SetlistCome Home / Sometimes / Waltzing Along / Lost A Friend / How Was It For You? / Greenpeace / PS / Five-O / Avalanche / Homeboy / She's A Star / Laid / Sound / Out To Get You / Sit Down
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Stephen Dalton, The Times
ONCE one of Britain’s biggest bands, James now find themselves in somewhat reduced circumstances. At the dawn of the decade they seemed poised to become an English U2 or R.E.M., with a string of memorable hits and an enviable live reputation.
Since then, though, the Mancunian seven-piece have been steadily drifting away from the Zeitgeist. They tired of writing stadium- friendly anthems based around simple three-chord sequences, choosing instead to dabble in amorphous ambient rock and fluid polyrhythms. Singer Tim Booth flirted with acting and spent time in New York, where he recorded a likeable album with soundtrack maestro Angelo Badalamenti last year.
But, back on tour after a three-year hiatus, Booth’s studious and occasionally precious demeanour appears somewhat ill-suited to our post-Oasis rock climate. At their two-thirds full Newport Centre show on Sunday night, James struggled to match past triumphs with lumpy readings of such former classics as Come Home and How Was It For You?
The most warmly received numbers from the band’s latest Top Ten album, Whiplash , were those which evoked their catchy singalong past, including Avalanche and the recent single She’s a Star . But the set’s more left-field mid-section proved something of an endurance test, compelling much of the largely over-thirties crowd to slip out and phone their babysitters.
At their best, James appear to summon up tumultuous natural forces and ride the crests of roaring tidal waves. Such transcendent moments were few at Newport, though they eventually arrived as the set climaxed with the lusty gallop of Laid and the soaring swell of Sound . The inevitable grand finale was Sit Down , once so powerful that James stopped playing it to avoid the chaotic Pavlovian response it inspired. Tellingly, nobody sat down at Newport, the song provoking a ripple of nostalgic hysteria.
Still impressively wiry and energetic after nearly 15 years in pop, James have embraced their late thirties with style. It is just their music which seems to be developing middle-aged spread.