Born 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 / Honest Joe / Out To Get You / Waterfall / Whiteboy / She’s A Star / Sound / Tomorrow / Johnny Yen / Upside / Sometimes
review by oneofthethree
Once or twice during the set, Larry and Tim make reference to the traditionally dour London audiences that don’t get involved in shows. Tonight, for the hits in the set, the crowd prove that they can rock as well any other crowd in the country and it’s acknowledged by the band. However, during the slower songs and the new album tracks, the response is very different. Even those close to the front appear disinterested, turn round talk to their friends, ask for their photo to be taken and generally do pretty much anything except listen, take in or dance to the new material. Getting to the top ten without selling the album in supermarkets is no mean achievement, it almost seems the band have done it without selling any albums to Londoners as well.
All of this takes the shine off what was, for me, the band’s best performance of the tour so far. James are at their best when they push themselves to the limits, ragged around the edges, driving each other on and almost being on the brink of it all collapsing but pulling through and there’s more excitement in the performance for this. Even the awful sound set up of the venue, uncharacteristic for the Empire based on my prior experiences, can’t take away from that.
Frustration, rightfully restored to the head of the setlist is an absolute blast. You can see from the expressions on his face that Tim is loving being back in this band and being on stage in front of so many people. Combined with Waltzing Along, it’s a great start to the gig and expectations are high that this could surpass anything on the tour to date. Oh My Heart and Boom Boom don’t receive too bad a response for starters, and Ring The Bells brings the moshpit, for what it was, back to life. Hey Ma does bring some recognition for the new material and is sung back by part of the crowd with some gusto as the lighting effects work well with the music to create a very powerful and evocative image.
Bubbles is flat though, the crowd don’t get lifted by the second half of the song. Tim dances like a dervish and frantically half sings half shouts the words, but the crowd just stand, talk and mooch.
Come Home temporarily changes this, Tim jumps down from the stage, checks out the front row and then makes a move for the bar at the right of the stage and clambers on top to deliver the majority of the song. Part of the crowd dance in the way the song compels you to, another part blocks the view of others by having to film the event on their mobile phone cameras for some sort of posterity rather than letting the music take them away
Monsters And Heroes And Men is starting to feel a little flat live, it’s not, for me, recapturing the glory of the album version, particularly the outro section where the music swamps the vocals. Tim standing still with the mirrorball doesn’t really add a lot to the visuals of the song either, where there could be room for some activity to distract the crowd from their important conversations.
I Wanna Go Home gets better every night, live, it’s as if it’s grown up from being the quiet child at the end of the record to being a rowdy teenager out in the venues. It’s not got the crowd interaction tonight it’s had on previous nights but it’s still a highlight of the set.
Next is a welcome return for Honest Joe. Sadly, it’s shorn of much input from Saul tonight, so there’s no second set of vocals through the megaphone as there appeared to be a technical problem. But it still is a monster of a song that pulses and throbs and demonstrates that James are not just going to take the easy path of throwing out hits they’ve played hundreds of times before amongst the new material.
Out To Get You gets a warm reception, it’s not a hit as such, but as it’s on the Best Of, it might as well be. Not being brought out every night, it retains a freshness and an improvisational spirit that is at the absolute core of a lot of what James do.
Waterfall and Whiteboy are switched round in the set. To be honest, it probably worked better before the switch, as the chaos and madness and fun of Whiteboy is a great contrast to the slower tracks that have preceded. Consequently, Waterfall, despite Tim announcing it as the next single, didn’t get the response it’s had at previous dates. It still sounds classic James though, and it’s worth reminding people that once upon a time, twenty or so years ago, songs like Sit Down sat mid-set as new tracks. Hopefully, the strength of tonight’s set will send people out to acquaint themselves with Hey Ma. Whiteboy is almost throwaway, particularly with the swinging lights, but is a whole heap of fun.
The set ends, as it starts, with the crowd going wild for hits. She’s A Star is as bold, as brash and as powerful sounding as it’s ever been. Sound just revels in the quality of the musicians playing it, the twists and turns the song takes every night and a stunning lighting backdrop which soften the crowd up for the killer blow of Tomorrow, which is as fitting a main set closer as James have. It’s got all the ingredients of a classic James single and the words will probably talk to a vast majority of the crowd in a way that singing them back feels like a communion. And there’s lots of moshing going on as well.
