Come Home / Destiny Calling / Waltzing Along / Seven / Fine / Who Are You? / Chameleon / Lullaby / Five-O / Johnny Yen / Say Something / Honest Joe / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Ring The Bells / Sit Down / Gold Mother / Laid / Sometimes / She’s A Star
Context Alert – All these reviews are written on the night of the show to try and ensure that they contain all the expectation, adrenalin and passion of the performance. I make no apologies for that – the rush you get at a James show, driven on by the music and the performance is something unique, something special that very few bands can give you. The reviews are meant to be impassioned and in that sense if the reviewer is disappointed with the show, it isn’t always going to be positive. In this context, this show was a disappointment, not because of the band’s performance, which I hope comes across in the review (although in the cold light of day it doesn’t as much as it should), but because of the setlist. As it transpires, this was part of a masterplan based on the expectation that a significant part of the crowd would be attending both nights and therefore there would be a “hits” set and a different set the second night. Obviously that wouldn’t be apparent at the time the review was written.
So this reads very harshly, and needs to be taken with the reviews of the other shows on the tour where James clearly demonstrate they absolutely have the balls to take on an audience with a set of songs they may not necessarily have heard before and win them over.
Please bear this in mind whilst reading and apologies to anyone who might have been offended by what was written.
The blokes who committed the violence are still cowards though.
Interesting gig last night, wasn’t it boys? Just trying to work something out though. I’ve been reading your interviews about this reunion being all about something new, something different, so I’m a little confused as to what happened last night.
The set you played last night, you could have come back and played in 2002 and done that set in Glasgow. And again in 2003, and 2004, and 2005, and 2006 and last night too. And tomorrow. And you could do it next year too, no need to write a new album, go and rehearse for a few weeks and come out and play the same old stuff and away you go, thousands of people eating out the palm of your hand. Particularly, if the performance is that strong. But you’ve been telling us that this isn’t what new James is all about. In fact, it’s what you’re most frightened of in this reunion..
So I’ve come to the conclusion you were being incredibly clever. You’d realised this crowd, and I’m not counting the people who’ve kept the faith and waited for this rather than following the reunion hype, really wasn’t ever going to get Really Hard and Chain Mail or the other half of the 45 songs you’ve rehearsed but not yet played live and gone with what they want to hear. The reaction to Waltzing Along and Say Something, reintroduced into the set, says it’s a smart move and they sounded fantastic. And if it’s there to buy time and buy money from a record label to fund your new album then good on you. Just remember though there are those of us who’ve waited a long time for you to come back and are desperate for the type of James that you’ve enthused so much about in recent interviews.
The problem is that, and I hope you’re aware of it, you’ve now created an expectation that next time James come to town, it’ll be a celebration gig, it’ll be the tracks from the first James album most of the crowd own (The Best Of) and maybe one or two from their second James album (Fresh As A Daisy – Tesco version of course). Try and play your new stuff and noone will care unless it sounds like Sit Down 2008. Just like they pretty much didn’t tonight when Who Are You and Chameleon were played. They’re fucking great songs, up there with anything you’ve done before, as is Upside Downside and I’m sure you’ve got a whole bag of them on DATs and minidiscs and whatever from your jamming sessions.
At least the latter provoked a reaction with the real men who felt a group of them attacking a guy who was protecting his girlfriend from being barged and elbowed is what real men do. Play a song about child abuse and listen to them whistling and clapping because that’s what it was written for, wasn’t it? A really great crowd will stand and listen when you throw something different in – last night was not a great crowd.
So anyway to the gig, Glasgow, home of the best parties at gigs, opened up with Come Home, Destiny Calling, Waltzing Along and Seven. The two new songs, Who Are You and Chameleon, came next, and away from the crowds that had picked up on the vitality and freshness of the new material, fell pretty flat in terms of reaction. Who Are You sounded great though, with bass and Saul’s second guitar added into Larry’s opening. Lullaby would have sounded great if you could have heard it over the chatter, the same applied to Fine and Five-O, met with random clapping and whistling and the obligatory oh-so-funny sport of throwing a pint in the air and seeing where it lands.
