SetlistBorn Of Frustration / Waltzing Along / Oh My Heart / Boom Boom / Ring The Bells / Hey Ma / Bubbles / Come Home / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / I Wanna Go Home / Say Something / Whiteboy / Waterfall / She's A Star / Sound / Tomorrow / Johnny Yen / Upside / Lullaby / Sometimes
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Well that was a slightly weird and surreal gig. Not a bad one, but unusual. It starts with comedian Peter Kay coming on stage to introduce James. He mocks someone for shouting out “garlic bread” out of context and tells the crowd there’s nine new songs on the set, but no Sit Down and then gets the crowd to sing along to part of Lullaby and then scribbles it onto the setlist before introducing the band.
The set opens with two older songs rather than just Born Of Frustration and the crowd, definitely the most energetic of the tour so far when the hits are out, goes barmy. Andy plays guitar on Waltzing Along again – he doesn’t play badly at all, but it just looks odd. As at the previous gigs, the new songs don’t sound out of place next to the older, more familiar songs, and the faster ones still have people dancing although people around me seem bemused by the strings section of Boom Boom. Ring The Bells is boosted by stunning lighting and has the front rows heaving. The message of Hey Ma, “creating a new genre – the happy protest song” according to Tim, is enhanced by the verses being made more sparse than on the record, emphasising the words of the chorus. Bubbles builds and builds and then explodes in a flurry of bass, guitar, trumpet and e-drums.
Come Home sees Tim jump down into the crowd. And then it hits home, there hasn’t been much interaction on stage at all between the band. Tim has always talked about coming down to the crowd when there’s communication lacking, but to date it’s been reserved for Say Something. Come Home sounds huge though, on the edge of collapse, but all the better for it.
Of Monsters and Heroes and Men, more than other songs, suffers from the crowd talking over the new songs, probably more tonight than other nights. Tim reacts by telling the crowd to fuck off to the back if they want to talk and to stand in the corner. I Wanna Go Home enduces mass hand-clapping before Tim kicks in with the opening line “In this bar, I am dying”. As I said surreal.
Tim wanders off stage and appears by the side of the speaker stack for Say Something. The crowd love this song, so I think I’ll put my feelings on it to bed for now. Whiteboy is the highlight, the swinging lights, the strobes and the sheer pace of the performance, and Tim keeping up with the band tonight, make it an absolute blast. Waterfall is a massive song with the potential, with the right radio plugging and promotion as the next single, to be the next chapter in James success story (chart-wise). Live, it wins over the doubters around me.
The last three songs revert to the back catalogue, Tim telling the crowd to enjoy them as they’d be going away for a while after December. She’s A Star is fresh, vital and turns the crowd into a sweaty mass. Sound is as vital as it ever has been, the end section off on a different tangent to the previous night, but still not a lot of interaction on stage, which has characterised this in the past. Tomorrow is fast and furious, the perfect set closer.
The band go off and on their return Tim jokes about having learnt Lullaby in the break. The encore starts with Johnny Yen, again aimed at Amy Winehouse in the break down section of the song, and again not sounding at all like a twenty-two year old album track.
Upside starts with Tim making the rather cryptic statement “This is the sound of greatness, this is the sound of a heart breaking” over Saul’s opening guitar section. Have no idea what that was about. The song itself is an epiphany, heart-felt, personal and epic.
They do try Lullaby, and it sounds great. Despite asking the crowd for the words, Tim is pretty much word perfect. The crowd keep quiet enough for the subject matter and emotion of the song not to be lost in the talking. It’s such a poignant song that it has the hairs standing up on the back of the neck and displays the vulnerable side to James that the setlist doesn’t bring to the fore too often.
Sometimes has the crowd singing back from the very start and the extended ending with the crowd singing back was simply stunning, no real encouragement required by the band. There’s a botched attempt for the band to come back in, proving there is still spontaneity there, is laughed off and it stretches out to almost ten minutes for the song. It’s a great way to finish the gig when it’s as natural and exciting as this.
So, it was not a bad gig, the performance was up with any of the other dates so far, but I left with this nagging feeling that something didn’t seem right. James gigs are often characterised by the interaction between the band and there wasn’t any, Saul was unusually quiet and Tim seemed very isolated, hence his two excursions off stage. Others I spoke to afterwards had the same feeling. Let’s hope we’re wrong. But as I said, still a great gig, and the vast majority of the audience left the gig buzzing.
