The second of two shows made up entirely of new songs to roadtest them before the recording sessions for Hey Ma, including some that didn’t make the record. The audience were requested to score and make comments on a pre-printed setlist.
Child To Burn / Good Mood Sunday / Out Of Our Heads / Hey Ma / Waterfall / I Wanna Go Home / A/B (72) / Mother’s A Clown / Better In Black (Of Monsters And Heroes And Men) / Start A Fire / Oh My Heart / White Boy / Bubbles / Boom Boom / Not So Strong / Upside Downside
review by oneofthethree
I’m going to try and keep this short and sweet. The new album section of the site will be updated with my notes on each of the songs, assuming I can read my notes of course.
With one listen of all the main set songs behind me, things became quite a lot clearer tonight. Songs fitted themselves into categories quite easily. The ready to record, the jam that needs a bit more. The quiet song, the slow burner, the builder and the all out pop classic. The single, the album track, the b-side.
Child To Burn is a very understated start. It’s gorgeous though with Andy’s whistling through the trumpet and Tim’s very pronounced vocal effects. Good Mood Sunday never quite catches fire. It’s got potential but needs some more work to be the finished article to stand alongside some of the stronger songs tonight. But then, that’s the whole point of the evening anyway, so it’s a bit churlish.
Out Of Our Heads could be the album’s Laid. It’s a bit throwaway, but it’s fun. And just because James are older than most of their peers doesn’t mean they can’t have fun. Other bands should try it. And James are definitely having fun. You can see the glances, the smiles and the focus. Although they did fuck it up the first time. But we can forgive them that.
Tim berates an audience member who seemed to spend most of the gig pogoing for his reaction to Tim mentioning the anniversary of 9/11 before Hey Ma, which has the acoustic intro from Larry still. Waterfall sounds much fresher and crisper than the previous night. Some lovely vocal delivery that builds to a crescendo before going back into the chorus which is followed by some wonderful trumpet over the end section.
I Wanna Go Home is probably my least favourite tonight. It starts off slow and grows with almost chanted lyrics. It does divert off a little towards the end, but not enough for it to stand up fully to some of the more rounded and complete tracks tonight. With the right studio treatment, it’ll probably sound fantastic though.
A/B and Mother’s A Clown notch the speed up. A/B is very funky and has some wonderful backing vocals from Saul and Larry. Mother’s A Clown is the best representation tonight of the addition of Saul’s violin and Andy’s trumpet into the new songs. Watching the interaction between the plan is a pleasure. They’re enjoying this. They know they can do this. There’s a number of people dancing wildly in the middle. I think it’s alcohol-related but it’s amusing to watch in these circumstances.
Better In Black starts with a stream of consciousness lyric which sounds like random words, but grows in something quite aching and beautiful. Tim even gets in two different pronunciations of either into one line.
Start A Fire is new. It has promise, but needs another listen to appreciate it fully, I suspect. The muddy sound does make differentiation and subtlety in some of these tempo songs difficult without really intense listening, and it’s hard work.
The set ends with four faster tempo songs which grab back the interest of a few chatterers in the crowd. Oh My Heart is more traditional James although it does have a very surprising false end which almost makes it two songs in one, but White Boy starts with Tim banging a cowbell and declaring himself “all mashed up”. The latter definitely has single potential, or focus track potential as our beloved friends in the industry call it.
Bubbles has developed wonderfully since we first heard it in July and demonstrates just how much some of the new songs can build on the very sound foundations to become something truly special.
The last track Boom Boom is a pleasant surprise. Sounding a bit weak on first listen yesterday, it’s now powerful and emotive, driven by the bass with spirals of trumpet cascaded throughout it. It’s really quite wonderful stuff.
They come back tonight for a more familiar encore of Not So Strong and Upside Downside. Not So Strong seems a bit ragged. But ragged James brings excitement with it, from chaos comes beauty. I’m not entirely convinced the new lyrics are an improvement on those from the earliest performances, but as it’s work in progress still, I’m sure we’ll end up hearing something quite different next year. Upside Downside doesn’t really need any more praise than it’s had already.
So two rather special nights are over. It’s been hard and intense for the audience, I can’t believe how hard it’s been for the band. But everyone’s smiling, the reaction to the new material is great and it looks like a lot of the relationships have been mended. It reminds me of 1992 and what, for me, was James most fertile and exciting live era. The album is going to sound great, based on what we’ve heard and hopefully it won’t be the last we’ve heard.
Thanks to James for being brave enough to go public with their rehearsals and respect to 99% of the audience who listened and took it in with resorting to loud chatter.
Can’t wait for 2008.