Come Home / Waltzing Along / Ring The Bells / Hymn From A Village / Destiny Calling / Who Are You / Chameleon / Play Dead / Chain Mail / Out To Get You / Riders / Upside Downside / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Sometimes / Johnny Yen / Tomorrow / Sit Down / Say Something / Gold Mother / Laid / She’s A Star / How Was It For You?
review by oneofthethree
So, 16,000 people, hometown show, a massive weight of expectation on the homecoming heroes, it was always going to be quite a night. And it was. It answered once for all the question as to whether there is a place for James in the hearts and minds and music collections of the masses. All the questions about how new material were answered by the response to Who Are You, Chameleon and Upside Downside. Quite the implications for James future are probably best left for another day.
The show opens with a procession of flag waving girls, drummers and a band coming through the crowd stage-right and then up onto the stage as the music to Come Home started and the band appeared as the curtain dropped that was shielding them from the crowd. Personally, I’m not sure why they felt the need to do this. It seemed a little gimmicky, a little unnecessary. James 2007, lest we forget, is all about the music. A band back to remind everyone exactly how bloody good they were and how good they can still be. The front of the crowd becomes one heaving sweaty mass. It’s seventeen years since Come Home opened the G-Mex show that announced for real James’ arrival as a band capable of filling and conquering these arenas, it’s kind of fitting that seventeen years later, it can still have the same effect.
Waltzing Along and Ring The Bells maintain the momentum. Despite the distance and height from crowd to band, there is still the intimacy in the connection that could get easily lost without the close contact. All the nuances and flourishes that the band add to their music are still there, Tim is a frontman like no other, yet the crowd lap it up. It’s a very special band that can sound so fresh in such a cavern, it’d be very easy to give into the sense of occasion, play everything very straight and go from hit to hit to hit. Hymn From A Village follows, it’s spindly, jagged, folky qualities all there, yet it fills the room with such ease, such dogged grace that everyone surrenders.
Destiny Calling does verge on the edge of throwaway. With so many people there, it’s a very easy singalong, chant back number, but it’s rescued by a quintessential James improvised ending which keeps the crowd dancing whilst Tim whirls and twists stage centre.
The two new songs get a very good reception. Who Are You is the most recognised of the two, and it’s good to note it wasn’t used by many as an excuse to go and get a drink, go to the toilet or talk to their mates. Chameleon rocks like hell. Despite Saul claiming they’d probably screw it up, they don’t, and it has a structure, a power it has been developing towards over the tour but hadn’t quite reached.
Play Dead, sadly didn’t seem to transfer itself across as well to the wider surroundings of the arena. It has been a real highlight throughout the tour and it saddens me to say it. The performance is still great, the crescendo of vocals at the end still brings the hairs on the back of the neck to stand up.
Chain Mail is magical though. Ideally paced now, Tim prowls the stage, emphasising the words, it builds and builds to the final chorus and explodes. It does however get usurped by Out To Get You. It’s a little unfair to any song to have to precede or follow this since it was introduced to the set. Tim calls it “stadium rock” at the end, it’s not. It’s not even near. It’s about connection, it’s about lyrics that anyone can relate to and accompanied by what would appear to be a minimalist musical backing, which just adds so much to the power of Tim’s words. You don’t need big choruses, big guitar solos, grand gestures to have a crowd this size eating out of the palm of your hand. Well, James don’t. I can’t speak for other bands.
Riders is similar. Nearly twenty years since being one of the songs that live lead the NME, in the days before the cult of (lack of) personality and the need to cover boybands to keep the wolf from the door, to declare James the best live band in the country. It typifies just what is so special about James and why live is where you get them at their very, very best.
It’s lyric sheet time again for Upside Downside. It does appear to have become more settled and fixed lyrically now, and it benefits from it. Tim jokes it’s the first time anyone has ever sung a song from a lyric sheet in the arena, which could well be true. The song itself doesn’t get lost in the size of the arena. The next time James grace this venue, if that’s the course they take, they’ll have six, seven or eight new songs. The crowd reaction to it suggests that they could well pull it off.
