SetlistSeven / Heavens / Chain Mail / Riders / Don't Wait That Long / Really Hard / Top Of The World / Stripmining / If Things Were Perfect / Fine / Five-0 / Chameleon / Upside / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Out To Get You / Laid
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So, back in the room where it all started, where Tim and Jim first met over a nicked pint of beer, James return to their roots with a gig for competition winners from Amazon and XFM, plus the more eagle-eyed members of the official and oneofthethree messageboards. Following a farcical attempt by the venue at handling entry to the gig with a series of conflicting directions, odd ticket arrangements and then what was effectively a scrum from one of the bars to get down a narrow staircase, everyone managed to get in, although the stage time of 9.40 was significantly later than most had expected. To be honest, I think Jim, Gavan and Paul climbed through windows because it was the safest and quickest way in.
From the start, it was clear that this was going to be no normal James set. Well not normal in the context of what you’d expect from this type of gig. Intended as a counter to the explosion of adoration, celebration and the sheer enormity of the reaction to the MEN gig on Saturday, this was the other side of James. The main set did not contain a single one of the band’s Top 40 singles.
Opening with Seven wasn’t really an indicator of things to come. But following it, Tim asked the crowd who had been at the Arena on Saturday. Predictably most of the crowd had, and he warned them this wouldn’t be a repeat, it would be very different. And it was. And to be fair, the crowd in general were more than knowledgeable and attentive enough to deal with the set. I think, in fact, hearing some of the views afterwards, they’d have been disappointed to have got anything else.
Before launching into Heavens, Tim told the story of how him and Jim first met when Jim, Gavan and Paul were watching Tim dance whilst nicking his beer and the subsequent confrontation which led to an invite for Tim to join their band as a dancer. Heavens is wonderful. It should really have been a single in my opinion.
Chain Mail is met with cheers of applause. And rightly so. Again, in the more confined surroundings, it doesn’t get lost in the ether. It’s tight and loose at the same time, there’s a passion for the song driven through the performance. Tim watches Larry’s guitar work at one point, seemingly as much in awe as the rest of us. The crowd love it, Tim explains the background as being inspired the works of a writer whose name escapes me now, but who also inspired Patti Smith’s Birdland and Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. Riders gets pretty much the same reception, cheers of recognition, the song builds and builds until it stops dead and starts again and builds back to a climax. Shorn of the big rigs of the arena, the lights are simple, but add more to the songs this way in this venue. The sound quality is excellent too given fears expressed by some regular attendees at gigs here.
Don’t Wait That Long is beautiful, the highlight being Larry’s guitar solo which just kicks in and takes the song off in another direction. Really Hard follows suit, Tim’s words in the singles collection about these babies having deeper qualities than the singles ringing true. Larry again steals the show, but you feel that if you took one component out of this sextet, the whole thing would lose so much. There’s a tighter closer-knit feel to James than I’ve seen for a very very long time and this set is dynamic proof of that. Whilst for one moment, I can’t imagine things are as wonderfully harmonious as they have been painted, it’s clear that relationship issues have been ironed out and shouldn’t plague the band in the way they did since Larry left in 1996.
Top Of The World makes its first appearance of the tour and is as poignant and beautiful as it’s ever been. Saul’s violin is haunting as it soars and cuts its way through the spindly bass and guitar. Hair on the back of the neck on end time.
Tim introduces Stripmining as about the 1985 Mexican earthquake disaster. It’s sung with a passion as if it was about Tim’s own loved ones. The great beauty of playing these fragile songs in such intimate surroundings is that they don’t get lost in the way they would in the big, bad arenas. You can’t deny the power, the passion and the sheer fucking hell impact of Saturday night and what James can achieve in that environment. Yet here, they prove they have no peers at this either. You have to hope the new future incarnation of James is going to manage the balance between the two, big celebration gigs and small intimate low-key gigs like this, because with the right approach, you can do both.
If Things Were Perfect is the deepest delve back into the midst of time. Seeming oddly described by Tim as “Moby’s favourite song”, it sounds miles away from the quiet, fragile piece that graced the James II EP, but the delivery of the vocals is almost like a mantra, forcing the listener’s attention not to wander. According to Tim, Jim’s eldest son says “they don’t write songs like Things Were Perfect anymore”. True I guess.
Jumping forward nearly two decades, Fine comes next. It had been a shambles whenever the 2001 line-up tried to play it live, but sounds great now. Five-O has always been a live favourite of mine and doesn’t disappoint here again. Once more, there’s a point where Tim faces Larry, watches then starts dancing and gets lost in his own movement.
