Steven Daly, NME
Somehow James managed to omit one tiny detail on their rise to the top – they forgot to visit the USA. The group has been kept at an arm’s length by the sceptics, just another English hype to be given the cold, appraising eye when they venture across the foam. So here’s the magnificent seven, making their LA debut in an intimate boite set among the tattoo parlours and Heavy Metal whorehouses of Sunset Strip.
A roar from the faithful and polite applause from the assembled industry ponytails (goatees if they’re really daring) greet James’ appearance on the Roxy’s tiny stage. No crowd-pleasers they open with “Ex-Lover” building slowly through “Love Can Mean Anything” and “Hymn From A Village” before Booth mounts the monitors, flailing in familiar style. Obviously relishing the small room, James seem less than anxious to justify their British reputation, veering from likeably loose to rehearsal-room casual.
An urgent “Sound” moves things up a gear, though, and the band emphasise the point with “Come Home”; while “How Was It For You?” provokes a bout of moshing, which Booth regards with concerned bemusement.
Though James are currently labouring under accusations of stadium pomp and invidious comparisons, their return to human scale performance recalls a rarely-mentioned precursor. Booth’s stubbornly limited vocal range, and the locked-in rhythmic tension that chases each song to an orgasmic climax recalls no other than Live 69-era Velvet Underground in expanded form.
Tim Booth returns for the encore sporting a “james suck” T-shirt, and the band casually convert the few remaining doubters with a searing “Born of Frustration”. Though it now sounds almost perfunctory, “Sit Down” provokes a couple of dozen enthusiasts to invade the stage and assume the customary position. “What do you think this is? A hippy sit-in?” Booth intones dryly. “You’re just a bunch of sentimentalists” he adds before relinquishing the mic : “Now you entertain us.” The band falls silent for the ritual singalong until Larry distractedly starts to noodle away at the American national anthem.
And that’s all folks. James decide they’ve had enough, and shuffle off on an oddly desultory note, Los Angeles loves James, but it’s not clear if the feeling is mutual.