SetlistPressure's On / Don't Wait That Long / PS / Five-O / Born of Frustration / Basic Brian / Skindiving / Honest Joe / Lullaby / Laid / Tomorrow / Low Low Low / Say Something / Sometimes / Chain Mail / Out To Get You / Sit Down / Sound
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Michael Snyder, San Francisco Chronicle
There are signs that the Manchester, England, rock sextet James doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Take the name. There is a Jim in the line-up, bass-player Jim Glennie, but no James. And the cover of the band’s latest album, ”Laid,” depicts the six boyish James men standing around in casual dresses. It’s not really a drag thing — no wigs or make-up. On the other hand, each member is eating a banana.
At the Warfield on Thursday, that mild sense of humor took a back seat to the band’s unlikely, affecting blend of street-corner folk, industrial rock beats and sweetly sad pop music. One of the groups in the neo-psychedelic Manchester rave wave of a few years ago, James is still willing to stretch compact tunes into elongated acid-house versions.
Many of the songs dealt with emotionally needy people and dysfunctional behavior. Yet, there was no shortage of sarcastic, self- deprecating lyrics. Consider the line in the cynical hard-rocker ”Low Low Low,” which describes Homo sapiens as ”an ape-like race at the a – – – – – – end of the 20th century.”
Furthermore, it was hard to avoid smiling whenever tow-headed lead singer Tim Booth, shirt-tail flapping, slid up into his trademark falsetto yodel. During the rousing underground hit ”Born of Frustration,” Booth’s visceral wail on the refrain was enough to bring Fido running.
Meanwhile, guitarist Larry Gott reeled out solos that were sharp and majestic, or dreamy and sleek. The fiddling of violinist/guitarist Saul Davies provided the country and the Celtic airs.
Keyboardist Mark Hunter brought a billowing, synthesized ether to the sound. Drummer David Baynton-Power jousted ably with the machine percussion. During the instrumental breaks, Booth would jerk into a frantic, spastic dance that makes Joe Cocker look like Fred Astaire.
Greeted by an enthusiastic full house, James appears to be hopping beyond cult status. The band’s delightful presence on last year’s WOMAD U.S. tour didn’t hurt attendance. It helps that the musicians’ disheveled anti-star attitude exudes genuine warmth.
A version of the title song from ”Laid,” the band’s fifth stateside album, was a total joy. Introduced by the busker strum of a hollow- bodied guitar, ”Laid” is jangly, blunt and carnal in its account of the singer’s difficult, sexually adventurous relationship with a willful, flighty woman.
”Say Something” and ”Sometimes” — two more pieces from ”Laid” — had the grand flourish of U2’s music on ”The Unforgettable Fire” album: wide-angle synthesizer soundscapes cut by slide guitar licks and splashed with cool folk-pop melodies.
The similarity may be the result of James recording ”Laid” with U2’s producer, the interactive avant-garde figure Brian Eno.
In any case, James is at its best in its simplest, most intimate moments — the stately, aching ballad ”Out to Get You,” the infectious international hit ”Sit Down” and the wry, charming ”Laid.”