Day off today. Thank God.
The Times Review by David Sinclair
Last year, when James made their initial comeback after six years in limbo, it was all about reaffirming the triumphs of the past — time to get nostalgic for the 1990s, already. This time the band who achieved chart glory in the “Madchester” pop boom with their biggest hit, Sit Down, have returned for a three-week tour with a new album, Hey Ma, and a much more forward-looking agenda. As if to drive home the point, they didn’t even play Sit Down.
“They’ve got nine songs from the new album on the set list,” said the comedian Peter Kay, pulling a shocked face, as he introduced James at the University of Liverpool. Borrowing a pen, Kay added his own choice, an obscure dirge called Lullaby, which the band had not rehearsed. In a gallant gesture of accord, they played it for him — and pretty well, all things considered. But not before they had got through a substantial chunk of Hey Ma, an element of the show that was clearly non-negotiable as far as Tim Booth, the lead singer, was concerned. “If you want to talk, go to the back of the room,” he snapped at a gaggle of fans as the band started I Wanna Go Home, a maudlin tale of despair that went against the grain of the band’s more typically upbeat sound.
Booth, whose latter-day bald look gives him a far more commanding stage presence than when he was just another floppy-haired indie-kid, sang with a hard authority, and some of his new lyrics were smarter than ever. “My mum says I look like Yul Brynner/Too old for Hamlet, too young for Lear,” he sang in Whiteboy.
Waterfall, with its hefty back beat and Lou Reed-type vocal line was an instant winner, and the title track of Hey Ma, a resounding anti-war polemic that avoided the usual glib certainties, was another clear success. Another new one, Bubbles, with the chorus “I’m alive, I’m alive” was dedicated, rather incongruously, to the late Tony Wilson.
Andy Diagram, the trumpet player, put on an energetic display and Larry Gott, on guitar, had invested in a bohemian beret and a moody pair of shades, but there was not much to distract from Booth’s dominance. A lack of showmanship lent the band a classic quality, and they seemed less weighed down by historical baggage than an act of their vintage might have expected to be.
There were plenty of hits, from the opening battlecry of Born of Frustration to the soaring choruses of Come Home and She’s a Star. Best of all was an stirring encore of Sometimes, which ended with a gospel-like chant that was picked up with such enthusiasm by the audience that it rekindled an impromptu repeat of the last chorus. It was an emotional close to a proud and purposeful performance.
Andy Kelly, Liverpool Daily Post
THERE aren’t many bands who could call upon the services of Peter Kay as a warm-up man, but then James aren’t just any band.
The Bolton comic takes to the stage in a sweltering Mountford Hall for a 10-minute cameo to introduce one of his favourite bands and implore them to play his favourite song. Back after a seven-year gap, James – along with The Charlatans, the great survivors of the Madchester era – have delivered an album in Hey Ma which can sit proudly alongside most of their back catalogue.
It makes up quite a bit of the band’s set, and it’s a measure of its quality that these new songs don’t break the momentum built up by old favourites like the anthemic Come Home and Born of Frustration. The title track itself is a terrific anti-war song, with tales of boys arriving home in pieces in body bags.
Of the other new songs, I Want To Go Home, Waterfall and Whiteboy are greeted like old favourites by this packed Liverpool crowd, who know all the words already within a week of the album’s release. White lanterns swing above the band’s head as Tim Booth and friends unleash yet another harmony-packed three minutes, trumpet and violin filling out the soaring melodies to great effect. With his bald head and thin tash making him a double for Ming the Merciless, Booth is a whirling dervish of a front man, every so often let- ting himself go into his full freaky dancing repertoire.
Perhaps fellow baldy Michael Stipe is the only current frontman who can match him in vocal power, unleashed to its full on She’s a Star, Tomorrow and Sound.
Kay gets his way as Lullaby forms part of the encore alongside Johnny Yen before a Gospel-tinged Sometimes brings a hugely uplifting night to a close. It’s an astonishing finale as Booth stands transfixed as the crowd sings the chorus back to him long after the band have finished.
Maybe he was remembering the night almost 20 years ago when a Liverpool crowd was the first to sing Sit Down (like Laid not played tonight) back to his band, as they hovered on the verge of their big break. Welcome back, boys.