To Me start up. And we’re off.

chopblog

Since the end of The Sopranos, the band seem to have got a second wind, whether judging by the quality of their last album M.O.R. or the almost constant touring, including appearances at every festival known to man; amazing what the loss of a steady income can do…

It’s paid off. The last time Bruce and Fran saw them in their white rhinestone suits at the end of the M.O.R. tour in the UK they were good but, at times, it felt formulaic. From the outset here, the spark seems to have returned. Throwing Hypo Full Of Love in second up is ballsy, but they back it up. Even Mao, surely the best acid house revolutionary anthem yet penned, is dispensed with early. Ain’t Goin’ To Goa doesn’t even get a look in.

With some of the songs reworked and every attempt to get the crowd singing choruses coming off, it’s a triumphant first Melbourne show for the full lineup. Jake is chipper – and audible, Devlin as soulful as ever, Orlando still the embodiment of the living dead but now with an added dash of ghoulish burlesque about him. He even takes his sparkly gold jacket and leather dog collar for a wander across the stage at one point continuing to look, without luck, for “Jane and Eddie”.

“Calm down,” chides Jake. “Get back in your corner.”

Now that Larry’s allowed his hair and beard to go the same way as his outfits in recent times there are moments, such as when he and Rock fight over a beer, where they look like the kind of rowdy geriatric drunks who would fit into Smith Street seamlessly – something to be encouraged in the world of popular music, surely.

By the time Chopper returns to introduce the encore, conversions are happening across the floor. That Peace In The Valley then makes an all too rare appearance is the ice on the cake before Larry, ever the charmer, thanks every member of staff in the building and launches into Sweet Joy.

As the crowd reluctantly departs, Bruce and Fran chat to folks who’ve travelled hundreds of miles to be there and hope Melbourne had put on enough of a show for a return trip to be planned sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, Rock returns to take his girls from earlier backstage and The Spirit’s apparently fruitless search for Jane and Eddie continues…

*  *  *

A quick rant, if you will:

The Guardian (in particular Duncan Campbell) apart, Alabama 3 have been criminally ignored by the mainstream UK media for years. OK, there’s been the odd album review and some coverage of Nick’s death mask project, but little else. Yet here is a band whose biography (please be writing one, Orlando) could fill several volumes, who live the rock n roll lifestyle and support all manner of fantastic causes, such as the Miscarriages Of Justice Organisation.

Prior to this Australian tour, they received no coverage – not in the mainstream media, not in the street press – and efforts were made. OK, so the Age ran a piece on Chopper being shown his bronze mask at the Toff in Town before Tuesday’s acoustic show but it ran today – the day after their second and final gig – yet still included the line (later corrected online) “Read will introduce the band tonight when it plays at Richmond’s Corner Hotel”.

They don’t have major backing, are impossible to pigeonhole and are in all probability challenging to manage, but they remain unique, retain their passion despite adversity and put on the best parties going, whether stumbling incoherent through an acoustic set or playing to thousands at Glastonbury. If only the myopic could see it.

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When The Lovely Guy TM is in town you have to mind your manners.

“When is it polite to start asking for requests?” yelled Bruce as the stirring finale to Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver faded away.

“I like the cut of your jib,” replied The Lovely Guy TM.

Switching Off,” came a shout from a few yards behind Bruce and Fran.

“Aye, that’s the one,” replied Bruce.

“Now this song is about the theory that when you’re on your death bed you get to choose the memory you take with you…” began The Lovely Guy TM by way of explanation.

‘Marvellous,’ thought Bruce.

At the Pies – Crows game at the MCG on Saturday, Bruce, Fran, Mr and Mrs Bruce Snr and various assorted loons were sat a few rows back from a young man who spent the game tearing a plastic bag into very thin strips while rocking back and forth violently in his seat. He was clearly enjoying himself and full credit to his pops for bringing him along to the game. Bruce became that man (minus the plastic bag) as Switching Off played out; amazing the power of music.

As for the rest of the show, well:

  1. It pays to know there are two stages at the Corner. Bruce and Fran were quietly delighted that, despite staying upstairs drinking until just prior to the support act finishing, there was plenty of room at the front of the stage. They were also delighted that they were going to watch one of their favourite bands squeeze onto such a tiny stage (three of them are rather portly). Then they realised there was another bigger stage and people were already packed in around it. (Fran used her midget skills to get them to the front however – huzzah!)
  2. Elbow are stupendously good in a live setting; credit in particular to Mark Potter and his collection of guitars for his mood setting, like a one man feng shui workout. Highlights (other than the obvious): a mighty Grounds For Divorce, a neck hair-raising Tower Crane Driver, a pounding Leaders Of The Free World, a tear-jerking nod to the lads in Weather To Fly (or Weather With You as a drunk Bruce insisted on calling it with their manager post show – bloody Finns) and a welcome (and unexpected) Station Approach (Fran cried in anticipation of “I haven’t seen my mum for weeks” – yes, in anticipation of it…). Oh, and the first ever Elbow anthem One Day Like This, obviously. No place for Fugitive Motel or Grace Under Pressure, mind you.
  3. Aussie crowds are a particularly reticent bunch. Despite an acknowledgement that Melbourne is the band’s favourite Aussie city (“You’re just like: ‘Of course’, aren’t you,” said The Lovely Guy TM) there was barely a shuffle on the floor other than the odd exception. They got down to !!! last year and give it some welly at festivals, but elsewhere – come on, chaps, show some love.
  4. Steve Coogan is, as has been said and written many times before, a nobsack, demanding a personal audience with the band after the show.

Next up, Alabama 3. Oh baby!

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Having the time of their lives

Having the time of their lives - can't you tell?

