Top Of the World / Born Of Frustration / Oh My Heart / Boom Boom / Ring The Bells / Hey Ma / Bubbles / Come Home / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / I Wanna Go Home / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Waterfall / Whiteboy / She’s A Star / Sound / Tomorrow / Johnny Yen / Upside / Sometimes
Let’s cut to the chase. This was the best James, or any other gig, I’ve ever seen. Hamburg 1992 was my previous highpoint, it’d had been pushed close over the years, but this show was something special. Everything seemed to fit into the place, the band performance was tight, together, yet splattered with moments of individual and group brilliance, an excellent sound system, stunning lighting and a crowd that was as happy to stand and listen respectfully the new material as it was to go mental for the more familiar songs.
Top Of The World is a surprise choice to open the set. UEA is my old hunting ground as I spent three years here, and oddly James opened a gig here in 1990 with the very same song. Instead of dampening the atmosphere built up by the band coming on late, it heightens the sense of something special being about to happen. Tim comments that it’s a sign that great nights are made of. Born Of Frustration simply confirms this. Andy’s trumpet acts as a clarion call to the crowd who respond by mimicking Tim’s yodel. As the song reaches its conclusion, the band appear to be driving Tim’s dancing, which is freer, more spontaneous and passionate than it’s been for a long long time.
Oh My Heart and Boom Boom demonstrate that Norwich seems to have got the message that Hey Ma is out there, more people seem to be singing along than elsewhere on the tour, and those that don’t know them don’t talk over them, they stand and listen, take it in and give them the reaction they deserve. The instrumental drop section of Boom Boom sees Saul at his very best as it gets more frenzied before the band crash back in.
Ring The Bells simply seals the victory early on for the band. The structure of the song exemplifies everything that is special about James, the outro gives Tim the opportunity to dance, Andy to take centre stage and for the masses to get lost in the music coming from the stage. Hey Ma resembles a communal singalong, I swear people who haven’t heard the song beforehand are singing along and clapping by the end. It’s so Jamesian that such a tragic subject matter can create such a celebration at a live show and it gets the message across in a way most whiney anti-war dirges fail to do so.
Bubbles has been a good barometer for the shows so far. Tonight, it grabs the crowd immediately at the point the song turns and builds. The e-drums fail Tim at the end and he’s pissed off, but jokes that they’d been switched off deliberately because his drumming was so bad, and recalls his early tambourine playing that had the band running for cover and claims that the peas in his maracas were removed so that only one remained to keep his playing out of the sound.
Come Home is magnificent. The set up of the venue prevents Tim going walkabout and staying on stage forces on-stage interaction to drive the song forward. As ever, it sounds at its very best when it’s seemingly on the brink of collapse.
Monsters has suffered from a lot of crowd talking so far on the tour, but there’s no such issues tonight and as a result it has the desired impact. The mirrorball generates cheers when it’s unveiled and it keeps people transfixed on Tim recounting the story of the song. The crystal clear sound just added to the simply spine-tingling, hairs up on the back of the neck feeling as the song rose to its conclusion.
I Wanna Go Home is breathtaking, ten hours later it’s difficult to find the words to describe just how good the song was, how Tim’s vocals merged perfectly with the band as they transform a relatively simple song into a mesmering mash of guitar, trumpet, bass, keyboards and two sets of drums as Tim loses himself in dance and the lights just make the sound more powerful and fascinating. It’s absolutely compelling stuff and James have no peers. At the end, there’s a light shined on Tim alone as he stretches out the last word of the song and everyone is stunned into silence.
Getting Away With It follows with its first appearance on the tour. Saul leads the song and it’s great to see him take the limelight for this track as it recognises his role in James between 1998 and 2001 where he took up the mantle in the absence of Larry and with the Jim / Tim relationship reportedly at its lowest point. It’s based tonight around a simple repeated riff but works wonderfully as it builds, Larry adding some delicious flourishes of guitar over the top. The crowd go mental.
The second set of drums Saul plays makes Waterfall a more ferocious track live than on the record. Andy’s trumpet over the end section pierces through the lights, which get better and better as the gig goes on.
Whiteboy is an absolute riot. Again, the band have fun with the swinging lights, the crowd have their arms in the air, clapping along. Strobes pierce the darkness as the song crashes to its end. Who really needs Laid as the fun, three minute classic when you have this?
She’s A Star is a straight rendition of a classic, but it’s done with a force that is now simply undeniable. The floor area is one big mass of bodies.
Sound seems to go on forever, and I was wishing it would. Three or four times it seemed the song would stop and it started again with different band members bringing it back up. There’s improvised lyrics, a section led by Dave’s drumming, a call and response of the “mah bah oo” where Tim sings a part and then holds the microphone for the crowd to sing the end back to him. The lights keep up with the improvisation going on from the stage. Some of the improvisation is done individually, but there’s points where two or three band members look and feed off each other. It’s mindblowing, words no longer work at this point to describe how good it was.
Tomorrow just seals the victory. Tim jumps onto the barrier, rather nervously at first, but crouches on it to sing directly at a number of members of the audience. When you can see the whites of his eyes, you can see the impact this is having on him, and the rest of the band. This is why they came back, not to do radio shows, interviews with people who’ve never heard of them, it’s to get this connection, this power and this emotion.
There’s no way they’re going to be let go at this stage. Johnny Yen starts the encore and is raggedly magnificent. Tim runs out of things to ask the audience for in the middle section, and just looks straight ahead and smiles as the music swirls around him. Upside sounds more imposing by the performance, even to the point where at the point the final chorus is due to come in Tim stops until the crowd is absolutely quiet before coming in. It’s punctuated by a “we love you James” shout from the crowd, and all the band smile in unison. And then off the song goes again.
Sometimes has the crowd singing from the very start, when it’s taken down, they’re still singing, but rather than a loud chant, it’s being sung. It gets louder and louder and then the band bring it back in, Dave and Larry building the music up louder and faster. Tim stands on the spot, then jumps up and down and dances on the spot. It’s a new twist on the ending of the show. And then they’re gone. Noone really complains too much that there’s no Sit Down or no Laid.
I don’t think I can adequately say in words how good this gig was – if you had the good fortune to have been there though, you will know exactly what I mean. Ten hours later, I’m still buzzing, sleep wasn’t particularly easy (despite less than four hours the last two nights) as the adrenalin is still flowing. Everything was right – the venue, the sound, the crowd, the lighting, the unusual set opener, the old favourite reintroduced, Tim’s voice, the music, the improvisation. It was the greatest gig I’ve had the pleasure of attending ever. It answers Larry’s question in the interview why anyone would want to go to Norwich.