Intimate tour warm-up and album preview show
Bubbles / 72 / Oh My Heart / Boom Boom / Hey Ma / Destiny Calling / PS / Junkie / Semaphore / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Senorita / Waterfall / Waltzing Along / Whiteboy / Sometimes / I Wanna Go Home / Upside / Sound
Following the public pre-recording rehearsals of last September, this low-key return to the band’s new favourite haunt of the Hoxton Bar And Kitchen was the public unveiling of the eleven tracks filtered out from the nineteen that had been previewed in 2007 to make the Hey Ma album, due out next Monday.
It was clear most of the crowd had come to hear what had morphed from those two glorious nights in September, and there were no complaints (apart from the odd dick that couldn’t keep his mouth shut) when the band opened with five tracks from the album – Bubbles, 72, Oh My Heart, Boom Boom and Hey Ma. Bubbles was simply stunning, the band’s ability to take a song and raise it a notch shone through as the song exploded into life half way through. 72 is a more intriguing proposition live than on record, it has a harder edge and a rockier beat and with additional backing vocals, the chorus of “war” is more emphatic. Oh My Heart remains fairly faithful to the album version, which demonstrates that the band appear to have come closer with this record than any before to capturing the excitement and power of their live show on record. Boom Boom benefits from an extended outro which kicks back in after violin and trumpet bring the song down. Hey Ma is singalong, it shouldn’t be despite the subject matter, but people can’t help hollering the chorus back at Tim and clapping their hands in time to Larry’s acoustic.
Moving onto more familiar pastures, the band knock out a spirited version of Destiny Calling with Tim augmenting the lyrics to “come back now we’ve gotten old” and “frame us in your mobile phone”. Fortunately, there’s not too much of the “let’s take some shit pictures on my crappy 2 megapixel phone rather than listening and watching the band” going on tonight. P.S, which Tim says he claimed was written about Patti Smith but really about him, is resurrected and is simply magnificent, with Larry back on slide guitar, Saul making use of his violin (far more frequently tonight than before, which is a good thing) and Andy playing trumpet. A sign of how Laid might have sounded had Andy not departed post-Seven. Another track resurrected from the archives, Junkie, follows on, and whilst it might be seen as putting down the efforts of Michael and Adrian rather than being down to the strength of the rediscovered working relationship, it’s a world apart from the odd showing it received post the release of Pleased To Meet You. Tim and Saul laugh as Tim holds his nose for vocal effect on the first verse.
Semaphore is marked throughout by Larry’s guitar work, particularly in the closing section. It feels a little looser than the album version, and of the new songs, is probably the one that translated least well to the live environment from the album. No such worries for Of Monsters And Heroes And Men. Tim, carrying an injury so he couldn’t dance (not that you can dance to the new material according to Saul’s quip), appears to live and breath every word of this song, based around a poem. It doesn’t build at the end in the way the album version does, but it works extremely well and there’s nothing wrong with changing arrangements and playing songs differently.
Another surprise resurrection into the set is Senorita. Pleased To Meet You has fared quite well in the reunion, somewhat surprisingly given that Larry and Andy didn’t play on it, but perhaps it’s making up for the fact it didn’t really feature at all in the farewell tour in 2001 other than Getting Away With It. Again, the new found harmony and the addition of Larry and Andy, propel the song forward to a new level. More of this resurrection of old material please. Maybe we can even get Millionaires tracks sounding the way they should have sounded.
Waterfall is the highlight of the set hands down. Tim tells us it’s going to be the second single after the one that’s out now. It’s great on record, it’s equally great live, it’s faster, it’s more frenetic, but it keeps to true to the original in its spirit. The intro and outro demonstrate the quality of musicianship in the band. The crowd start to dance. The chatterers shut up.
Waltzing Along comes next and features Andy’s stage debut on guitar. Tim threatens that he’ll be next to do it. I thought he had some nifty work on the e-drums (someone called them that elsewhere so I’m nicking the name) earlier, but I’m not sure a Tom Chaplin style resurrection as an acoustic troubadour would be entirely convincing. Anyway Waltzing Along does what it says on the tin, the crowd continue to dance and sing along.
Whiteboy, the focus track, works so much better live than on record, even though it seems to be played too fast tonight with Tim having to keep up with the speed of the song. Tim teases the audience with a wagging finger during the “ah ah ah ah ah ah ah” section, the song has the “all mashed section” at the start as well. The cheers of recognition mean at least the song has got through to the James myspace generation.
Sometimes is a treat to close the main set. It starts off with just Larry and Tim, accompanied by a room full of singers, before crashing into the second verse with the full band. The end sees Larry continue to play and sing and encourage the crowd to sing louder and louder. It’s fresh, it seemed spontaneous and everyone loved it. And off they went.
I Wanna Go Home started off the encore. It’s a gorgeous number on record, a fitting album closer in the mode of Top Of The World and Alaskan Pipeline. Live it grows and grows and becomes faster and more energetic and frayed at the edges. It just about stops itself from falling over at the end, but there’s still some work to be done on this and it could be the absolute showstopper.
Which brings us on to Upside. Which is full-on seven musicians at the top of their game. The acoustic settings on the verses on the record are ditched in favour of a more direct all-in approach, but still the chorus is the key, the emotion, the heartfelt passion of the subject matter blasts through in a way James’ contemporaries can generally only hope to match. There’s a moment before the song crashes into the final chorus when it stops for what seems like an age before bursting back to life.
Sound closes the set. It doesn’t take on the twelve minute madness of its prior incarnations, but it’s a fitting end to the set, old James at their peak, the centrepiece of the Seven album being played by the original band.
Talking to Saul before the gig, he felt the band had got to a point where they knew the songs well enough to be able to play them without being over-rehearsed and going through the motions. One dark night in Glasgow aside, new James has never been about that. Mark, Jim and Dave haven’t been mentioned before, but they, as ever, hold the songs together, they’re as vital to what is going on up on stage as Tim, Saul, Larry and Andy who play the more showmen role in the band.
Can’t wait for the tour. It’s going to be special. If you haven’t got tickets, beg, steal and borrow.