Johnny Yen got a massive reception from the crowd, a new addition, but really part of the Best Of after Best Of sets of the late nineties and early noughties (or whatever they’re called). Tim referenced Pete Doherty and the song as ever took on a different direction and deserved the accolade it got from the audience, whether or not that’s what they were actually cheering for. Say Something saw Tim out in the audience and roadtesting his damaged shoulder ligaments by putting them to the mercy of a baying crowd.
Honest Joe was stunning though, superb lights, great guitar playing, mesmerising drumming. The crowd loved it, it’s a shame they weren’t exposed to more of the riskier side of James live.
The last seven songs followed a familiar pattern, Getting Away With It, Ring The Bells, Sit Down, Gold Mother, Laid, Sometimes and She’s A Star. To be honest having witnessed a bloke being kicked in the face on the floor by the best crowds in the world (copyright – cliche about Glasgow audiences) and security initially attempting to throw the victim out, I wasn’t particularly in the mood to enjoy, so retreated to the bar to listen to various hilarious karaoke attempts at the words. Still, everyone else seemed to be happy.
So, James, you’ve done a lot of talking about this reunion. You’ve made your vision of the future of James very clear. You don’t want to go back to being a churning out the hits machine. To do that you have got to have the balls to take on an audience like that and win them over without resorting to the cheap shots of hit after hit after hit. True, the nature of an ever-changing setlist will mean you’ll play some more hits-heavy sets than others. But the old James you talk about so passionately always used to take on audiences, make them listen to your new stuff or your choices from the past, you’re perfectly capable of doing so, you’re happy to tell all and sundry you do. To quote a line from some song or other, I need proof before belief.
review by Chris Brown
What to expect? Nearly six years since this writer had last seen James and, even then, had I seen the real James? I didn’t know my expectations. Would this be for better or worse? I just wanted to see an old friend. And what do you do when you see an old friend? Do you mock the fact they might have changed, or fight with them over trivial matters you would have once agreed on? I would hope not. James could have walked onstage wearing salmon-pink shirts, neckerchiefs, spandex, or seventies tennis shorts, playing all the songs I most hated, and I wouldn’t have much cared to be honest. They’ve really earned that kind of unconditional support. No, they might not want it, and I’d be disappointed if they did. In their prime, James were the best band in the world – one of the greatest ever. But it was impossible for them to still be that band. Their competition is younger, fresher and hungrier, there is no denying. It would be to re-define the laws of nature for them to still be that band. So I arrived at the Carling Academy in Glasgow, ready to shake the hand of that old friend and not to judge.
The James of 2007 are a bit like Ryan Giggs. A “genius” in his younger days who could dazzle the greatest of football defences with a combination of frenetic skill and pace. Now approaching the twilight of his career, he has long since lost the youthful energy and yard of pace that once defined him. However, crucially, despite the fact he is no longer the same player, he is still a great player (recently nominated for Player Of The Year in England for the first ever time). Giggs, who also hails from Manchester, might well be, and if not, should be James’ latest role model. Because, as a band, it seems that he is exactly what James should now be about. Forget that you’re all ageing or even balding, and adapt. Show your thick-skin, out-think and out-muscle the opposition, not out-skill them, do the basics really well, show your dogged resistance, don’t try to be the same band you once were, because it just won’t work. During the first few songs of the night, I quickly realised this. I watched them pace modestly through a set where, while watching, I could sense that loss of pace and frantic energy I had witnessed in countless videos and television programmes from the early nineties. However, to close my eyes and listen, I could hear a real strength and stability to what they were playing. At odds with any of my fears, there was no hint of sloppy rhythm, mistaken chords or missed notes ; nothing of the sort. And where these characteristics would once have fitted in, and been a staple of all great James sets, they simply can’t “get away with it” anymore. What James are now showing is a blissful confidence.
