Born Of Frustration / Oh My Heart / Boom Boom / Ring The Bells / Hey Ma / 72 / Bubbles / PS / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Whiteboy / Waterfall / Upside / She’s A Star / Tomorrow / Sometimes / Top Of The World / I Wanna Go Home / Sound
The opening night of the tour was a pretty successful affair. Of the eighteen songs played, ten of them were from the new album, Hey Ma, and they seemed to go down well with the crowd, even inducing some pogoing at one point, quite surprising given that the tracks have only been in the public domain for less than 48 hours.
Tim welcomes fans old and new before the band launch into Born Of Frustration, which immediately gets the crowd going and is a great set-opener. It’s followed by two new tracks Oh My Heart and Boom Boom, which don’t take the intensity down from Frustration. Despite an injury (a sex injury according to Saul later) meaning Tim can’t dance, this doesn’t stop the songs sounding as powerful and strong as those more familiar dotted around the set. Even a rather muddy and too bassy speaker stack can’t take that from the songs. Andy adds some lovely trumpet over the strings ending of Boom Boom to top off a great start to the set.
Keeping those who haven’t ventured to Hey Ma happy, Ring The Bells comes in, starting as usual as if it’s the bastard offspring of What’s The World (and fooling me too – hey new old James would throw it in, so maybe one day). As ever, it builds and builds until it explodes spectacularly in the extended outro with Andy chanting “shoot the fucker” into the mic.
Hey Ma is, as Tim explains, about “the idiot Bush” and his reaction to 9/11. Once again, it’s unnervingly upbeat and poppy given the rather serious subject matter. As it’s more familiar due to youtube exposure, it’s probably the best received of the new material tonight. 72 has taken on a new funkier, groovier live on the stage and it benefits from this treatment. It’s been a long time since we saw a four-pronged set of backing vocals to supplement Tim. The simple “WAR” chorus works effectively.
Bubbles is the highlight for me. Dedicated to Tony Wilson, which brings a cheer from the audience, it sparkles and fizzes and detonates into beautiful chaos as it builds to a climax then drops to Tim banging a solitary e-drum. People around me just stand and stare.
P.S is beautiful. I’m not sure you can say too much about this, Larry dominates the song with subtle yet beautiful guitar work and Tim’s voice is in fine form for the start of the tour. It’s a nice trip back in time to 1993.
Then we get a segment of four Hey Ma tracks to really test the audience’s patience. And to be fair, if we forget the two morons who thought it’d be a good idea at this point to push to the front and stand under the speakers and then try to have a conversation whilst offering kindly to batter anyone who asked them to stop talking over the songs, the crowd reacted positively to them. You wonder how many of the crowds at these gigs will have bought Hey Ma, let alone know it’s out there, so the live reaction is a strong barometer of how the album is going to be received.
Of Monsters And Heroes And Men sees the lights turned down and Tim holding a glitterball as he recites the half-song, half-poem lyrics. It drifts off towards the end into a beautiful crescendo of sound, led by Andy’s trumpet. It’s a stunning track, possibly the least James-like of the album, but it works wonderfully well live.
Whiteboy seeks lamps dangled from the ceiling and swung around (at a sensible height) as the song goes on. Given it’s the single, it’s odd that this is the one song that doesn’t sound as if they’ve quite nailed it yet. The band seem to be playing too fast for Tim and the lyrics get jumbled around as a result. Still a great tune though.
Waterfall and Upside are for me the two standout tracks on the album and they don’t disappoint live either. Waterfall sounds every inch a hit single that the industry and the press won’t let James have. It would have sounded perfect as a follow-up to Sit Down as the lead track to Seven, and the live shows around that time are the scales on which I’m measuring these shows. Upside finds new depths with an improved and very lovely keyboard and guitar intro, the choruses are emphasised in a way that augment the power of the words themselves. Tim jokes at the end of Upside that Andy’s trumpet was supposed to have fire coming out of it, but the charges got messed up. Saul then joins in the story and ribs Tim, Larry and Dave for their lack of hair on that side of the stage.
The set closes with a mini-hits section of She’s A Star, Tomorrow and Sometimes. This induces the first crowd-surfing of the night. The songs are played pretty faithfully except Sometimes which starts off with just Tim and Larry, and as a set-closer bursts back into life with Larry encouraging the crowd to sing along. By the end, the crowd were singing the refrain back to the band. It could have been corny, but it sounded great and proof you don’t need to play S__ D___ to get that impact and reaction.
Coming back for Top Of The World, Tim steps down into the crowd and performs perched on the barrier. It’s as haunting and as powerful as ever and a welcome return to the set. Fortunately for I Wanna Go Home, the last bus has left for the talkers’ village. The song itself is still a works in progress live. It sounded better than at Hoxton, new ideas are coming into the live performance and it’s getting there slowly. The potential is immense, so let’s hope they stick with it.
Sound is a song I can live without live these days, but tonight’s was pretty special and a fitting round-off to a great gig. It comes to a halt and then starts again with an almost staccato feel to the end section which is new and quite exciting. And then they’re gone.
All in all an excellent night, no real low points other than the talkers, a strong Hey Ma-based set that didn’t fall flat on its arse and success through a sound system that left somethings to be desired. On we go to Derby.