The set draws to a close with a medley of the more familiar. Getting Away With It starts once Saul has got his equipment sorted, after Larry has taken the piss. The crowd greet it like an old friend, the centre of the moshpit heaves again, getting heavier as it’s followed by Sometimes and Johnny Yen. During Sometimes, Tim makes his customary foray down into the crowd and sings most of the song stood on the barrier. Johnny Yen catches fire for the first time on this tour, the improvised section ends with Tim on the floor as the music builds to a crescendo accompanied by frenetic lighting. The crowd go absolutely wild.
Tomorrow keeps the pace white hot before the opening bars of Sit Down are greeted with the biggest roar of the evening. As before, the performance is relatively straight, the crowd sing back every word, the band add a small improvised ending and then they’re gone. 16,000 people are on their feet in appreciation.
Say Something sees Tim start the encore by climbing off stage and going into the first tier seats to sing, struggling to get back at the end of the song as he was mobbed by adoring fans. Gold Mother sees the arena bathed in orange lights, fans invited on stage to dance and the band improvising their way through the chaos around them. It’s absolutely stunning stuff, people stand astonished at what they’re seeing in front of them. Laid has the whole standing section as a heaving mass and the whole seating section are on their feet.
They come back for a second encore. The new stripped down version of She’s A Star works fantastically well in the wider surrounds of the arena. An on-stage discussion sees the set finish with an impromptu How Was It For You, that gets its first play since Nambucca. It’s fast, frenetic and sends the crowd wild and then they’re gone. Tim leaves telling the crowd “this is a comeback, the way forward”.
So, a great finish to the tour. James manage to maintain the variety and vitality of the set in such cavernous surroundings. It is a comeback, what comes next will be fascinating to see. The new material bodes well for the future of the band, there is a mass of built up goodwill for them to tap into, as demonstrated each night on this tour. There are exciting times ahead.
by Sarah Walters, Manchester Evening News (5 stars)
COMEBACKS can be good news and they can be bad news.
They could, for instance, be Pink Floyd at G8, or conversely they could be Northside – boasting one original member – back from the grave with a clutch of tedious indie hits that no one wanted to buy the first time round.
Back in 2001, when James waved farewell to a gathering of 15,000 at the MEN Arena, they joined the likes of Morrissey and Marr and Brown and Squire as ‘Manchester sons least likely to share a stage again’; the sort of event you’d believe when you saw it and flog your first born to get tickets for.
But sure enough, here they are, surrounded by flag bearers and drummer boys pounding out the opening bars of Come Home, back in the bosom of their home city.
And it’s perhaps, then, no surprise that they choose the tune that launched several thousand t-shirts to make their entrance at the very venue that waved them off, or that deep in the mosh pit barely a note or lyric filters through the resultant sing-along. It’s a loaded choice – and it’s lost on no one.
“We’ve come home,” says frontman Tim Booth, breathlessly, scanning the masses with a somewhat bewildered expression before launching into Destiny Calling and reducing the faithful to cheers/tears/nostalgic laughter as he breaks into his full puppet-on-broken-strings dance routine, flailing shamanistically like a man assembled without bones.
It’s been more than ten years since the current James ensemble took to the stage together following the departure of guitarist Larry Gott back in 1996 after Laid. But they’re tight and confident; Hymn From a Village, lifted from their 1985 Factory single, sounds as sparky as ever and stands up well next to a clutch of guitar-heavy new songs – single Who Are You, Chameleon and Upside Downside (written “on the road” and performed by Tim with lyric sheet in hand) – and even the electo obscurity and a cappella harmonies of Whiplash’s Play Dead.
A tinkered with Chain Mail shows the band are keen not to rest on the strength of their back catalogue and that Tim’s vocal range has lost none of its heavenly highs or impossible lows, while Strip-mine’s Riders builds to a dramatic finale as the band are plunged into darkness before belting out the closing bars.
Out To Get You touches all the tingly parts that other songs can’t reach and proves the dark horse rabble raiser, while Johnny Yen, Sit Down and Sometimes – with Tim balancing on the safety barrier, twirling his hips like a charmed cobra – are more predicatable favourites.
