Wave Hello / Down To The Sea / Falling Down / Discover / Careful What You Say / Sometimes / Bone / Fall In Love With Me
review by Chugg
On October 25th Tim, along with new band mates Lee and Lisa, played the Fez club in NYC as part of the CMJ music festival. He was the last of four artists to perform in a somewhat unusual setting. The stage area at the Fez is part of a restaurant, hidden behind two different cafe areas, down a steep set of stairs and through a long hallway in the basement. Long tables and booths fill the area, in a set up more apt for a comedy club than a music venue. The sounds of knives and forks scraping plates and waitresses taking drink orders provided the background for the first few performers, but by the time Tim went on stage at 11pm, most people had long since finished their meals. A crowd of no more than 60-75 people made it probably the most intimate setting Tim has sung in in a long, long time.
The set itself started out well… Tim and guitarist Lee, who has been working with Tim to produce his new material, took the stage to a warm reception. Tim introduced the first song as “a song about commitment”, which is apparently called “Shame”. It combined decent lyrics, a catchy chorus, and good vocal harmonies, courtesy of Lee.
Pianist, flutist and melodica player Lisa joined them on stage for the next song, “Down to the Sea”. Many folks will already be familiar with this one. Sadly, I’m not a fan. The lyrics and melody are dull and too reminiscent of too many songs we’ve heard before. It suffers from what I think of as “late James syndrome”, when Tim started running out of things to sing about and many of his lyrics started sounding trite at best and ridiculous at worst. It very easily could have been a bad Millionaires-era b-side.
Next came “Falling Down”, which is not to be confused with the James track of the same name. This one was even less inspiring. The lyrics weren’t horrible, and to be fair, I *think* it will sound better in the studio or with a full band, but acoustically, it just lacked everything. No energy, no flow, it just didn’t catch my attention.
Fourth on the set list was “Discover”, which was introduced as a song about “growing up.” It’s somewhat reminiscent of James’ song “New Nature” in theme, but not as fun. Some interesting lyrics, but some that just didn’t work. The chorus, which simply repeats “who am I, who am I” over and over again, is a bit dull. Having said that, this one built up as it went on, and ended pretty well.
Tim then introduced the next song, “Laid”, as “a song I wrote in another lifetime.” It was horrible. It sounded like a funeral durge; way too slow, with Tim trying too hard to practice every technique his vocal coach ever taught him. Lee’s attempt at harmonizing on the high-pitched “Laaaaaaaaiiiid” (or “Raaaaiiiiid” or whatever it is that Tim sings between verses and at the end) just sounded wrong. Too harsh. Maybe it was just a matter of needing to turn down his mic, I don’t know. Regardless, it made me cringe.
“Someone’s Gonna Hold You to Your Word” (or whatever it may be called) came next. It was somewhat catchy lyrically, with a nice flute interlude by Lisa. This is another one which feels like it’ll sound better with a full compliment of musicians.
The second and final James song was “Sometimes”, which literally brought tears of disappointment to my eyes. It started with a muddy piano intro that just couldn’t maintain the fast tempo of the song. It picked up a bit around the second verse when Lee joined in on guitar, but the whole song just lagged and lacked the energy we’re all accustomed to. It’s one of the best James songs of all time, but the musicians playing it just couldn’t do it justice. It was at about this time that I realized James are gone and it’s probably in my best interest to let their memory live on through my cd and video collection, and not look to Tim to carry on the torch on his own. While his new material may prove interesting in it’s own right, I think it may best for him to leave singing James songs for the reunion tour in 2020.
The next song, “One”, the only song of the night to use a backing track, was good. Nice harmonies on the chorus again, compliments of both Lee and Lisa, both of whom lent their vocal talents on most songs, which was something James often missed in a live setting. “One” combined interesting lyrics and a groovy beat — something to get your foot tapping. This was the song that makes me think the rest of the new ones might be better with a full range of instruments and production. It ended with an a capella repetition of the chorus in harmony, which worked really well.
The closer was “Please Fall in Love with Me”, off the Booth and the Bad Angel album. Like “Laid”, it was played funeral-style, with Tim trying too hard. As a love song, this one lends itself a somewhat better to being played this way, but it was still too slow. You just couldn’t get into it. Again, the piano was a bit muddy and if there was any guitar on this one it was so uninspiring I’ve completely forgotten.
Throughout the set, all three were pretty chatty and there was a lot of banter back and forth and to the audience. Tim explained this by telling us that both Lee and Lisa are solo artists with records of their own, so are used to being in the spotlight and talking a lot, which lead to the best quote of the night when he told them: “I’m the fucking singer, shut the fuck up.” It’s obvious there is a good relationship between the three.
All-in-all, while I can say with certainty that I won’t be traveling hundreds of miles to follow Tim’s solo career, I will buy the album, should it ever be released, because I think there is potential there and am interested in seeing if it can be realized. And I’ll probably see him locally if and when the opportunity arises, and would be especially interested in giving him a chance with a full backing band. But while missing an opportunity to see James should be considered a sin punishable by death, I won’t be skipping work or putting myself into debt to see Tim on his own.