SetlistCome Home / Destiny Calling / Ring The Bells / Seven / Who Are You / Chameleon / Honest Joe / Really Hard / Out To Get You / She's A Star / Five-O / Upside / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Say Something / Tomorrow / Sit Down / Hymn From A Village / Gold Mother / Laid / Sometimes
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Well, that was a warm one. This was my first visit to the main hall of Birmingham’s Carling Academy and it’s an interesting venue, wide and not very deep with a standing balcony. For sold out gigs, this creates the problem that everyone wants to be downstairs so by the time James come on stage, it’s absolutely solid downstairs even at the side where those of who like to have a dance and a groove retire to. The venue clearly had airconditioning yet they were loathe to use it, even despite Tim’s comments early in the set about the sweat that was being created. The sound system was excellent, once some guitar feedback had been ironed out early on.
As with most of the recent shows, the set opened with Come Home. Immediately, the venue was transformed into one heaving mass of people, trying desperately to find space to dance and mosh and holler the words back at Tim. Again, the song was loose, fluid, leaving Larry lots of space to weave his magic over the song. Destiny Calling followed and benefitted from an extended, elongated, improvised ending as the crowd went mental. Ring The Bells just kept the momentum going, building to a stunning climax of Tim shouting over the ending as the band ratcheted the noise up another notch.
Seven subdues the audience a little, which is surprisingly, considering it does appear on the Best Of and the ecstatic response for Hymn From A Village a little later (which appears after it). The intro remains shortened, and works better that way in all honestly. It’s such an impassioned song, leading one guy to declare his heart to Tim. A cry of “play Johnny Yen, Tim” gets mistaken for “suck my fucking tit” causing much amusement to crowd and band alike.
Who Are You and Chameleon are thrown in together and the crowd stand, listen, a few continue dancing, the odd person (not as in strange) sing along. Chameleon gets stronger on each play, Tim’s end section lyrics are still pretty indecipherable which is a real shame.
Honest Joe cranks up, the strobes start, people fall over as they try to move around in the dark. It sounds great but doesn’t quite have the massive impact it has had on other nights, the ending seems a little flat and the crowd, generally, don’t quite know what to make of it.
Really Hard, Out To Get You, She’s A Star and Five-O slow the pace down and there’s an enthusiastic reception to this section of the show. The four songs really demonstrates Larry’s mastery of the guitar and what James missed on his departure. As one Red hero hit top form a hundred miles away, another Red legend led James, holding the audience spellbound. Out To Get You was the highlight of the whole show, the band descending into an improvised end section with Saul, Tim and Larry forming a triangle centre stage, Jim edging towards them. The audience applause, as in Glasgow and Newcastle left the band stunned and continued for a couple of minutes. She’s A Star definitely fits in better in the middle section too as it fits in more with the mood and breaks up the lesser known songs for those not so familiar with the back catalogue.
The lyric sheets come out again which can only mean one thing, Upside Downside [ed. later renamed to just Upside for album release]. Tim’s still playing around with the lyrics but the chorus seems to be fixed and there’s a couple singing along. The key change is immense as the band take the song to its end with Tim swirling around stage, still affected by his shoulder injury.
Getting Away With It, Say Something, Tomorrow and Sit Down close the set. The crowd get warmer and warmer and messier as the show builds to its end. Tim comes into the crowd for Say Something causing a melee to get close to him that gave others a little room to dance. Tomorrow is wild, before the crowd recognise the first bars of Sit Down and sing along, the smiles of the band melting into one as the whole of Birmingham seem to be singing along.
Despite not having rehearsed it before the day, James play Hymn From A Village, following much requesting from The Twang (witnessed by me the night before). It’s mental, all over the place, but brilliant stuff. Gold Mother again sounds completely different from previous nights, but has the same effect on the crowd, who lose themselves in the frenzy. Laid and Sometimes close the set and send the whole place into raptures.
This was a great gig, it didn’t quite meet the top of the barometer standards of the second night in Glasgow and Newcastle, but that’s a horrendous benchmark to set a band night after night. A fresh set, fresh life in the playing, freshness in the crowd (well, apart from the sweat). Lovely stuff.
Warren Manger, Solihull Observer
WHEN James announced they were to tour after re-uniting earlier this year the tickets sold out in a matter of hours.
The lasting popularity of the early ‘Madchester’ frontrunners stands as a testament to the irresistible appeal and durability of their string of hit singles which spanned the 1990s.
By combining euphoric, bouncing melodes with lyrics about frustration, despair and alienation James found an unlikely recipe for success which yielded Waltzing Along, Born Of Frustration and fans’ favourite Sit Down. Audaciously unique explorations about sexual taboos – Laid and How Was It For You? – and fame – Destiny Calling – ensure their back catalogue is as individual as it is brilliant.
But this James reunion is far more than just a greatest hits tour and singer Tim Booth is quick to stress the band’s desire to write and record new songs.
Indeed a sizeable portion of this gig was turned over to airing fresh material – so fresh that Booth required written notes to remind him of the lyrics to one song he had amended the night before.
Herein lies the problem, much of this new material just does not sound like the James that so many people love and struggles to stand shoulder to shoulder with the earlier, catchier material.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons the band chose to axe so many favourite tunes from the set list. Waltzing Along, How Was It For You? were both disappointingly absent, as was the entirety of the much lauded Millionaires album.
Alternatively perhaps the band have tired of endlessly repeating their old songs and are simply revelling in the opportunity to play something new. That would certainly account for the band’s heavy harmonising and reinvention on songs such as She’s A Star and Sit Down.
Whatever the reasons for this apparent shift of direction James would be well advised to think long and hard before abandoning the musical formula and the back catalogue which propelled them to superstardom.
The fact that their faithful rendition of Laid was the clear highlight of this gig and provoked a state of near ecstasy among the crowd was a clear indication of what James’ legion of fans want more of the same. After two and a half decades the band have certainly earned the right to experiment and to reinvent themselves – even if that means more music like the meandering, conceptual piece about contractions which cluttered their encore.
James undoubtedly still have the songs and the stage presence to win a whole new generation of adoring fans.
But on this evidence there remains a question mark over whether their new-look material can match the success of the old.