SetlistSometimes / Heavens / Tomorrow / PS / Five-O / Come Home / Goalies Ball / Lullaby / Laid / Say Something / Honest Joe / Low Low Low / Sit Down / Out To Get You / Ring The Bells / Maria / Born of Frustration / Sound
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Jim Sullivan, The Boston Globe
At this point, no one can legitimately claim to have just “discovered” James. After all, the British band is 11-years-old – ancient mariners sailing in the alternative rock ocean, if you will – but the band has, mostly, maintained a low profile. They have been semi-stars in England – and touted by both Morrissey and Neil Young – but their early albums on Sire in the US barely made a dent. Their first appearance locally was in late 1992 when they opened up for Tom Tom Club and Soup Dragons at the Channel. While James made a strong mark in concert – passionate, creative, built of U2-like stock – and the concurrent album, “Seven” (on Polygram) struck a chord, they seemed to fade back into the woodwork. Too un-definable? Too fey? Too British?
Who knows? But recent times have been good for the sextet, fronted by rag doll-like singer Tim Booth. Their current, Brian Eno-produced album “Laid” is a hit and they sold out Avalon a week ahead of their 90-minute set last night. And they were, in a word, sublime.
All right, you’re trapped in Criticsville so more adjectives will, of course, follow: uplifting, elegaic, panoramic. Mostly, James is all about a journey, musical and emotional. Last night, it started on a soft, spiritual-romantic plane with “Sometimes (Lester Piggott)” (“Sometimes when I look deep into your eyes/I swear I can see your soul”) and “Heavens,” and it coursed through the quietly accusatory “P.S” (with its “You liar . . . You’re sour” punctuations) before, mid-set, moving back to the spiritual and atmospheric with “Come Home” and “5-0” (“Will we grow together?/Will it be alive?/Will it last forever?).” Then, another arc that included the sensual pop bounce of “Laid,” the techno throb of “Honest Joe,” the anthemic, U2-like reach of “Sit Down” and the closing of the regular set, a spacey, synth-and-violin driven piece called “Skindiving,” a song that would not be out of place on Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”
We’re talking bredth and depth. We’re talking head and heart. We’re talking about a band that can crisscross the emotional spectrum and sell neither despair nor euphoria short or cheap.
There’s a sense of integrity and, you might gather, a moral purity to this band. It’s not unlike the vibe you’d sometimes get from early R.E.M, U2 or Waterboys. And, there’s not any pompous, tilting-at-windmill rockisms – aka The Alarm syndrome.
With James, there’s nothing in the least that’s showy. Booth flopped listlessly in the breeze until the encore, when he donned a dress (for the first time on stage, he said) and did a bit of whirling-dervish stuff. Basically, James’ songs tend to climb slowly, sometimes from an acoustic guitar base, and reach a series of glorious crescendos. Sometimes, it’s a double percussionist’s climax; sometimes it’s a flavor added by a slide guitar (a rarely heard flavor in this genre); sometimes, it’s the bond you feel when a heartfelt singer admits, “We feel nothing at all,” or, alternately, “What I need is you.”
James’ sound is the sound made by a velvet hammer.