Say Something / Sometimes / Laid / Senorita / English Beefcake / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / She’s A Star / Space / Vervaceous / Johnny Yen / Come Home / God Only Knows / Born of Frustration / Ring The Bells / Protect Me (acoustic) / Tomorrow / Sound / Out To Get You / Sit Down
review by One Of The Three webmaster
So the scene was set for the first show on the final tour. Turin Brakes had performed an intense set from their The Optimist LP to a generally appreciative reaction despite sections of the crowd getting restless awaiting the main event.
Lumbering on to a deep musical intro tape, James kicked into the trio of Laid tracks – Say Something, Sometimes and Laid bringing the crowd to heaving life. Sometimes in particular had lost none of its evocative power, aided as ever by Geoff Buckley’s awesome light show.
Difficult as ever, James then proceeded to three tracks from the recent Pleased To Meet You album. Senorita, the great single that never was, saw Tim throwing shapes with his arms and a real power and emotion in his voice. The crowd were sadly a little more subdued, giving a clue as to why James star, at least in commercial terms, so in ascendancy with the Best Of has dipped so dramatically recently. English Beefcake, a fan’s favourite if you read the websites, meant very little to some of the audience. The band’s near faultless performance of a seriously complex piece of music made this one of the highlights of the evening.
Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) made its claim for inclusion on any Son of Best Of that Mercury will try and fleece us with in future, a song that demonstrates the unique power in performance that defines James live. The audience reaction was delirious.
As the opening bars of She’s A Star rang out, Tim moved stage right to the speaker stack from where he proceeded to sing the whole song. Saul, looking like a bedraggled Mark Owen, sparked into life, making use of the space vacated by Tim.
But that was just a tease. Tim informed s that they were going to ‘get musical’ as the opening bars to Space resounded. Unfortunately, this was one of the evening’s more disappointing tracks, the song was played too slow and despite Tim’s passionate and heartfelt vocals, the song didn’t set the crowd alight.
Vervaceous certainly did, despite the tossers who think a slow song is an excuse to try and sing Sit Down over the top of it. This song typifies all that is so special about James live, showcasing the musical talent of the band as they leap up and dip down around Tim’s vocal line. An elongated end section got the audience clapping as well. A real success.
Enter Andy Diagram, the multi-talented and much-missed trumpet player. Whether most of the audience knew who this was is debatable, but he made his mark very early in Johnny Yen, fleshing out the sound with his unmistakeable trademark. For all those who debate the best version of Johnny Yen, you’ve not heard it properly until you’ve heard it with trumpet.
Come Home came next and proved sadly to be a damp squib. At its best blasted out at full intensity at one end of the set or the other, it’s one of the best tracks James have. Tonight’s performance is a little too laidback. The crowd, unsurprisingly, loved it.
With Andy on board, God Only Knows made a most welcome return to the setlist, having lost none of its power and potential for improvisation since its last airing. Again, the lights just added to the mayhem on stage, like we’d be transported back to 1991-2. Kulas added megaphone-fuelled backing vocals for extra effect.
Born of Frustration followed suit, making me wonder how this song has survived so long without its defining trumpet sound. The crowd hollered the woo-hoos back at Tim. Ring The Bells, still replete with its What’s The World intro, followed suit with Andy joining in on vocals and Dave and Mark in particular on fine form.
And that was it for the main set.
Tim came back out for the first encore accompanied by just Jim and Adrian for a beautifully eery version of Protect Me for “those who’ve been following us for a long time”, those of us who would have loved at that point for them to delve deeper into their past but never mind. Protect Me was beautiful.
The rest of the band came back out and fired in Tomorrow which saw Tim climb up on the crowd barrier and perch precariously over the front few rows without missing a line. Quite how he manages that is beyond me.
As Sound opened Tim implored the seating areas to get up and dance. Andy came back on stage and the crowd went into a frenzy as the band once again produced a wall of improvised noise so powerful as to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. And then they were gone again.
Out To Get You opened the second encore and given this is his last chance to do so, Tim told us the mental hospital story one more time. Its inclusion on the Best Of has made this one of James best-loved songs and this was reflected in how the crowd sang it back to Tim. It was played a little too quickly for my liking tonight, but noone else seemed to mind.
So one more to go, and no surprises as to what was next. Despite Saul’s protestations that they weren’t going to play it, Tim’s comment was “it’s cliched but we have to do it”. Opening with what sounded like the backing tape of the Apollo 440 mix before Mark segued into the gorgeous piano effect of the 1989 original, the song was a glorious mess, the audience singing half the second verse without Tim. It wasn’t stretched out as it could have been, but noone seemed to mind. Yes, it was cliched, but it is one of the greatest pop songs ever written.
So overall impressions? A solid gig, not James best, but also far from their worst. And as Tim says in the programme, an average James gig is something else. There was little mention of Tim’s departuere so things didn’t get too sentimental. Andy’s return was most welcome, adding more body and shading to the sound and Dave and Mark particularly warmed to having their old mate back with them. The setlist did lack a little in ambition (would a What For or Hymn From A Village really have sounded out of place?) but we can forgive them that (Message to band : that doesn’t mean you don’t have to play them!).
In a week’s time, it’ll all be over and I don’t think that’s quite sunk in yet, for us and for them.