SetlistDestiny Calling / Come Home / Seven / Who Are You / Play Dead / Chain Mail / Lullaby / Really Hard / Five-O / Upside / Honest Joe / Chameleon / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Ring The Bells / How Was It For You / Sit Down / She's A Star / Gold Mother / Laid / Sometimes
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Arriving on stage fifteen minutes later than scheduled, James opened the set with a medley of singles. Eschewing normal opener Seven, they opted to crash in with Destiny Calling, an excellent choice to get the crowd into the mood. Against a screen backdrop of different colour daisies opening and closing, the crowd hollered back every word in unison. This continued through an impassioned Come Home. Immediately noticeable, and a real theme running through the evening (and hopefully the rest of the tour) was the different arrangement from the previous night’s show in Dublin. Mark, in particular, was higher in the mix than previously and the subtlety of some of his keyboard playing was marked across the set. Maybe it’s the superior sound system in Carlisle to what had been heard before, but the music took on a life of its own tonight. Stood in front of Larry at the side, you could stand and watch in awe at his guitar work and hear exactly what he was playing without everything muddying into one. Tim urged the audience to have unadultered fun, un-English fun. Seven found its way back into the set next and fitted in more comfortably away from opening the set.
Tim introduced Who Are You as the new single which was getting radio play. An extended opening from Larry is the highlight of the song, the crowd reaction was great though for a song many of them would not yet have heard.
One of the highlights of the set followed. Play Dead appears to have cemented itself into the set and gives the band the chance to show the more electronic side to their music. Backed with swirling blue lights, Tim lost himself in the song, dancing, albeit gingerly with his still-injured shoulder before the stunning crescendo of Tim, Larry and Saul singing in unison.
The new version of Chain Mail benefits each night from the familiarity of the new arrangement and gets a good reaction from the crowd, most of whom, it has to be suspected, are here for the hits. Saul comments that the song is a very old song played by very old people except him who has never aged. Must be something to do with the magic stone he was showing to fans at the airport on Wednesday morning.
The Laid track, Lullaby, gets its first airing of the reunion, and the crowd pay the track due respect. It appears to be played a little faster than the album version, but still demonstrates that James do have mastery of the slower songs in their canon as well, despite this really being the first outing so far for any of them.
Really Hard is simply stunning, the real success of all the songs that have been resurrected to date. There are lots of shouts for Johnny Yen tonight, but I’d gladly not hear it again if it meant this was played in its place. Again, it sounds different. Mark’s keyboards add colour and edge, Jim and Larry’s guitar playing ekes out every possible emotion out of the song. Similarly, Five-O demands similar emotions from the listener. James were in their peak (for me 1991-1993) about so much more than just the big hits. Set highlights were the tracks you didn’t expect or that they didn’t play that often or were unexpected.
Tim, sensing a little unease in the crowd at the lack of hits, addresses it by telling them that the reunion isn’t meant to be a dead thing, that it needs to be alive. The new song Upside Downside [ed. later renamed to just Upside for album release] positively breathes life, vitality and the promise of a glittering future to come, artistically if not commercially. With the lyrics bedded down a little more and the sound clearer, the chorus appears to be about missing a loved one “Upside love you, downside miss you. I’m still here, you’re out there. Musically, it’s stunning, we get another different arrangement of it tonight, the end section doesn’t soar in the way of previous nights but goes off in a different direction that is no less effective. I just hope that once this tour is over, the band do get the time Jim has alluded to and get back into the studio and give us a new album by the end of the year, because that’s what this reunion is really about.
Honest Joe was pretty much everything those of us campaigning for its inclusion wanted it to be. Against a very minimalist lighting background with some stunning strobework, the song built to a fantastically frenetic conclusion with Tim spinning around with his microphone, Saul playing violin and Dave holding the whole thing together. Even the annoying prick who thought we wanted to hear his whistling throughout most of the rest of the set couldn’t spoil this one.
Still worrying about the audience reaction, Tim tells them that they only have to wait a few more minutes before. It actually took a bit longer as we got an extended opening from Larry which was sounding fantastic until they stopped as there was some confusion as to how the rest of the band should start it. The song itself grows with every play as the band get more familiar with it, and Tim is less confined by needing lyric sheets so can make use of the wider spaces of the stages they’re playing on.
