Born Of Frustration / Tomorrow / Sit Down / Out To Get You / English Beefcake / Say Something / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Ring The Bells / Upside Downside / Laid / Sometimes / Gold Mother / She’s A Star
review by Mike Nuttall
Nine days ago I was fortunate enough to be one of little under five hundred people at an intimate gig in Glasgow, this being a warm-up for the T In The Park and Oxygen festivals. Tonight I find myself in far less intimate surroundings in a concrete park in the capital of Catalonia, for the same reason, the allure of the band we call James. At this point, I should admit that I’ve never been a big fan of James at outdoor gigs. The sound always seems to get lost somehow and Tim’s voice often lets him down on these occasions (Alton Towers and Heaton Park immediately spring to mind). The only thing worse then seeing James outdoors, is seeing James outdoors when it is still light. Before the darkness makes the sound seem louder and the sky acts as a roof. Guess what, tonight they are third on the bill and the sun is still shining in the clear blue sky.
There is much in favour of the setting tonight though. Look left and one can see the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Turn around and take in the splendour of the mountains of Serra de Collserola. Glance right and watch the sun setting a glorious orange over the city itself. Tonight could just be the night when I finally discover a love for James in the great outdoors, rather than wishing that every gig was in a sweaty club in England.
And so to the songs. James have now settled on a backbone of hits, around which new songs and old favourites are slotted in as the mood dictates. Born Of Frustration was re-introduced when Andy Diagram was welcomed back to the fold. There is no Andy tonight but the song remains. It suffers his absence a little, of course it does but it is still a throbbing monster of a hit. Tim dances like a rag doll and you could argue that the song was written for nights such as this one. Tomorrow sees Tim singing the first part of the song directly to Saul and even grabbing the front of Saul’s shirt for the “Now your grip’s too strong” line. Saul retaliates by playing even harder and the song truly soars tonight. Sit Down is more instantly recognizable than of late with the drums opening the song and the keyboard intro much lower in the mix. The paying public don’t seem to notice/mind/care as they sing every word back at Tim.
We almost hear Not Too Strong at this point. Tim announces that they’re playing a new song and the introduction is played perfectly, so it is a surprise when he calls the song to an abrupt halt. Apparently, his lyric sheet has not been brought to the stage and Larry looks genuinely annoyed. I don’t wish to grumble on such a beautiful night but two things spring to mind. Firstly, how far would it have been for somebody to retrieve the lyric sheet for a slot later in the set? Secondly, is it not time that Tim began to learn these lyrics, as other frontmen do? The rest of the band have learnt their parts.
I forgive him completely just seconds later when the band launch into the beautiful Out To Get You. Saul’s violin becomes the focal point and Larry moves across the stage to him, to form a triangle including Jim. Tim dances wildly on the edge of this triangle, as if trying to break into it. And then, at last, the kind of surprise that has been missing from recent shows, when without introduction they launch into English Beefcake, my favourite song of the post-Laid era. It is technically far better then it was in Newcastle on the April tour, although it is still the one song where the backing vocals of Michael Kulas are truly missed. Tim explains at the end that they had been told of the love for this song in Barcelona. Say Something sees Tim on the barrier being held by the crowd while the band look on, anxiously but proudly.
The biggest reception of the night is reserved for Getting Away With It, which has become a set regular. The locals clearly loved the Pleased To Meet You album and yell every word. Ring The Bells is as majestic as ever and only suffers slightly at the very end from the absence of Andy. And then it’s time for “another new one” and without a lyric sheet(!) we get Upside. This song could be massive, if handled correctly. It is the song in my head as I walk down the street and the first song I wish to listen to at night. It fits with the hits like a hand in a glove and the band know it.
There is little to say about the closing four songs. This has become the regular ending to the set and I have to remind myself, at my thirteenth James show of this year alone, that tonight may be the first show ever for some people. Laid and Sometimes are greeted like old friends as the dancing becomes a little wilder. Gold Mother confuses many and is devoid of dancers tonight, making concentration on the song itself easier, for one such as I. The reworked intro to She’s A Star also causes some confusion, but the singalong soon begins. And then they are gone, eventually, after Dave has taken pictures on his phone and Tim has told us to “check out The Twang”. The crowd are baying for more but James are not a headline band and their allotted time has come to an end. But wait, here is Larry and Saul and now the rest of the band. “They’re letting us play one more because of your reaction” Tim announces. This lifts the volume even higher and Come Home is greeted like a party favourite.
This time they do leave. The sun had set during Say Something and the sky still glows a beautiful orange. Trendier bands will have the honour of the later slots, when darkness has fallen and the sound seems louder. However, there is truly only one champion in Barcelona tonight. Tim’s voice has been magnificent and the sound has drifted no further than it should. Maybe these outdoor things are not so bad after all.
Later on, I pause at the merchandise stall where James t-shirts are outselling all others by a significant margin. And ever it was so.