The set closes with two new songs. Chameleon grows again, tighter, fitter and faster than on the record. It’s nice to see quite a bit of the audience joining in with this one, that the new material is connecting as much as the old. The set closes with Upside Downside [ed. later renamed to just Upside for album release]. The reaction to it is mental. Whether it’s the “right” type of song to be a future single is debatable, but it promises to continue the family line of great James tracks that the band are promising us. On the evidence of Upside, the future would seem very certain.
Coming back for the encore, the band placate the few dissenters in the crowd with a singalong rendition of Getting Away With It. It’s amazing how this song has burrowed its way into the consciousness of James fans. For me, as with Sit Down, it captured the essence of James at a specific point of time. All Messed Up was a pretty fair description of where the band was at that time, but yet so much positivity came out of it.
Out To Get You then pretty much steals the show. This song connects the band with its audience more than any other except Sit Down. The band leave for a second time before coming back and running through a fast and furious Laid.
So, on the way out, the response was generally extremely positive. One James diehard said “best set ever” and the consensus appeared to be strong. I’d had a couple stood near me leave half way through though in disgust at the lack of hits. This is the James dilemma. You get the feeling they’d be happy to play these types of sets to this size of audience forever as long as they could continue to play live and write new material. Yet, as already stated, there is something undeniable about what happened on Saturday night at the Arena. You couldn’t have got away with last night in there though. It’s a fine line, a very thin tightrope, yet you can get across to the other side. It’s going to be a very interesting ride in the next 12 months. At the end of day, enjoy them while they’re here.
Review by Mike (takemeanywhere)
Back in 1982 in the basement of the Manchester University Student Union building, a young drama student was dancing wildly trying to forget a girl who had recently left him. Unbeknown to the wiry student, on the very same night, three local rough types had employed their usual tactic of getting into the student disco without paying. With no cash in their pockets but with spirit in their hearts, they did what any self-respecting young men would do in the same situation; they stole the drinks of the dancing masses. Fate dictated that the pint in the hand of one of the three, belonged to the aforementioned student, who briefly challenged them on his return to where he had left his drink. After inevitably quickly backing down, he was intrigued to learn that they had been watching him dance and I dare say even more amazed when they asked him to go along to a rehearsal of their fledgling band. A telephone number was scrawled on his hand, sparse arrangements were made and thus a legend was born.
Jim Glennie was on of those Moss Side miscreants that night and Tim Booth the dancing student. Call it luck, call it chance, in fact call it whatever you like, this meeting was just as life changing as a certain John Maher (later to become Johnny Marr) knocking on the door of 384 Kings Road, Stretford, Manchester, the home of some bloke called Steven Morrissey.
Roll the clocks forward twenty-five years and Jim Glennie and Tim Booth are back in the same basement room. A quarter of a century has taken the two of them around the world, has seen them as close as brothers and as far apart as the bitterest of rivals and yet, here they are, back where it all began. There have been many other defining moments in the history of the band we now know as James, like the day Jim and his old mucker, Paul employed Larry Gott as a guitar teacher and the day they came across Saul playing a one-note solo in a Manchester cafe bar. However, the basement meeting has to be the most important, being the start of something so beautiful that it aches.
So, what brings these two middle-aged men back to that same dingy University basement in the spring of 2007? The answer is, of course, that the date marks the release of a career defining singles collection. A bunch of songs that have meant so much, to so many people over so many years, have been placed together and titled Fresh As A Daisy. So, what do James do on this seminal night? Anybody who has followed the history of the band will know the answer already. They play just six of the songs from the new collection, two of these being more than twenty years old and one having been written for inclusion on Fresh As A Daisy. It could be said that they have no need to play the hits tonight, given that they have managed to air nineteen of their singles on the sold-out tour, which ended triumphantly in Manchester on Saturday. They are also playing in front of a room full of James devotees, all desperate to be challenged and eager to concentrate. However, it is still a brave move but boy does it work.
Seven opens the show, just as it did on their return to us in March following their (almost) six-year hiatus. The song positively soars and the singalong begins. Heavens follows and still shows today what it showed fifteen years ago, that it could have been a massive single. We are then treated to a run of songs that I never believed I would see on the same setlist.
