alabama 3 at the Jazz Cafe Camden

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.

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