A show recorded for XFM broadcast and effectively a preview show for the soon to be released Pleased To Meet You album.
Alaskan Pipeline / Space / Stand / Senorita / Junkie / Waltzing Along / Sometimes / Just Like Fred Astaire / Pleased To Meet You / The Shining / Falling Down / I Know What I’m Here For / Destiny Calling / Fine / English Beefcake / Born of Frustration / Ring The Bells / What Is It Good For? / She’s A Star / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
review by oneofthethree
The thought of James playing a small club in London to promote their new album sounds like something out of the wildest dreams of an avid James fan, those who long for the intimacy for which the band are famed and that many considered lost in some of the arenas they’ve been playing in the past few years. XFM’s Sound Sessions provided the opportunity for that and 250 or so lucky competition winners and various record industry folk crammed into the Sound club off Leicester Square to witness this.
What they got, or what this avid James fan got, was not quite what was expected. To use the words of the great Roy Keane, there was too much of the “prawn sandwich” brigade about last night’s gig. There were people who would have travelled hundreds of miles to see last night’s show, so why were there people in there insisting on trying to talk over Tim on the slower more melodic moments from the new album. Compare this to the sheer ecstasy and delirium of the slightly bigger Embassy Rooms where James played two years earlier to launch the Millionaires album, and the problem comes more into focus – great set, wrong crowd. The cheers that greeted the more familar tunes told it all.
Anyway to the set, the band opened with five new songs – four from the album and the b-side Stand. Alaskan Pipeline provided a soothing start with its lilting instrumental introduction and very sombre and plaintive lyrics and vocal delivery.
Space opened up a series of four songs where it was immediately evident that although Pleased To Meet You is a very restrained album, the band are going full out with guitar and drum attack when they play these songs live. Stand was a particular highlight, described by Tim as “the best song that didn’t make it on the album”. Tonight it stood out as the single it really should have been rather than being locked away on a b-side. Senorita was driven by an extremely passionate vocal performance by Tim, enunciating clearly every syllable on the Senorita title with a real passion.
Junkie, once the machines had started working, sounded a little more claustophobic than on previous hearings, a little strangled by the sound quality of the venue and system, which was not the best and emphasised loudness rather than subtlety in the music.
The crowd livened up for a mini-medley of hits in Waltzing Along, Sometimes and Just Like Fred Astaire, the first two played with a refreshing vigour and freshness, the subtleties of the latter again lost somewhat in the mix.
Back to the new album and Pleased To Meet You was an unexpected success. A song of three parts, the beautifully delivered simple opening section, the almost funeral organ middle section and then the loud improvised end section with Tim hollering into a microphone. One of the weakest tracks on the album, but possibly the best song here tonight.
The Shining came and went, most noticeable for Tim’s return to the “I could be the Nazi or I could be the Jew line”. The epic feel was lost on a lot of the audience though. Not having heard the new album is not an excuse to try and shout over the top of it, listen to it, go to the bar, go home or give your ticket to someone who wants to listen to it.
Falling Down was a complete and utter shambles, it didn’t appear to have much of a tune, Tim tried moving from one vocal delivery style to another and the song just fell apart. What looked like an obvious single needs some serious work on in the live arena if it can be considered for future release as such.
I Know What I’m Here For was the undoubted highlight of the older songs. An impassioned performance driven along by Mark’s keyboard line and powerful guitars. Saul suddenly came to life and urged the crowd and the rest of the band on. Destiny Calling was lapped up by the crowd as well, even though the delivery tonight was a little flat.
Fine and English Beefcake were both pulled off wonderfully. Saul picked up his violin for the first time this evening and he really should be made to use it more often. It adds so much light and shade to the James sound and was apparent in its absence from Alaskan Pipeline and Pleased To Meet You earlier and in particular What Is Good For? later in the set. Probably the two most complex tracks on the new album, both were ratched up a notch in their live performance and were real highlights of the set.
A wild Born of Frustration and Ring The Bells brought the main set to a close and brought a little more reaction from the crowd. For the first time I actually felt someone pushing against me into the barrier. Tim’s dancing was restricted by the incredibly small stage, but as ever, he used the space available to him to maximum effect.
Returning for the “encore ritual” What Is Good For? was started and stopped because it was too slow and it failed to recapture the simple power of the album version or the way the track was played on last Autumn’s tour. Saul’s guitar proved too much of a distraction and sat awkwardly where there should have been violin.
She’s A Star came and went and was received as rapturously as ever. The set concluded with the new single Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) which has to be described as a “grower”, a song that gets better and better with each listen and which gnaws its way slowly into your brain.
So the overall verdict? A good performance by the band, but not their best. This has to be mitigated by the fact that the sound system was awful, at one stage Mike’s backing vocals were drowning out Tim, and the fact that there were elements in the crowd that weren’t too interested in listening to the new album material.
James feed off the energy of the crowd at their concerts, each one is a celebration. Whilst there was a lot of audience interaction between songs with the chattering element shouting for their favourite Best Of track, there was surprising little during the songs. Tim stayed on the stage and Saul was relatively quiet.
To sum up – great set, good delivery, crap sound and disinterested audience.
James wow the crowd at Sound and leave that song backstage at exclusive London gig…
Music fans who know there’s a lot more to James than ‘Sit Down’ are falling over themselves to get tickets for this exclusive gig tonight. No wonder, as the band premieres a massive amount of new material. ‘You will learn to love these songs,’ quips singer Tim Booth.
As well as the new songs, another unmissable attraction is Tim Booth’s unique style of dancing. He moves at times as fast as someone having a fit, then slow like some kind of loony raver. Most memorable of all though is when he turns his back to the crowd and sways his whole body, moving and swivelling from the shoulders and the hips, resembling a snake that’s got the rhythm.
It isn’t just Booth’s dancing which is quirky. He performs one song with the aid of a megaphone, and peppers his delivery of ‘Born Of Frustration’ with bursts of its distinctive `whoo-hooing’. The song is so danceable that it inspires several wannabes in the crowd to start moving their heads and shoulders erratically in a well-meaning attempt to imitate him.
There’s nothing remotely manufactured about James or their route to success, a fact of which Tim Booth is obviously proud. Responding to a call of ‘Come On!’ when they stop to allow the guitarist to retune his instrument he says: ‘What’s your hurry… This isn’t on tape you know. This isn’t pop crap.’ A bold statement, it notably echoes the sentiments of ‘Destiny Calling’, a song containing several blatant digs at boy and girl bands.
The crowd is clearly in a party mood as displayed by the reception of set closer ‘Ring The Bells’, one of many arms aloft crowd-pleasing sing along numbers. ‘She’s A Star’, dedicated to Tim’s sister Penny on her birthday, is an incredibly popular choice for an encore and probably the best-known track of the show.
James then, purveyors of real music since 1984, and still defying our expectations. This evening by performing a whole ninety-minute set without playing ‘Sit Down’. Remarkable.