Johnny Yen opens up the encore, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of previous nights, the improvised section doesn’t take off as it did elsewhere. Upside sounds magnificent, but the crowd response is quite muted, you can hear the conversations from the bar very clearly as the final chorus is about to kick in, whereas on other nights it’s been characterised by the crowd singing along much stronger than tonight.
Sometimes takes a little encouragement from the band for the crowd to start singing the refrain back, Tim chides them for “singing worse than Ian Brown”, but once the singing starts, it does seem like it’s never going to stop.
So, a great performance by the band, wonderful interaction on stage between them, none of the dour faces or the sheer concentration of previous nights. It’s a shame it was spoiled a little by a crowd that responded to the hits but, in general, didn’t appear that interested in the new material. And before you get all indignant, if you’re reading this and getting upset that I’m saying this, I probably don’t mean you personally. I think if I’d have queued early and stood on the front row on the barrier, this could have been pretty much a perfect gig.
review by Nick Hasted (The Independent)
If James were ever hip, it only lasted an instant – perhaps the second that Morrissey, in his Smiths pomp, declared them to be his favourite band. Whether hitching a ride on the Madchester wave with the phenomenal success of “Sit Down”, or working with Brian Eno, Tim Booth’s band have always been viewed with suspicion. This may be because, in place of studied cool, James deal in sometimes pompous, always heartfelt spiritual quests and literary conceits. They are genuinely odd, appealing to quiet misfits – like the man who is having some sort of weeping, nervous breakdown next to me, as James play London with a new album for the first time since 2001
Booth, as he sings on that album Hey Ma, is now “too old for Hamlet, too young for Lear” – “my mirror’s laughing at me,” he admits on new single “Waterfall”. But the main change is not his now-bald head. Booth has always been a violently physical performer, as if jolted across the stage by electric shocks. But a new willingness to be still intensifies the effect when he spasms into action, or clambers into the crowd for “Come Home”.
“Out to Get You”, a song about intimacy, collapsing identity and naked need, is when the real communion with the crowd starts. “She’s a Star”, a positive anthem of insecurity and embattled alienation, is soon followed by Booth inviting us to “shed a skin”. With the new songs sharing the old hits’ Nineties art-populist style, and Andy Diagram back on board (in a polka-dot dress) to blast out trumpet fanfares, Booth’s sometimes fantastical, novelistic words hit cleanly home. The swampy swirl of fast guitars recalls the band’s work with Eno, while other moments hint at their distant beginnings in post-punk Manchester. “Hey Ma” considers today’s Iraq body-bags, but feels no more current than 1986’s “Johnny Yen”, about fame’s corrosive effects.
James’s role as positive-minded outsiders, who have resisted the self-destructive crack-ups they sing about, underpins the show. The sensual openness that also sets them apart is felt on “I Want to Go Home”, where Booth holds a high note with tantric macho. But “Sometimes”, the hit with which they close, is the apogee. “Come on thunder!” Booth appeals, as if wishing to be washed clean. And James’s faithful, unfashionable fans oblige, harmonising on the chorus long after the band stop. Booth soaks it up with his old friends, who look stunned, and proud. They still matter.
by Ian Gittins, The Guardian
When James split in 2001, a reunion appeared an unlikely prospect. After a vibrant 20-year career that saw them enhance the Madchester and Britpop scenes alike, relationships within the band had foundered: singer Tim Booth described their final years as “totally dysfunctional”.
Yet, after sold-out arena shows last year, the Mancunian group recently unveiled a stunningly vivacious comeback album, Hey Ma, which tonight they perform to perfection. Their return excites huge affection: the theatre is full of burly, crop-haired mid-lifers, but many appear to be blinking back tears.
James’s forte has always been giddy, impetuous music powered by effervescent sprung rhythms. A lot of their appeal, however, is down to the enigmatic Booth. His lyrics are all canny feints and wily wordplay, while his shaven head can’t help but reinforce his eerie resemblance to the similarly literate, elliptical Michael Stipe.
The hits are rapturously received, of course, with Booth touring the venue during the trumpet-driven Come Home, even striding along the drinks bar as if carried there on a groundswell of adoration. But the night’s weirdest moment is the new album’s title track, an oblique musing on the post-9/11 world order that sees him chant the jaunty chorus of “Hey Ma, the boys in body bags are coming home in pieces!” as if in contrary celebration.
Johnny Yen sounds as twitchy and delirious as when it was written in 1983. And then, at the close, James stand stock-still and humbled as their devoted fans bawl the chorus of Sometimes back at them for a full 10 minutes. The only smiles broader than those in the crowd are those on the stage.