Pressure’s On / Ring The Bells / Come Home / Low Low Low / Say Something / PS / Five-O / Skindiving / Knuckle Too Far / Laid / Sit Down / Sometimes / Honest Joe / Born of Frustration / Sound
Michael Norman, The Plain Dealer
An acoustic tour with Neil Young in 1992 put James in the mood to make their mellow, new studio album, “Laid.” But when the British supergroup hit the stage at Peabody’s DownUnder Thursday night, it was with the full force and volume of a thundering, electric rock band.
The six-piece group from Manchester, England, regularly plays arenas and stadiums in the United Kingdom and Europe. Armed Thursday with a semitruck full of sound and light equipment, they came close to blowing the doors off Peabody’s. The spectacular 90-minute performance had the look, sound and feel of a full-blown arena extravaganza, complete with dizzying light show and special sound effects.
The group plays a catchy blend of folk-tinged rock and pop that mixes the Gypsy flavor of the Grateful Dead, the bouncing melodies of the British Invasion, the boozy melancholy of the Doors and the anthemic ardor of U2.
The spark is lead singer Tim Booth, whose tussle of brown hair, sleepy eyes and gaunt face give the appearance of a Generation X Bob Dylan.
His singing and stage presence are something else. He has a baritone-to-falsetto vocal range and an opera singer’s flamboyant flair for delivery. He punctuates his with whooping, yodeling, even raps occasionally using a megaphone. He is also one of rock’s most energetic performers, with a patented series of whirling dance moves.
Booth whooped and whirled through a 15-song set comprised mostly of material from “Laid” and the band’s 1992 album, “Seven.” The songs from “Laid” were beefed up with electric instrumentation and arrangements that featured a louder, brawnier rhythm section.
It was a wonderfully diverse show, running the gamut from jazzy psychedelica (“Skindiving”) to hymnlike pop (“Ring the Bells”) to tribal techno-rock (“Low Low Low”) to sultry blues (“P.S”). Crowd favorites included the anthemic “Born of Frustration” and the bouncing, quirky “Laid.”
Booth’s supporting cast is a formidable one, with guitarist Larry Gott, drummer David Baynton-Power and violent-guitarist Saul Davies turning in particularly stunning backing work and solo performances.
Two years ago, a lucky crowd at Peabody’s got to see Pearl Jam make one of its last club appearances before becoming national stars. Those fans fortunate enough to see James Thursday will soon have a similar story to tell.