James’ comeback gig was in a small East London bar close to their rehearsal studios that held around 200 people.
Seven / Destiny Calling / Who Are You? / Play Dead / Fine / Stripmining / Really Hard / Five-O / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Chameleon / Say Something / Sometimes / If Things Were Perfect / Protect Me / Ring The Bells / Laid
review by Bon
As of 2pm Friday I was resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t get to this gig due to the debacle over the tickets.(Promoters huh!)
But then it all changed and at 6:15pm I was in the Hoxton eagerly awaiting the start of a (hopefully) new era! (Or is that an old one revisited ;D)
Anyway to the gig;
Venue was a ‘bijou’ place, described variously as compact, snug and cosy. The sound was not brilliant (I don’t mean the performance) I mean the mix. Larry’s guitars seem to dominate both Mark’s keyboards and Saul’s violin playing. At times Tim’s vocal seemed completely non existent. (But I am being over critical here)
At one point Saul’s gear seemed to pack-up (really surely this has never happened before!! I had a ‘Hymn from a Village’ moment) but it got sorted and he was back on track.
The band were great, as ever! I loved the mix of songs they played, (Heck a song from whiplash that wasn’t Tomorrow or She’s a Star ;))
Tim’s voice seemed on fine fettle and the new songs sound very interesting, though I think WAY? may need some fine tuning in either the arrangement or the playing, as they definitely weren’t ‘together’ on parts of it. I loved Chameleon and look forward to the new album.
Also good to hear Seven live, one of my personal favourites, and not often played.
If they carry this ‘mix of set’ through to the main tour I think we are in for a real treat.
It was great to see Larry back in the line up, just one missing (Do I really need to draw a diagram ;D) I would love to see/hear Andy take part.
It was also great to see the fan base turn out and appreciate one of the best bands to come out of Manchester (IMHO)
I’m really glad they decided not to pull this one.
review by Sweezely
Tucked away in some “chic” (i.e. poorly decorated), “intimate” (i.e. cramped) and “indie” (i.e terrible sound) converted-car-park-cum-bar (yes, that’s true) on the edge of Central London, the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen was not the sort of venue you’d expect to see a band such as James. The room was only as big as the ten man office I work in, and the stage could barely accomodate the Laid Six. God Only Knows where Andy or Michael would have fit had they been on stage too.
I stood impatiently outside the doors, listening intently to the soundcheck and then trying to sneak a peak at what guitars were on stage. I nearly let out a little “yes!” when I saw Saul’s Bass VI – I knew there must be at least one song off Pleased To Meet You or Millionaires. Of course, that only made me more impatient to hear what Larry was going to do with them. After what seemed like forever, the bouncer finally let us in, and after waiting exactly one more forever the band finally came on stage. Rather than Tim’s usual “hello”, Larry proclaimed “We Are James”. It was all a little bit cheesy.
Perhaps the biggest question on everyone’s quivering lips (other than “is that creepy bloke on the tube going to murder me and wear my face as a hat”) was “what’s the first song going to be?” Would it be Born Of Frustration, the messageboard’s favourite, or would it be one of the biggies, like Sit Down or Come Home? Personally I thought Destiny Calling would be appropriate – “so we may be gorgeous/so we may be famous/come back when we’re getting old”. But, in true James fashion, the song was straight out of leftfield (no, they didn’t do a cover of Afrika Shox by Leftfield, silly). Seven. Yes, they’ve been away for six years, there are six of them in the band, and they didn’t come on stage ’til after eight. At the end of the set Tim declared “this is our first gig in seven years” which may explain it, even if it is somewhat mathmatically inaccurate. Of course, this didn’t matter at all. Sounding slightly different to how I’ve heard it done live before, Seven sounded a lot like that fast version of Pressure’s On and was a very upbeat way to kick things off. Jim and Larry seemed particularly good on this one, a verification of how good their communication is after recent jamming sessions.
The next song was Destiny Calling, and so the first time we’d get to hear Larry playing some of Adrian’s parts. True to the night, they had just a little trouble starting it off. When it did get going, I have to admit it was a little disappointing. Adrian’s part seemed to have been discarded entirely and Larry just played the chords. If there was one misstep of the night, it would be this. Hopefully it was simply down to lack of practice and not the finished version of a great song we’ll hopefully hear again in April.
Then, the moment everyone was waiting for… Who Are You. With a bombastic main guitar riff sounding not too disimilar to the Peter Gunn theme, Who Are you is a song markedly more complex than the standard three or four chord James song. The memorable chorus, with Tim singing “who are you” in a beautiful falsetto, coming together in a rousing finale that reminded me of the end of English Beefcake. As a song it’s certainly different to anything they’ve ever done, and simultaneously evocative of all eras of James, from the original post-punk/folk sound of early singles, through the Madchester era and ending on the same note as many Pleased To Meet You songs with long outros. Already sounding more complete and polished than half of the back catalogue they played, this will be another of those brilliant James songs that won’t chart as high as it should. One small note: just how memorable is the riff? So memorable that I worked out how to play it this morning, that’s how memorable it is.
