Upside / 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 / Out To Get You / Waterfall, She’s A Star / Sound / Tomorrow / Say Something / Whiteboy / Sometimes
“Hello Manchester” says Saul as he strides on stage at the start of the show. There’s a massive roar of approval from sections of the 3,500 capacity crowd, which indicates the M55 has been pretty busy all evening. But it’s not just a Manchester away gig, there’s people here from all over the North West and further afield. There’s a buzz and anticipation about the gig in the minutes post My Federation that’s stronger than anything on the tour so far (it is the biggest gig and there’s not really any seating which helps explain it).
Upside is pulled forward from the encore to open the set and works well there. It’s the most familiar of the new songs given it’s appearances last year and it’s upbeat enough for those intending to dance (or mosh) to whatever gets played. There’s no stopping and waiting for silence before the last chorus tonight. At the end Tim notes the crowd age range seems to be from 12 to 70, quite an astonishing fact, but one that makes for an interesting mix of young children watching their first gig, their protective parents and grandparents and beered up fans wanting to mosh away like it’s 1990 all over again. Hilariously, I get told off for singing along to Upside (although I don’t sing ever, just mime, as I wouldn’t inflict my singing on anyone) yet the guy then continues to provide the most tuneless off-key wrong-lyriced Born Of Frustration I’ve ever heard. So I move. Frustration is huge, Andy’s trumpet fills the hall and rows and rows of people holler back at Tim. Waltzing Along meets a similarly delirious response.
Back to the new songs Oh My Heart and Boom Boom see pockets of the crowd continue to jump up and down, singing along, whilst other groups look disinterestedly on. The performance is fierce, as if the band are determined to make people stand up, shut up and listen. Ring The Bells, obviously, has the crowd back to the seething mass. Someone next to me gets punched rather randomly and it looks like it’s going to kick off before one of the groups moves away. It’s distracting from what’s happening on stage, which is fast, frenetic and sounds stunning, backed with an array of flashing, strobing lights which build with the song.
Hey Ma becomes a singalong. Of course it’s bizarre hearing the chorus being sung back with such gusto, but there’s a passion in it that’s undeniable. The song itself gets stronger each night, the build to the last chorus seems to get longer, more exciting and adding to the simple message of that chorus. Wonderful stuff.
I’ve moved to the side by this point to avoid any more of the some of the shenanigans in the middle, getting told off by one gentleman for moving out of the crowd past his group. Bubbles is beautiful, probably the highlight of the set for me. It encapsulates everything about the spirit and passion of James and a sign of how lyrically Tim has moved on from singing sad, confused, deeply personal and quite ferocious lyrics to something more joyful, exciting and voracious without losing any of the passion and the connection that he creates with his audience.
Come Home gets probably the biggest cheer of the night, and is accompanied by what looks like sparklers coming out of Andy’s trumpet (I’m over the other side of the stage so can’t work out exactly what it was). The moshpit goes further back into the venue, people sing along at the tops of their voices and it feels like it’s Madchester 1990 all over again.
The grandeur of the ballroom is made for Of Monsters And Heroes And Men. Lights shine down from the ceiling onto the mirrorball and illuminate the whole room. Vocally, it sounds absolutely stunning and Andy’s trumpet kicks in and lifts the song through to its conclusion. I Wanna Go Home just continues to get better and better each night, the new lighting guy is getting more in tune with what’s going on in front of him and the lights match the frenzy and crescendo that’s been played out on stage. Blackpool is mesmerised.
Out To Get You brings massive cheers of recognition and is sung back with a gusto traditionally reserved for the big hits. Waterfall follows, and is announced by Tim as the next single. It stills seems a bit odd shorn of the second verse, but it sounds wonderful, the “one drop…” to “dive” section simply stunning.
The set closes with the usual trio of hits, She’s A Star gets a massive reception and, for me, still sounds huge. Sound goes off on another series of twists and turns, the crowd hollering back the “mah bah oo” section to Tim as the improvisation kicks in at the end of the song. Tomorrow is the perfect set-ender, fast, fierce, frenetic and unmistakeably James.
The encore starts with Say Something and Tim comes down onto the barrier to sing. Tonight, it sounds a little flatter than it has on previous nights and I’m still on the fence about this song in the current set. But then everyone else seems to love it, so I’ll move on. Whiteboy sees the swinging lights come out and, as ever, it’s a fun, fast, frenetic and joyful mess. Perfect.
Sometimes seals the victory, the crowd are already singing along from the first line so there’s no real need for prompting them to come back in at the end. The singing is as loud and prolonged as anywhere else on the tour and it’s a fitting way to bring the set to a close.