It’s too late to get tickets for their Corner Hotel show unless anyone fancies forking out hundreds of dollars for a $60 ticket (it would be worth it, mind you) and only the criminally unstable would want to risk what’s left of their sanity to catch an hour of Elbow in the midst of dross such as Snow Patrol, Duffy, Razorlight and their ilk at V, but here’s some words from Guy and Pete anyway:

* * *

Elbow’s agent might want to give footy tipping a try when the band touches down in Melbourne later this month – it seems he has something of the seer about him.

For, while the band seemed destined to remain nearly men after middling sales greeted all four critically-acclaimed albums, he thought differently.

“He always said that the fifth album would be the big one,” says bassist Pete Turner. “Now it looks like he might be right.”

With The Seldom Seen Kid, their latest (and fourth) album, helping Elbow secure a Brit award for Best British Group and the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for best album of 2008, the scene is set for the Manchester five-piece finally – after almost two decades together – to enjoy some time in the limelight.

“It’s been a bit of a mad year for us – things just keep happening,” says Turner. “The last few months have been really good. There’s not been a period of time to take everything in as it’s been one thing after another, but we all feel that we should make hay while the sun shines.”

They arrive in Australia for the V Festival after their first headline show at Wembley Arena, a venue where they’ve supported the likes of Muse and Snow Patrol but not the first place you would imagine Elbow’s brand of slow-burning, intense and moody rock.

But, after blowing away a huge crowd at last year’s Glastonbury Festival it’s an experience they were more then ready for.

“The most affecting shows are either the intimate ones or those that are incredibly big,” says frontman Guy Garvey. “The smaller ones are great for that one-to-one feeling and at the really huge ones you have this large group of people united.

“I went to see U2 at the Manchester Evening News Arena and beforehand I’d been in two minds whether or not to bother, but a friend had got us tickets. When they played Pride, a song that’s a part of everybody’s DNA, the whole place started singing and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

Their own One Day Like This – comfortably the nearest the band has ever come to writing a straightforward anthem, complete with sing-a-long chorus and uplifting string stabs – has had a similar effect at recent shows.

“That song really resonated with people,” says Garvey. “I wish I knew why – people have been getting married to it all summer – even having babies to it!”

As for Australia, Elbow are delighted to be back after a two-year hiatus, particularly as their adopted hometown of Manchester (they’re originally from nearby Bury) doesn’t have the greatest weather.

“One of our friends, I think from The Doves, told us before we first came out here that it was well worthwhile – that the crowds are really up for it and really get behind you,” says Turner.

“We wish we could come out a lot more than we have as it’s a fantastic, beautiful country, a place that we see as a treat. Manchester’s always been rainy so I can’t wait to get to Australia and get a bit of vitamin D!”

Looking ahead, album five – the big one – is already taking shape. The band laid down the bare bones during ten days spent in a converted church on the Isle of Mull off Scotland’s West Coast shortly before embarking on this tour.

There won’t be any new songs making an appearance live just yet, although Turner claims it will be unlike The Seldom Seen Kid, citing Radiohead’s Kid A as an inspiration for the band not to rest on their laurels and try and replicate a tried and tested formula for success. “You have to follow your heart. We always set out to make music that’s for the five of us,” he says.

There is also a children’s animated film in the pipeline with three of the band now fathers but, while the steady stream of kids over recent years has changed some elements of the band’s life – shorter tours for example, their reputation for boozing remains intact.

“When we go on tour with other bands they already seem to know about our love of a drink so we end up dragging them down with us,” admits Turner.

“We’re getting older now so we tried to cool it on the last tour with [Canadian band] The Acorn but, as the tour goes on, beer o’clock just gets earlier and earlier.”

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Just like home

Just like home

Neither Bruce nor Fran could pinpoint exactly what it was that made them think of England.

Was it the long queues of noisy blokes in shirts and girls in little black dresses outside the pubs?

Was it the array of half-eaten kebabs littering the street?

Was it the facelessness of the majority of people encountered around Swan Street, in stark contrast to the characters populating other inner suburbs?

Or was it the man vomiting heartily over a railing and into the gutter?

Perhaps it was a combination of the four. Either way, for the first time in months, they both felt like they were back in England on a Saturday night. Worse still, it felt like a night out in Clapham, home to the tiresome boors churned out by the UK’s public school system as they spend their first few years post-university chucking up in the street outside bland, uber-chain bars and restaurants, spending the money they’ve earnt at their respective bank / consultancy firm / marketing department on nights out with friends called Squelch and Tiddles while they wait to accrue enough cash to move to a small mansion in the Home Counties and squirt out children called Squiddles and Bump all the while ensuring class hatred bubbles along nicely.

Thankfully, there was a constant reminder that they were indeed in Australia in the form of Billy, the hyper-active “boy from the country” who bounced around the bar, multiple vodka and oranges in hand, chatting to every single person and, memorably, turning to Bruce towards the end of the night to announce, with an expression of unalloyed pride:

“I put the ‘b’ into bogan.”

Equally thankfully, their host’s choice of venue for his 31st birthday drinks – the Corner Hotel – was fine, at least the huge upstairs mezzanine area where Bruce and Fran spent the evening, safely kotcheled away from the marauding street level hordes.

Mountain Goat‘s splendid Hightail was on offer, standing out amid the range of tasteless fizzy Fosters’ brews like an oasis for the discerning drinker. And, continuing the evening’s sense of being mentally transported somewhere other than Melbourne, the trains passing the windows at eye level were reminiscent of the view from a first floor apartment in Downtown Chicago and the mezzanine, with its red lantern-like lampshades and long metal tables had a feel of the late night hawkers’ food markets of South Eastern Asia.

Just a shame that reality – wobbly high heels and torrents of vomit-flecked piss included – awaited outside.

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