Tim couldn’t resist the urge to remove his sling and dance, which he started to for the next song: the welcome return of Play Dead. Always a pleasure to hear this song and it’s never sounded better. It ended with a simply stunning three part vocal harmony between Tim, Larry and Saul. I don’t know if Saul and Larry have been taking singing lessons, but the backing vocals were outstanding all night, and this was never more apparent than on this song, or the next. The next song was arguably the least expected song of the evening – Fine. Again, another Adrian-era song, and again, another Adrian-ignoring performance by Larry. Bum notes aside, I think I prefer Adrian’s subtler strumming to Larry’s slide, but that’s just my opinion. Certainly it was a Fine performance. It was really heartening to hear these two songs, and I hope that we can hear more songs of that ilk in future gigs. I certainly thought Fine would be a song they would forget about, much like Afro Lover, so I guess this shows all bets are off when it comes to resurrected songs.
Delving deeper into the past, two songs that were an absolute joy to hear – Stripmining and Really Hard. Stripmining sounded particularly triumphant, and although I was slightly disappointed they refrained from ending it with Refrain, it was one of the highlights of the set. Really Hard too was a welcome surprise, certainly seeing as the only thing James ever play from Stutter is Johnny Yen (conspicuously absent tonight). Then again, when was the last time they played anything from Strip Mine? Next up, the hands down absolute corker of the night – Five-O. I have never heard song, by any band, played as good as Five-O was. Larry kicked major ass. To be honest, I don’t have any words to describe it, so I’ll make some up: clarky, gernose, and baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam. Yes, Five-O was baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam.
Excursions into rarities over, the rest of the set was a more-or-less rendition of hits. Getting Away With It, the third Adrian-era song, finally let Larry shine. Saul played Adrian’s part, while Larry played… er… Larry’s part. There was a new riff in town, and somehow it sounded better than before. A song that was often regimented and over-processed now sounded fresh and spontaneous, and I can’t wait to hear it done like that again. Chameleon, the other new song, followed. Lyrically somewhere between So Swell and Johnny Yen, another song about celebrity, media, and the press. The song itself didn’t really work for me, kind of all over the place and decidedly under rehearsed (or if you believe Saul, over rehearsed), but certainly there’s promise, even if that promise is Tim’s promise it will sound better on the promised two-disc singles collection. Promise! Special mention goes to Tim’s uncharacteristic yelp.
Last two songs, Say Something and Sometimes. Say Something was different, Tim sang a different melody and reminded me of the “new” slow version of Sit Down, with the drums not kicking in til much later in the song. It threatened to completely fall apart after the first chorus, but the band changed back to a more recognisable Adrian-era version, although oddly Larry played Saul’s part, and Saul played Adrian’s. Nothing much to say about Sometimes – a solid song that really got the crowd going. And that was it for the main set. The proposed (and slightly farcical) “let’s go out to the fire escape and wait for them to call us back” was forgone, however, so it was straight into the four song “encore”.
If Things Were Perfect, a song I adore, was the first, another of the weird songs they played. I’m not sure Dave has practiced too well on this song, and if I recall correctly this was the song he fluffed up starting. He also didn’t quite end it right, but that’s me being picky. It can’t all be glowing praise! Protect Me, electric. I thought the slightly overblown electric version of Protect Me would never be heard again, but this is new James, and new James do whatever they want, and they do it well. Still prefer the acoustic version, though. The biggest cock-up of the night followed, when no one knew how to start Ring The Bells. At one point Saul started to play Tomorrow, but mostly they just looked around, fairly puzzled. Saul decided the band’s over rehearsal was to blame – “maybe we should only have done one rehearsal… instead of three”. Once they eventually started, though, we were treated to one of the finest Ring The Bells, Larry getting completely lost in the ending solo. The set closed with an impromptu and rousing rendition of Laid, which sent everyone in the room slightly insane.
The night was very special. The atmosphere was amazing, at the end everyone in the audience was shaking hands, hugging and shouting various praise towards the band. The whole room felt alive, and it felt like the whole of London was shaking. The band’s dynamic seemed brilliant – Larry in particular looked like he was having the time of his life, and the whole band seemed to feed off each other, even during the requisite technical difficulties. They were like a new band, rough around the edges and spontaneous, but mature and experienced enough to brush aside any of the problems that other bands would collapse under. Hell, that’s what they thrive on. Perhaps that’s part of the magic. Perhaps that is the magic. Well, that and the amazing songs.
They were James.
They were awesome.