For the first time it seems to me that they are absolutely sure of themselves – they know their place, they know their strengths, they know their fans and they play to them all. In particular, I really don’t think the James from the previous ten years would dare, in an atmosphere such as this, to dramatically alter a song like ‘She’s A Star quite the way they did. They have rearranged what was a big, surging, ‘pop’ hit with a more mellow but still uplifting take that is a far greater, more beautiful and all-in-all better tribute to both the song and the band. But that’s not to say James can’t still mix it. For a band of their years, they do it better than could be expected. They just do it with a little bit more assurance and maturity than before. We’re treated to plenty of the hits tonight – ‘Come Home’, ‘Destiny Calling’, ‘Waltzing Along’, ‘Say Something’, ‘Getting Away With It’, ‘Ring The Bells’, ‘Sit Down’, ‘Laid’, ‘Sometimes’ – and while knowing that many of them might well have seen better days, it doesn’t mean to say they aren’t brilliant. One of them, ‘Seven’, has actually never sounded better.
The gears were shifted further forward with the much-loved Johnny Yen. The band drop their guard and lay down the restrained approach for five minutes of unbridled enthusiasm and emotion. For just a few seconds here and there you could have sworn you were watching them in 1990, at Glastonbury, GMex, Alton Towers, or any of the other highlights in their career. Dave both strokes and hammers at the drums, building the second-half of the song, teasing the audience, leaving them breathless and still dying for more. And, to consider James are now more than 25 years old, this really shouldn’t happen with quite such fervour.
Other highlights included a mesmerising ‘Honest Joe’, which is audibly back to its best, and ‘Gold Mother’, now a visual treat ; the stage backdrop filled with a hypnotic montage of shots from inside the female womb, all set to the band’s cacophonic, tribal yelling and chanting. Nobody could watch this and say James were living on their past. They were taking old material and breathing new life into it. Not better than before, just different. And that’s exactly what we want.
The old ideals of wanting to change the set-list around, and even play older material, they count for nothing if the performance isn’t right. And it seems to me that, for all the years and all the mileage, James are still managing to do it right. The following evening saw ‘Riders’ return to the set and, with the added combination of Geoff Buckley’s lighting, blow everyone, including ‘The Best Of Brigade’ away. Larry’s return is also crucial. Where Adrian lacked a connection and a chemistry on-stage with the band, Larry produces these things effortlessly. He is charming, fun, fascinating to watch, and if that’s not enough, a bloody good guitar player too. Maybe the only addition to the set that didn’t work over both evenings was Chain Mail. Here, again, there is a more restrained approach, although not just visibly, but audibly, as Tim ditches the falsetto opening and the song is allowed to limp along in a first-gear that should be raised higher and quicker. Still a great song, and a great addition to the set, but not quite the best of versions yet.
So, what to expect in the future? Have James raised the bar for themselves here? Adrenalin on a tour like this, the first in so many years, is clearly a big factor. The next tour will be the time to judge. We’ve remade our acquaintances, said hello, embraced and shown them how much we’ve missed them. And from witnessing the reaction of the band in Glasgow – the heart-thumping gestures from Tim and the ear-to-ear grins adorned on all their faces – I think they probably missed us too.
AS the surging synth of Nineties hit Come Home whipped the Academy into a heaving frenzy, it seemed James HAD come home – despite hailing from Manchester.
Celtic gaffer Gordon Strachan was in the crowd and the adulation received by Tim Booth and his band was akin to the fiercest football fanaticism.
The favourites were here. Destiny Calling, Say Something, Johnny Yen and Sit Down. And Sometimes remains as spellbinding now as it ever was.
But it was the elegantly rearranged encore of She’s A Star, drenched in slide and acoustic guitars, which was carried by the crowd, every one getting Laid on nostalgia.