Like most height-challenged people (5ft), I’ve always found standing-only gigs a bit hit and miss. So the news that one of my favourite bands, the mighty Alabama 3 are to do an Alabama 3 acoustic, complete with rather elegant sounding three-course dinner, is music to my ears.
And so to the Jazz Cafe in Camden. Downstairs is a cozy standing-room only space. Upstairs is reserved for diners, with a small horseshoe shaped area from where you can look down on the stage. There are only two rows of tables: the front ones have an good view of the stage and these are the ones I suggest you bag if there’s a band you really want to see. Payment covers seeing the band, and a main course (extras are, well, everything else – starters, dessert and drinks).
Alabama 3 (who I last saw at Paradise Gardens) are first on stage; they get us in the mood with five numbers, starting with Converted from first album Exile on Coldharbour Lane, leading on to the infectious You Don’t Dance to Techno Any More and my favourite – Too Sick to Pray. We’re all nicely warmed up by now, and ready for the support, young New Zealand band Kara Gordon and The Wreckage. Kara shambles on to the stage, a huge, gentle giant of a bloke, he picks up his guitar and … proceeds to blow us away with his skilful, bluesy, a‑bit-metal guitar playing. Reading about Kara there are comparisons with Hendrix, which I usually I’m wary of – but there is a natural and symbiotic relationship between Kara and his guitar which makes the comparison understandable. Between numbers Kara takes time to mumble earnestly into the mic and despite my best efforts, I understood not one word. I talk to Aurora Dawn in the break and she tells me how A3 were impressed by Kara and his band on their tour of New Zealand early 2012, and of their intention to help him gain recognition over here.
Alabama 3 return to the stage. The small and intimate club feels just right for the band’s acoustic numbers, and for Larry Love’s banter – he proves to be on fine form tonight. His voice is its usual deep purr, helped by swigs of whatever’s in the bottle, and accompanied by Aurora Dawn’s soaring soul vocals. He dedicates Up Above my Head to dead female rock stars: Amy Winehouse, Sandy Denny… et al. Kara and The Wreckage join A3 on stage for Woke Up this Morning – totally unrehearsed – Larry informs us. As the band move into the closing number, Aurora nips off for a bathroom visit, prompting Larry to dedicate the final number – R.E.H.A.B – to her bladder… and another A3 gig comes to an end.
Jazz Cafe Food
So how does the Jazz Cafe fare? This long-running venue has attracted mixed criticism, however we were greeted warmly and found the service swift and smiley. From the Southern US influenced menu we order salads, followed by Lamb Shanks with sweet potato mash, sauteed green beans and Creole mustard gravy. The lamb was deliciously slow-cooked and tender but in contrast to the sizeable hunk of meat, the portions of beans, potato and sauce were – although tasty – a little on the small side. One point to note is that when a band are playing, the diners seated in the ‘second’ row cannot see the stage, this means that they have to stand and crowd round your table. It feels a little odd to be eating dinner with people standing, pressed up against your table.