SetlistSeven / Play Dead / Who Are You / Fine / Say Something / Chain Mail / Really Hard / She's A Star / Riders / Upside / Heavens / Chameleon / Don't Wait That Long / How Was It For You / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Gold Mother / Tomorrow / Sometimes
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James’ second comeback gig was scheduled to be at Hoxton Bar And Grill a few days earlier, but an injury to Tim’s shoulder meant that the show was moved back and relocated to Nambucca on Holloway Road.
Review by OneOfTheThree.com
So, after shoulder issues, James finally made to the stage for their second comeback show in the rather oddly shaped Nambucca venue on the Holloway venue. As at Hoxton, they started off with an extended instrumental introduction to Seven, leading off with Dave on drums before going into Play Dead, one of the survivors from the Hoxton setlist. New single Who Are You sounded much more composed and was met with appreciation and no little singing now it has had some good radio play around XFM and Radio 6.
The first of the bigger hits played was Say Something with its new muted, but effective, opening verse which emphasises the power of the chorus. She’s A Star was played later in similar vein and it will be very interesting to see how this approach translates from the two small rooms in London to the wider, more open spaces of next week.
Chain Mail followed, an unexpected surprise, and in a rearranged version (well, hey it’s been twenty one years) felt odd. It didn’t crash into the chorus where it was expected to, the pace of the delivery of the lyrics was slowed down. Did it work? – to be honest, it was like hearing a totally new song and I’m not sure you can ever really tell with them in a live environment. Really Hard had no such issues. A totally gorgeous, dreamy song hidden away on Stutter and One Man Clapping, for me this is the highlight of the first phase of James and hopefully its resurrection will lead people towards Stutter and re-evaluate it.
She’s A Star followed, the first time in a live setting Larry played the slide guitar section that characterises this song. Saul and Mark left the stage for a song as Riders was performed as a four-piece in the way it was nearly twenty years ago.
Another new song came next, provisionally titled Upside. A fast tempo track with a definite improvised feel with Tim reading the lyrics from notes made when they were finished earlier in the day. A return to old James – I remember them performing Say Something in Hamburg in 1992 (still my favourite ever James gig) in similar circumstances. It sounded fresh and full of promise and bodes well for the full album due “in a long time” as Tim responded when asked.
Heavens followed, another addition to the set from the back catalogue and another single that wasn’t (although by my reckoning, we’d have had seven singles off Seven).
Chameleon got its second airing tonight and sounded much much better. The improved mix and sound at Nambucca meant the lyrics came through clearer and the band had pulled together the music so it made more sense in the live environment. Can’t wait to hear the recorded version.
As if the delving into the past hadn’t been enough, Don’t Wait That Long made an appearance. Not wishing to criticise Adrian, but this is where Larry really couldn’t be replaced. Hoxton had been such a buzz and there had been an air of disbelief about what we were witnessing that tonight really drove home just how great a set of musicians the band are. The whole interaction of the six of them was something that anyone not coming on board until Whiplash or later would have witnessed. For an oldie like me, it was emotional stuff but the fears of whether this would work now seem banished.
How Was It For You was everything it has always been. Fast, frenetic, exciting, passionate, until the lights and sound went out close to the end. Fortunately this was restored very quickly for the appropriately titled Getting Away With It (All Messed Up). Although the single didn’t set the charts on fire and the album it came from not really picked up by many except the hardcore, it has survived as a real James anthem, a latter day Sit Down.
Onto the encore, which started with a wonderful rendition of Gold Mother, dedicated to Phillip Shepherd (who worked with Tim on Manchester Passion) who’d just become a father. Old James (or new new James depending on which way you look at it) was very much to the fore, the song structure allowing improvisation, both musically and vocally. To finish, Tomorrow and Sometimes hopefully placated some of the dissenting voices (of which there were fortunately only a couple) who were looking for more of the bigger hits.
So, a real success, but it’ll be interesting to see where this goes from here, how much of this set and Hoxton’s, will make it into the setlists for the main tour and what the audience reaction will be to a set that isn’t the Best Of played cover to cover. But last night is what James are about, or always have been to me – taking risks, played the unexpected songs, pulling a totally new one out of the hat and going with it. It’s great to have them back and hopefully they’ll stay. I suspect it won’t be an easy ride and there will be backwards as well as forward steps, but James have refound the spirit that drew me and so many others to them in the eighties and early nineties. Roll on Dublin.