Seven / Destiny Calling / Who Are You / Five-O / Play Dead / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Say Something / Heavens / Chain Mail / Riders / Honest Joe / Upside Downside / Come Home / Ring The Bells / Sit Down / Gold Mother / Laid / Sometimes / She’s A Star
review by oneofthethree
In front of a multinational audience of fans from locations as far away as the US, Mexico, Netherlands, Germany and the UK, James opened their tour proper following the two warm-up shows in London over the last month in the rather superb setting of Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, a truly spectacular venue that has the grandness of Shepherds Bush Empire with the intimacy of a much smaller theatre and a smoke-free environment due to Irish law.
As with the warm-ups the set opened with Seven with its extended opening, the band immediately appeared more at ease in these surroundings than the cramped confines of those gigs. Tim welcomed the band with a “thank you motherfuckers” before launching into an impassioned version of Destiny Calling. I’m sure at some point the “come back when we’re getting old” lyric will be used against the band (probably by the hopefully soon-to-be-bankrupt NME), not that anyone in the crowd cares about what that desperate rag thinks about James. In particular The Twang, who could be risking their coolest new band in Britain status by constantly referencing James through their opening set and who spent James set stood up in their box singing and dancing along like everyone else. I wonder if that will ever get reported.
Who Are You is simply stunning. Most people now know this song due to the power of the internet and it fits into the set like an old friend. Larry, resplendent in his soon-to-be-trademark cap. Next is the real highlight of the evening, Five-O. For those who didn’t witness this incarnation of James and have had to listen to the stories of the more “mature” members of the audience, this will be a real insight into what was, and the band themselves are now admitting to it, the real creative and live peak of the band. Larry’s ending had many of the audience in tears. With the bigger venue came a much clearer and powerful sound system and it tells.
Tim removed his beanie hat at this point as the band crashed into Play Dead, shorn of its opening “music depresses me”, but not lacking in much else through to the Tim-Larry-Saul harmonies at the end. Getting Away With It continues to make its case for inclusion in the most popular live songs, building, brooding and loved by everyone. Tim, still clearly not confident about the shoulder issues he’d been suffering with, has developed a snake-like movement that is graceful yet doesn’t (fingers crossed) risk further injury.
Say Something with its slower understated new beginning confuses the crowd initially, until the chorus kicks in. Heavens confirms its status as a single that should have been. The crowd had warmed up more now and this appeared to fuel the band even more.
Chain Mail made a lot more sense tonight than it did at Nambucca, partly down to the better sound in the venue and knowing what was coming next. Riders saw Mark leave the stage, but, unlike Nambucca, Saul added violin to the mix. The lighting, restricted to the house rig because of the travel involved, suddenly sprung into life.
Now, as it is a James gig, something has to go wrong. Attempting to open Chameleon, something goes wrong with Jim’s bass and they have to ditch the song from the set. After negotiations on stage, the band launch into Honest Joe, the first new addition to the London setlists. Whilst still stunning, it does still need some work to reach the heights of the way it was played back in 1994 and 1997 that made it one of the top songs in fans’ wish-lists for the tour.
Upside, now titled Upside Downside, makes its second ever appearance and Tim has written new lyrics for the night, joking that it would have different lyrics every night and that tonight’s performance will be unique. This, of the three new songs, shows the massive potential of the new songs to take James somewhere different, somewhere James used to go, the place Jim, Tim and Larry have enthused about in recent interviews. Just as it appears the song is reaching a crescendo, it kicks back in and the musicians take over.
That’s the end of the “weird stuff”, as Saul refers to it. The opening bars of Come Home send the crowd wild and the song is as loose yet powerful as it’s ever been. Ring The Bells maintains the pace before Mark opens up a Sit Down that has everyone in the venue, despite fussy security upstairs, into raptures. A failed attempt by the first few rows to get the rest of us to sit down doesn’t work, but just adds to the feeling of euphoria, particularly as Tim comes out to greet the fans. And then they’re gone. Clearly touched, clearly feeling that all their fears about reconnecting with their audience is totally unfounded. Back to claim the best live band in Britain tag from whoever’s wearing that monicker this week.
The encore opens with Gold Mother, in true James fashion different from the last show, Larry very naughtily flaunting the no smoking rule, bad boy. Laid and Sometimes, fittingly for the Laid Six, close the first section of the encore before the band decide not to leave the stage for the second encore. The slowed down, stripped back She’s A Star sends the crowd into raptures, hollering the chorus and probably unwisely trying to imitate Tim’s high-pitched singing. There will be a lot of sore throats in the hotels of Dublin this morning.
So, first night down, the band stood and milked the applause from the audience, visibly moved. The adrenalin rush must be indescribable with 1200 people hanging on every lyric, every chord change and wondering exactly what the band are going to do next. OK, there are less obscure songs than the warm-ups but that’s understandable and forgiven. It’s a shame Chameleon had to be ditched as with it the balance would have been perfect. Prepare to be treated.