The band end the main set with four truimphant singles – Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), Ring The Bells, How Was It For You and Sit Down. Tim amusingly turns down requests from the audience by informing them they won’t change their path by people shouting out random songs for them to play. The songs get the rest of the crowd going, although it’s relatively subdued compared to the final years of James. Although the band are fresh as a daisy, to excuse the bad play on words, the audience has got a little older, and I think a little wiser. Sit Down, apart from an extended intro from Mark, is pretty true to the original (well the 1991 original) and benefits from not being the communal singalong that it could very easily become if the band were there for a greatest hits, let’s pretend it’s 1991 set.
Taking seemingly forever to come back for the encore, they come back and change the order of the encore. They open it with She’s A Star. The version they play is gorgeous, slowed down, emphasising Larry’s slide guitar, but for me, doesn’t work in the live environment. It isn’t the band’s fault, you can’t really play such a huge hit slowed down like that without the crowd hollering back every word and thus taking away the intimacy that the delivery is giving the song. A real real shame, but hopefully the band will use this approach to the song if they do radio sessions to support the album release.
Gold Mother follows, completely different in approach from the previous renditions. It almost stagnates in the middle section, but the improvisation of the band pulls it back from the brink and the ending is triumphant.
Laid is introduced as “the Mexican one” and is probably the straightest rendition of any song tonight, with an extended ending that’s familiar from the past. The song is so simple and so effective as it is, I’m not sure there’s much you could do with it. The crowd go bonkers.
Tim starts off talking to the crowd about asking them to leave emails before breaking into laughter, Saul joins in the banter, Tim asks everyone to “support their local band” so everything doesn’t end up sanitised like Westlife. He berates security for telling a girl to get down off someone’s shoulders and then declares he will go and stand on her shoulders (not really a good idea, Tim!), then decides it’s a bad idea because it’s difficult to sing. The band start playing so he decides to go in anyway and climbs onto the barrier where he gets mobbed by the crowd. It’s a sign of the times that he also has digital cameras and mobile phones inches from his face recording the moment. Given he’s got no minder to protect him as he had in the past and that he’s nursing a damaged shoulder, it’s maybe not the smartest thing to do, but it shows that the fire is still there, and tonight demonstrates that, not just with Tim but the whole band. Throughout the set, backing vocals appear to be added by Jim, Larry and Saul when they feel like adding them. It works brilliantly, it’s spontaneous, and most importantly of all it’s JAMES! Sometimes ends with Tim jumping back on stage (ignoring the step that’s been made for him) and the band improvising and extending the song.
And then they’re gone. James 2007 triumph in a way that negates fears that this is a reunion simply to fill bank balances. Throughout the set, they take risks, they play almost an hour in the middle without a hint of a single, the songs are structured to allow improvisation and with the lighting and improved sound of these venues, the quality of the songs and the musicianship radiate through.
Carlisle News And Star – review by Olivia Abbott
THIS warm-up show for a UK tour was one of the very first by indie band James since they reformed after disappearing off the scene five years ago.
After a string of top 40 hits in the 1990s, best known of which was Sit Down, lead singer Tim Booth left in 2001, and the band hadn’t been heard of since.
The reformed band are the same six who featured on the top 10 albums Laid and Seven and they came on looking relaxed, confident and were obviously very happy to be here – and appeared humbly delighted with the reception given to ‘a bunch of old farts’.
They kicked off with a few old favourites, starting with Come Home, then treated us to some new numbers, including Who Are You?, which, Tim modestly said, had “been receiving some radio play” plus one so new the lyrics had only been written yesterday and Tim read them from a sheet.
It sounded like the old James, but fresh and vibrant, and if the rest of a new album is this strong it’ll be well worth the wait.
Tim has lost none of his vocal range and his voice has lost none of its strength. He hasn’t changed his distinctive, manic dancing style in any way either, much to the delight of the audience and the rest of the band matched his enthusiasm and energy.
They gave us plenty of other old favourites, including Five-O, Ring the Bells, Sit Down (thankfully nobody did) and Lullaby.
They took their time coming back for an encore, but it was worth the wait for She’s a Star, and, saving the best till last, the fantastic Laid and Sometimes (Lester Piggott).
If you missed it, tough – the tour’s sold out, you’ll have to wait for the album and hope they get on the road again soon.