Really Hard is simply beauty itself and the aching refrain ‘I am dying to begin again’ never fails to bring a lump to my throat. Chain Mail has become a live favourite again and seems to have even more energy tonight, if that is in any way possible. Tim introduces Riders in the usual manner and the words “This song is about a dream” are enough for the knowledgable audience to know the treat which is to follow. As old song follows old song, it becomes increasingly clear that this night is going to be the most special night of my life to date. We get a gorgeous Top of The World, for the first time on the tour and the reintroduction of Stripmining after its airing at the first warm-up gig. We can barely believe it when we get a frenetic performance of If Things Were Perfect and the live favourite that is Five-O.
We are treated once more to the delights of Chameleon which is growing in stature with every outing and the band seem to really love playing this song. And then there is Upside Downside [ed. later renamed to just Upside for album release]. At this point I stop writing, just for a moment and close my eyes. Has a new song ever been such an instant classic after just a handful of live appearances? Maybe Ring The Bells back in 1990? Possibly. This song should be heard by every living human who has a heart and when Tim sings “Hear my echo”, I feel like the world is going to come off its axis.
Inevitably, we get a couple of hits in the encore. Getting Away With It, which I described as sexy on a website forum earlier in the day, reinforces its position as a hip-swaying beast of a song. Don’t Wait That Long is welcome at any party and whilst not yet at its 1991 peak as a live song, it still sits comfortably in the set. And then James close with a monster, the pogo-inducing, headswim that is Laid. Yes, it has been played at every gig, bar Nambucca but oh, what a song. You could dress it up in women’s clothes and line its eyes and call it pretty and it would still know it was a hit of epic proportions. And then they are gone. Away to the whirl of promotion for the record. Hopefully, away to a studio to consign Upside Downside et al to DAT for our later listening pleasure. In love, in fear, in hate, in tears, I hope they are not strangers for long.
So, how was it for Tim and Jim to be back in that basement twenty-five years on? If it was half as good as it was for those lucky enough to be there, I imagine that mine may not be the only night where sleep just seems too tedious for words.
Kirsty Umback, e-gigs
After playing to a 20 odd thousand capacity home crowd at the MEN Arena on Saturday night, it was a far more intimate gathering for an exclusive James’ gig – hosted by Radio Station Xfm on Monday.
Built into the labyrinthine bowels of Manchester University’s Academy Building, Academy 4, or ‘Club Academy’ holds a crowd of approximately 300 people. With a low ceiling, an audience floor space containing several large pillars and a backstage area the size of a telephone box, it’s typically the venue for local unsigned acts playing to friends or those international groups awaiting UK Music Industry recognition that seldom ever eventuates. Rarely does it play host to a band with a following so devoted that even the group’s lead singer describes them as Trainspotters.
James may have taken a long hiatus, but this successful comeback tour seems to prove that the break has done nothing but build the band to cult status. The way people stood throughout the performance – heads bowed and arms raised; men dancing alongside their mates and everybody singing along – the atmosphere at this small concert was more like witnessing a Gospel service in America’s South.
The band sounded great. Fact. But for me (who isn’t a James obsessive) it was to be a night of slight disappointment. Vocalist Tim Booth promised not to repeat the performance from Saturday night, which is fair enough, but with the words “Tonight isn’t a party, it’s an inner celebration – these are songs that never got the airing we think they deserved” I must admit, my heart sank.
What followed was a set of songs that were, dare I say it.. a tad indulgent. Though the crowd lapped it up, songs such as ‘Strip Mining’ – written in response to a 1985 Mexican Earthquake – seemed almost cringeworthy in its outdated earnestness.
Booth has a gorgeous voice and he sings in a very distinctive, emotive style. He’s a great frontman, sharing stories with the crowd and jigging around the stage like Michael Stipe during the wailing guitar solos, but singing tunes that rhyme ‘Angel’s wings’ with ‘Magic Things’ however, (Seven – which failed to reach the top 40 in 1992) is far from showcasing the band’s best material.
Thankfully, the inclusion of new tracks towards the end of the set proved that the band still have the ability to produce great, contemporary singles. ‘Chameleon’ showed the band’s musicality has not stagnated and ‘Upside Downside’ [ed. later renamed to just Upside for album release] is a pop song that displays both great depth and a catchy chorus.
Finally for the encore, one of the band’s more successful singles reared its head. ‘Getting Away with It (All Messed Up)’ was by far the best tune on the night and the rest of the audience seemed to agree. This song was a single because it was great, not great because it was a single. “Daniel drinks his weight, Drinks like Richard Burton, Dances like John Travolta”… Brilliant. Please Sir, can I have some More?