In summary, a bit of an odd one. A great performance by the band, a crowd that was really up for it, but some odd things went on during the set in the crowd. I guess it’s often down to luck and where you stand and who’s around you, but it did detract a little from what was a triumphant sort of homecoming for the band to one of the venues where they made that critical break in 1990 from underground indie act to one of the most loved and respected bands in the country.
Manchester Evening News Review
MANCUNIANS unable to wait for James’ December date at the huge Manchester Central descend on Blackpool for their gig at the iconic, and more initimate, Empress Ballroom.
Openers My Federation get the night off to a decent start.
An ‘art-rock’ band, based in Brighton, frontman Lee Muddy Baker, who worked with Tim Booth on his solo project Bone and also helped to produce James’ latest offering, manages to strike up some decent repartee with the audience.
The group have known some success to date, particularly with their debut single Honey Bee, and are gigging after the release of their Don’t Wanna Die album.
They certainly get the crowd going with some catchy riffs, interesting harmonies and fun song structures.
But they really are trying to fit too much into a half-hour support slot. While some bands can pull off ‘eclectic’, trying to mix Rage Against The Machine-inspired riffs with Belle and Sebastian-like melodies and a Spinal Tap-esque stage presence really doesn’t work.
The band have many merits, but would do well to streamline their influences. And there was no excuse for that choreographed headbanging end to the final song.
But the audience, which largely consists of 35-year-old men, whose beer bellies tended to have grown since they saw James back in the day, are here only for the main attraction.
Last time I saw James they paraded onto the stage at the M.E.N. Arena to anthemic favourite Come Home, complete with standard bearers and a near-enough full brass band.
In Blackpool, though the stage is smaller, Tim Booth’s vocals and the unmistakable sound of Jim Glennie’s bass and Dave Baynton-Power’s drums, not to mention a solo trumpeter, revive the stadium-feel, which was what most of the crowd were looking for.
Unlike the arena date, the band’s main aim on this tour is to promote their new album, Hey Ma, released early this month, and they do so, albeit tentatively.
Formidable front man Booth tells us: “I hope you’ve all bought the new album, and that you have taken it into your hearts”.
Well, most of them had – kind of.
The band, with some exceptions, seemed to arrange their setlist according to a ‘new song’ followed by ‘old song’ system, just in case the crowd got bored of the new stuff and became impatient of waiting for one of the old sing-along crowd-pleasers.
And although there were some highlights among the new album, such as the yearning Oh My Heart and the catchy single White Boy, old favourites such as Waltzing Along, Come Home and Out To Get You are far better received.
Perhaps this is inevitable with such a new album.
The band played the new songs with as much passion and intent as they have ever shown in previous years, and seeing as this is the fruit of the line-up being back in the studio together properly for the first time in six years, perhaps they deserve a bit of leeway.
The audience go home happy, but there is a definite feeling that James are a brilliant band that wrote their best songs many years ago.
To hear them again is fantastic and fills the audience with nostalgia, but James’ future musical career is yet to be proven.
Walking around Blackpool town centre prior to James’ concert was like travelling back to 1991, indie kids wearing the band’s at one time ubiquitous t-shirts were everywhere.
Getting the night of to an excellent start at the Empress Ballroom were My Federation, whose singer Lee Muddy Baker collaborated with James front man Tim Booth recently.
The band, who, earlier this year released their debut Don’t Wanna Die album, deliver a technically tight set with an air of fun and self deprecation, with Baker instantly connecting with the crowd.
Their music is guitar driven heavy riffs, which contrast well with Baker’s more delicate delivery and some delightful 60s style harmonies.
As James take to the stage the mood of the crowd changes to one of utter devotion and with a fan base so fervent, the gig becomes a 90 minute celebration.
The band, driven by Dave Baynton-Power’s intricate and enveloping drum sound and complete with trumpeter, obviously have the sound for huge festivals and so to see them in more intimate surroundings is pleasing.
James, who released their new album Hey Ma earlier in April, mingle the new songs such as single White Boy among some highlights of their back catalogue including Waltzing Along and Come Home.
Mercifully, however, there is no rendition of the nursery rhyme ditty the band is most famous for, the multiple hit single Sit Down.
Booth effortlessly leads his congregation through the mass singalong and seems genuinely humbled by the goodwill and fervour directed towards the band.
The new material blends in well with the old and on the back of multiple festival appearances this summer, who is to say James’ career won’t march on into a fourth decade.