Come Home / Sometimes / She’s A Star / Say Something / Born Of Frustration / Out To Get You / Five-O / Ring The Bells / Destiny Calling / Waltzing Along / Johnny Yen / Runaground / Laid / Tomorrow / Top Of The World / How Was It For You / Sound / Sit Down
Johnny Cigarettes, NME
“COME HOME, SIT DOWN, SHUT UP.”
This was the considered verdict of one pundit of this parish, and dare we suggest, many other fickle observers on Tim Booth’s brave baggy survivors, upon their return to planet rock after a four year absence last year. Rarely has a band been so cruelly betrayed by the ’90s. For what seemed like at least half an hour, or the length of an arts degree course at a provincial university, James seemed to have the zeitgeist firmly sewn into the lining of their T-shirts. And then, the next time we looked, there seemed to be several hundred reasons to hate the very arenas they walked on. “Those who find themselves ridiculous…” Well, you said it.
And still, seven years on from the days when they were Number Two for almost as long as Bryan Adams was Number One, they and their shockingly loyal fanbase (3,000-odd singalong armwavers here tonight) exist in a strange netherworld in the armpit-hair of fashion. The graduates of the baggy class of ’91 and ’92 may have since got married and had children, the floppy centre parting cut down to size, the guts expanded and the cotton on their backs turned into wool, but tonight it seems they’re still as likely to get their kicks from the ‘Whiplash’ stuff as ‘How Was It For You’. Whatever gets you through the night, darlings.
How much can one hate James? Let us count the ways: The sub-Stipe psychobullocks; Tim Booth’s ‘I am dead weird, no really’ periods of drama school dancing and ropey Buddhist skinhead haircut; the whiff of ’80s middle-class liberal conscience that pervaded their every Green, vegan, celibate, anti-war sentiment; the numerous searingly naff attempts at changing their image in photo shoots to reflect ‘humour’; lyrics like “Dress me up in women’s clothes/Mess around with gender roles” – cooool! As well as the fact that their new single ‘Destiny Calling’ is a bitter attack on the superficial transience of commercial pop (this from a band who have one comeback hit and rush release their greatest hits), with such original targets as, erm, the Spice Girls. And don’t even mention S***le M**ds.
And yet, that old bulkwart of anti-cynicism gets in the way again. The simple fact that when you see the whites of their hairs and the nodules on their throats, you can’t help but be swayed away from the path of over-critical rightousness and undeniably good tunes, heartfelt emotion and overwhelming mob psychology.
Tim Booth looks like Wayne Sleep if he had become your geography lecturer, the band as singularly uncharismatic as ever, but the atmospherics and spiritual (ouch!) resonance of these songs still fill the room. A slightly odd dance sequence to start the show worries us briefly, but then it merges into ‘Come Home’ which is so overwhelmingly received that they can’t go wrong. That said, lesser known, more low-key efforts like ‘Out To Get You’ and ‘Top Of The World’ maintain almost the same vibe level, not to mention the sublime likes of ‘Johnny Yen’ from their ’80s wilderness years.
Such is the communal bond they develop with their audience that they don’t need to go through the aloof ritual of going off and coming back on for the final encore, and ‘Sit Down’ is being sung like a hymn before they even strike a chord. “This is the happy ending at the end of a big, long book,” Tim tells us. Make of that what you will, but further reading may yet be required.
Sam Taylor, The Observer
The Doncaster Dome is located in a grim no-man’s-land of exurban recreational boxes: a Warner Village, a bowling alley, a McDonald’s and a Deep Pan Pizza Co. The venue itself doubles as a leisure centre, so its labyrinthine corridors are incongruously awash with squash players and the smell of chlorine. It is as placeless a place as you could imagine. The perfect setting, a cynic might say, for a concert by James, a band who have managed to remain largely anonymous through 15 years of minor hitmaking.
The marketing campaign for their No1 Best Of album presents them as `the soundtrack to your life’. Which is true, sort of, if you’re between 25 and 30 and have spent some time in university bars. James are a blurry, intermittent, half-heard soundtrack. I saw them a couple of times in the late Eighties, but all I remember of those gigs, apart from Tim Booth’s neo-Ian Curtis epileptic folk-dancing, are arguments and lovebites and a red James T-shirt.
The T-shirts are the one constant in James’s up-and-down career: striking and flowery, they are as close as the Mancunian septet have got to an image. James have been celibates and sex-gods, vegan monks and narcotic neurotics. Musically, they have gone from indie-folk (`Johnny Yen’) to baggy anthems (`Come Home’) to overblown stadium ballads (`Sound’) and on to a kind of blissed-out rock (`She’s A Star’).They’ve been hip, obscure, popular and forgotten jobbing pop stars now in receipt of a deserved golden handshake.
There are no great revelations after years of playing arenas, you would expect James to blow away a smallish venue like the Dome. But there are several pleasant surprises: the acoustics are exceptionally good for a space designed primarily as a basketball court; Tim Booth’s stage presence is still kinetically strong, less manic but more radiant than it was; and, despite the plodding predictability of singalong hits like `How Was It For You?’ and `Sit Down’, some of the other songs stripped of their differing production tics sound genuinely timeless.
There is a sense of elevated wonder to James’s best work. `Say Something’, `Waltzing Along’ and `Ring the Bells’ have a hymnal, joyful quality which even a bunch of chanting Leeds United fans can’t spoil. The latter song, according to Booth, was used by a group of kids to help them escape a religious cult run by their parents. Some compensation, one imagines, for the fact that it only made No 37.