Come Home / Ring The Bells / Waltzing Along / Seven / Who Are You / Play Dead / Heavens / Riders / Chain Mail / Upside Downside / Out To Get You / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Chameleon / Honest Joe / Tomorrow / Sit Down / Gold Mother / Laid / Sometimes / She’s A Star and Say Something
review by oneofthethree
It’s a sign of a truly great band that they can come out in front of a baying audience and play a set that’s off the wall, unexpected, full of unfamiliar songs and they depart with the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands, begging for more. James, last night, did all that and more. This was the band that Jim, Larry and Tim have enthused about in their interviews. For those of us fortunate enough to have been born in the right place and the right time, this was the James we fell in love with, the James that had seduced us in with songs bordering on pure pop only to be drawn into a darker murkier world of improvisation, of sets made up on the hoof, of songs so fragile that they could soar or crash at any minute depending on where the band took it, of sets that didn’t just play to what was safe, what the audience wanted to hear and still sent everyone home happy. Most of you probably read last night’s review where I questioned the band balls to go back to that place. I doubt they read that review, but I probably owe them an apology for doubting them and not taking them at their word.
The set, as the previous night, opened with a series of singles, Come Home immediately turning the Academy floor into a heaving mass. Ring The Bells, pulled forward from the end of the set, keeps the crowd going with its rollercoaster ride to an imperious end which saw Tim (perhaps not wisely) cast off the shackles of his ongoing shoulder problem and launch into full-on dancing. Waltzing Along kept the pace up, the crowd imitating the opening guitar parts and generally going mental. Seven is shorn of its extended opening section and benefits from a new arrangement with Dave’s drumming much higher in the mix.
Who Are You came next, introduced as a new song and the dancing became restricted to pockets, which emphasises the problem new James are going to face. Radio play isn’t necessarily going to be forthcoming because James are not perceived as an exciting new band (for exciting read loud guitars and shouty vocals) in terms of Radio 1 and not in the middle of the road enough for Radio 2. The way James are going to get their new material across to the people whose lives will be bettered by hearing it is word of mouth and live. Whilst not expansive in the sense Upside Downside is later, or as unlike anything they’ve done before as Chameleon, it’s a great pop song / single to continue the family line.
Play Dead is thrown back into the mix and people just stop and stare at a James that they hadn’t seen or heard before. By the time the song reaches it’s Tim / Saul / Larry unaccompanied vocal ending, the crowd are mesmerised. There’s not much dancing going on, but there sure isn’t much talking either. The reception at the end really says it all. Similarly, Heavens keeps the pace going, there are pockets of dancing around the floor as those more acquainted with the back catalogue revel in hearing things they thought they’d never hear James play again.
Riders, however, is the defining moment for me of the tour and the reunion so far. I’m not a huge fan of the studio version, it doesn’t capture what the band, even back in the days of Gavan, did with it on stage. Driven by Dave’s drumming and accompanied by a very dark / light / dark strobe effect, when it reaches the mid-song stop, the crowd just erupt. A twenty year old song from the second half of James’ lowest selling studio album has just taken 2000 people by the scruff of the neck, dragged them kicking and screaming into James’ world.
Just to make things harder for the crowd, as if to test them further, Chain Mail makes a return to the set. I’m still not overly convinced by the slowed down drawn out delivery of it, but it’s stronger tonight, driven on by the interaction of the band, sensing they’ve taken on the crowd with this set and are emerging the other side victorious (not that there’s any losers tonight). I think I came to the conclusion that a second chorus earlier in the song would make this perfect.
You’ve heard me already champion Upside Downside before and I stand by every word. Tim’s still playing with the words, but the chorus now seems fully defined, the song still explodes into a wonderful stretched out musical ending that rams home the point that whilst Tim takes the centre of attention, James are a band in the truest sense of the word. Without one of the elements they lose more than 1/6th of what they are. With Larry back, the equilibrium is restored.
The opening bars of Out To Get You create delirium in the crowd. It seems to have been slightly speeded up but it doesn’t detract from the power and mastery of the slower songs that James has always had, but which got lost towards the end of the previous incarnation. The crowd holler their appreciation for a good two to three minutes at the end, preventing the band from moving on in the set by the loudness and length of the reaction. Nothing from the previous night matched it.
Getting Away With It gets a fantastic reception. For a number 22 single off an album that didn’t make the Top 10, it’s amazing that everyone in the building seems to know the song that’s become an integral part of the James live set as anything else.
Chameleon follows and continues to grow as the band are more comfortable with playing it. No technical glitches tonight, the crowd mosh away and Tim drops the yelp. Bands of this age shouldn’t be writing songs like that, if you believe the music press. Honest Joe follows and just adds to the generation defying power of James (and their audience).
Tomorrow and Sit Down finish off the main set. Tomorrow is driven by a dual guitar assault from Saul and Larry underpinned by Jim’s bass. The reaction, and I keep on saying this, is delirious. Sit Down is kept to its four minutes, yet gives the crowd the chance to sing along, jump along, beam like madmen.
The encore starts with Gold Mother and goes back to giving the band the chance to show off their improvisational talents. The song sounds all over the place but makes perfect sense. Laid has been to me a little staid so far. It’s too simple a song to do anything too drastic with, but tonight it’s played with a fire and emotion that transcends that. The crowd obviously love it. As they do Sometimes, which brings the first encore to a close with a whirl of guitars driving the song to its conclusion.
There’s no way anyone is leaving without the band coming back for more. The acoustic-led She’s A Star has the crowd eating out of the band’s palm. Dripping with emotion in Tim’s vocals, matched by the crowd’s singing and the explosion of the song at the end as the instruments crash in. Wonderful wonderful stuff. Say Something is then added as a bonus, given that noone’s leaving yet. Tim comes down into the crowd, thinks about standing on the barrier and then leaps it and sings the song with everyone else on the floor. I think at this point the band would play all night had they been allowed, Larry even cheekily trying to start How Was It For You to dare the venue to cut them off.
Tonight was what James are, what James were, and hopefully always will be. They took on a crowd that had expectations of what they wanted, they flew in the face of them, they won the crowd over and the reaction at the end was no different to the previous night. Yet, people will have gone home having heard this whole new side to James that they may not have seen or known before. That is James. They’re no one-hit, best-of wonders. They were the most exhilarating, unpredictable and damn exciting live band on the planet. Tonight they were again. Welcome back. Pleased To Meet You.