With his taste for crowd interaction fully whetted, Tim breaks out of the stage confines to get up close and personal with those in the “cheap seats”,
returning to the fold for 1991 album track Gold Mother, fluffing a few lines amid all the excitement and summoning some front row supporters on stage for a boogie.
Encore two – a stripped bare version of She’s a Star, dripping in slide guitar and spotlessly performed – seals the deal and Tim’s parting shot says it all: “This isn’t a comeback,” he pants, forming a huddle with the rest of the band, “it’s a new beginning”. Amen to that.
“Indie Stalwarts Come Home In Style, by Simon Miller (Epoch Times)
Six years after they disbanded, the resurrected local indie legends wind up a sold out tour with a homecoming gig for the expectant Manchester faithful.
As the lights dim, teenage cheerleaders with flags appear at the end of the arena. They dance their way through the crowds and onto the stage accompanied by a marching band whose traditional brass sounds gradually begin to pick up the tune to ‘Come Home’. Suddenly the curtain rises to reveal the full band bursting into the song with Tim Booth writhing and twisting centre stage.
What follows is a powerful delivery from a reignited band with a new lease of life. The set features many crowd pleasing favourites such as ‘Sometimes’, ‘Sit Down’ and ‘Say Something’ (sung as Tim climbs through the audience). But there is also an experimental edge to the night as more obscure relics such as ‘Riders’, a dark tale of one of the singer’s nightmares, are given an airing. The highlight of a clutch of new songs was one that they explain has only just been written and is sung from a lyric sheet almost as it’s being born. “Too good to miss,” quips Tim, and I have to agree, as it sounds like a classic new James song with an uplifting, ethereal chorus that is as good as anything they have ever written.
There’s an extended version of ‘Goldmother’ which becomes a vehicle for improvised tribal rhythms and dance, featuring projected prenatal human images of a backdrop behind the band. Members of the audience are invited onto the stage to join the party. The penultimate offering is a beautifully stripped down and languorous reworking of ‘She’s a Star’ which greatly improves on the original.
The evening fittingly concludes with a storming ‘How Was it For You’ with Tim’s gyrating and contorted frame remaining in the mind as a final image of an awesome return. “This is not a comeback but a way forward,” he says as they leave the stage. “Thanks for a beautiful welcome”.”
BBC Manchester by Chris Long
In the last few years, we’ve welcomed back Morrissey and Take That, and the Happy Mondays are just round the corner. Few, though, could’ve expected the return of James.
Unexpected it may have been but a sold-out Arena was enough to show that the appetite for the thinking Manc’s band is still very much there. Yet what people got for their money was probably not what they expected.
This was stadium rock on a shoestring. Forget the fancy stage dressings and intoxicating light show; but for a few back projections and an ill-conceived marching band, this could have been taken straight to the stage of a much smaller venue with little hassle.
Indeed, the quality of the sound seemed to suggest it already had. With responsibility split directly between the band’s somewhat under-rehearsed renditions and the inability to actually get the levels right on stage, there were a myriad of moments when things were mistimed, the vocals dropped out or it all just resembled a bit of a thrown together shambles.
Still, maybe it was the genuine love that flowed between the band and the fans, maybe it was the sheer volume of the singalongs or maybe it was just Tim Booth’s freaky dancing – so vibrant it could still knock Bez into next week; whatever it was, somehow, it actually worked.
Rampant versions of Johnny Yen, Tomorrow, Chain Mail and Laid probably helped, as did Booth’s clawed-at wander through the seats during the encored Say Something and his clambering onto the crash barriers for Sometimes.
But it wasn’t just about the past. This being the ever unpredictable James, not only did we get both new tracks from their recent singles collection, there was even space for a song so new that Booth had to read the freshly written lyrics from a sheet of paper.
He’d claimed it was because it was “too good for you to miss”. The jury is out on that but it certainly showed that there’s plenty of life in the old dogs yet.
After two encores, closed inevitably with How Was It For You?, the band huddled for a bow. “This is not a comeback,” beamed Booth, “this is the way forward.” Providing they actually spend some time rehearsing and sort out the sound, he might be right.