SetlistLaid / Ring The Bells / Low Low Low / Johnny Yen / Heavens / Come Home / Honest Joe / Out To Get You / Chain Mail / Born of Frustration / PS / Five-O / Say Something / Sometimes / Lullaby / Skindiving / God Only Knows / Sit Down
More Information & Reviews
Chris Sharratt, Manchester Evening News
It’s been a bumpy ride for James, Manchester’s oddest success story, from cult obscurity ten years ago to their present position as an internationally respected band. Their eccentric stance and willingness to swim against the pop tide has made them many friends. As if to prove their new position as grown-up contenders, their new LP Laid was produced by in-demand producer Brian Eno, who has worked extensively with U2. It has received glowing reviews. But good reviews and commerciality don’t always go together. James are not as popular as they were a couple of years ago when Sit Down was gracing the Top Five and their fourth LP Gold Mother, was wooing the nation. The last time they played G-Mex their distinctive T-shirts could be seen on all the right people at all the right places. The gig was a sell-out. Saturday’s show was busy but not full.
Playing songs that spanned a decade – from oldie Johnny Yen to unreleased tracks off their forthcoming double LP – they were nevertheless on top form. Singer Tim Booth has the most passionate and perfect male voice to come out of the city, the crisp sound quality making sure it’s full depth could be heard. And he was glad to be back on home territory: “There’s so many good memories here,” he told the audience.
With the acoustic strum of recent single Sometimes and the stadium rock bombast of Born of Frustration – with ex-trumpet player Andy Diagram making a guest appearance – James showed they are an outstanding live band. The impressive light show and projections added to the sense of occasion. They may not sell as many of their cheeky Get Laid t-shirts as they have previous designs, but musically the band just get better.
John Robb, Melody Maker
So it’s back to G-Mex, the 12,000-capacity venue once treated as a regular local showcase by the long~one baggy powers that be. In the current climate, only cabaret bands like the Wets, Madness or Status Quo pack the place, the thought of Suede pulling it off is laughable, it’s in this context that James’ near-capacity gig has to be placed. The baggy generation has grown up and they are here to pay homage to some unlikely heroes.
The real strength of James’ astonishing pulling power (Fwooar! -Ed} is the way that they have always sat on the edge of fashion. Their whole trip has been long and lonely. More tolerated by the hip than truly dug, they have plied off-kilter pop for more than a decade, powered by the waifish charisma of Tim Booth; one part sixth-form guru, one part primary school headmaster and one part loose-limbed pop star with his own gentle yet determined charisma.
They hit the stage to the echo of one of the Brain Eno remix album tracks, all oddball rumblings and dark dangerous grooves, before crashing into “Sometimes” , the exquisite single off the recent “Laid” album. The song underlines the new James. Back in touch with their rural roots, this is a move away from the Simple Minded clod-hopping of recent years, that saw them almost disappear up flatulent veggie arses.
Eno, or someone, has twisted the songs with an almost doo-wop Fifties flavour, stripping them down to the requisite three minutes and encouraging Booth to let go in that high-pitched wail that is a curious mix between Frank Ifield and Klaus Naomi. It’s a great start, the years are peeled back as G-Mex becomes a seething mass once more.
The only drop in the set is the long acoustic middle section that follows the as-yet-unreleased “Honest Joe”, a bizarre stumble, but a monster song, that sees James come over like the Butthole Surfers, trading in lop-sided ruffian blues. The second Eno album from the “Laid” sessions sounds like a really interesting journey. Release it soon, please.
The acoustic stretch is a 20-minute communion between the band and their closest fans. The rest of us trawl the toilets, stare at the ceiling, talk about football and look for a better vantage point in the hall.
It’s 1993, and we have no time for such sensitivity , we want some noise and some stomping tunes! The encores are a triumph: “Lullaby” , a spooked song about child abuse – a bizarre and typically risky move in front of the hungry thousands – and then switch to “Sit Down” , the band now “getting in touch with their feminine side” decked out in cotton dresses, the puffs.
“Sit Down” still provides an opportunity to build on the band’s special rapport with its fans, the venue feels tiny, intimate and it’s at moments like this that James do seem to have something very special going for them. Triumphant shows like this can only bode well for their upcoming 1994 Stateside stadium tour supporting Duran Duran (ha!).
Born in a different age, their stance seems alien and yet somehow fiercely contemporary. Some people hate Tim Booth, hearing that I’ m reviewing they urge me to give him a good kicking, citing his smugness, but he seems as confused as the rest of us, skilfully articulating this in pop terms. James are now back to the land, stadium rock has been well and truly binned.
Dele Fadele, NME
James have weathered many a career storm and come up laughing, redefining themselves in leaps and bounds but still keeping that initial spark alight.
They’re old hands at this big arena lark – and it shows in the attention to detail and meticulous presentation, the neat but never cloying feeling of intimacy and the willingness to throw the occassional curveball as a nod to their roots. Tim Booth feeds off the massive hometown crowd’s energy and proceeds to lose himself, to strip away layers of repression as if shedding skins. He might wrestle with the concept of religion, but he doesn’t take the standard option of playing Rock Messiah.
There’s no reason for James to play a role when they can drown you, bathe you and make you (almost) whole again with music.
And what startling music it is; working with Brian Eno has brought a sense of experimentation within tight structures and their sometimes mournful Mancunian melodies have come to the fore again. The overhauled old songs turned the crowd into a heaving, pulsating mass, and singalongs are conducted – although not by James prompting, that would be too showbizzy – where possible.
The six-piece, helped on occasion by Andy Diagram on trumpet and Martine McDonagh on vocals, turn “Johnny Yen” into a campfire tale, “Come Home” into a rousing plea and the final, truncated “Sit Down” into a modern morality tale. Conversely, the newer songs show why James survive and will continue to do so, by bridging the gap between performer and audience. There’s a closeness to the near-unplugged section of the show that should be lost in the arena and yet isn’t : “Out To Get You” mixes a touch of paranoia with acute loneliness; “Chain Mail” spews out a torrent of words; “Sound” is anything but bombastic, taken at a delightfully measured pace.
After this, electric energy returns, but, sadly, “Gold Mother” hasn’t aged well and provides a moment of weirdness even the two experimental ambient songs avoid. But then rescue comes swiftly to hand with a crushing “Born of Frustration” and a very evocative “Sometimes”, wherein a natural disaster – monsoon – is described as the music swells and epiphany is gained. And that’s James all over; triumph over adversity and a release after endless rain.