Born Of Frustration / Oh My Heart / Ring The Bells / She’s A Star / Waterfall / Say Something / I Wanna Go Home / Out To Get You / Lose Control / Upside / Whiteboy / Sit Down / Sound / Tomorrow / Hey Ma / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Sometimes / Laid
After a gorgeous day in the wonderful (except for the hills) city of Porto, what better than to spend the evening, or the early hours of the morning watching your favourite band against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean with a crowd of 20,000 baying fanatical Portuguese fans who seem to know each and every word of every song? Certainly, there’s not many better ways of spending a weekend.
First we are treated to a couple of very different, but rather humourous support acts. Macy Gray seems to want to ingratiate herself to the fiercely proud Porto crowd by asking them if the capital of Portugal is Lisboa or Lisbon, and seems bemused by the chorus of boos the question gets. She’s absolutely dreadful, murders Radiohead’s Creep and screeches like a banshee and even turns her own biggest hit, which is mildly listenable in recorded form, in a long drawn out jam interspersed by random bollocks. Not good really.
But then, the whole thing takes a turn for the surreal. The Doors are legends, one of the greatest bands to walk the planet, so Riders On The Storm, featuring two of the original band, sound like a cracking way to warm up for James. But from the minute, Ray Manzarek shouts “JIM MORRISON, HE GOT HIGH, MORRISON, MORRISON”, it descends into pure comedy. The whole world are legends, Jim MORRISON got high, everyone is a sex machine, particularly the session musicians and the singer who sounds like a piss poor pissed up karaoke singer butchering classics in a backstreet pub. We’re treated to such revelations that Bo Diddley, James Brown and Jim MORRISON are coming back to earth, have formed a superband in heaven and are fucking all day long and that LSD and weed are good for you and that Dick Cheney and George Bush should have done it at college in the sixties. We get some attempts at talking the crowd in Spanish, which makes Macy’s faux pas look like a blip and a flamenco guitar solo that you’d need more than LSD to make sense of. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to my Doors albums in the same light again without rolling around laughing and we have a new catchphrase.
Anyway, it’s 1.30 in the morning when James finally make the stage and they’re more than worth the wait. Whilst last year’s V and T performances were met with silence by the popkids down the front waiting for The Killers and Kasabian, there’s no such issues here. The opening bars of Born of Frustration kick in and everyone has their hands in the air, clapping, trying to imitate Tim’s holler. The sound is beautiful, crisp and clear, Larry, reunited with his beret, nails the guitar lines and the crowd’s won over. Oh My Heart follows, and although the new ones do suffer a little with unfamiliarity (given the lack of decent promotion in the UK, heaven knows what it got it Portugal), it still carries the crowd along with its pace and passion. Ring The Bells has the arms back in the air clapping so much that it’s actually difficult to see too much of what’s going on up on the stage, so it’s just as well there’s screens to capture Tim’s dancing, Andy prowling the stage, although he does suffer the ignomy of tripping over his lead at one point. She’s A Star generates a similar response, with the crowd even singing back Tim’s call to himself to “hit it” before the high note in the later chorus.
Waterfall makes use of a powerful but simple lighting set up and builds to a stunning “one drop is lonely .. DIVE” section before the outro whips the crowd into another clapping frenzy as Tim loses himself in dance on stage. He drops down into the crowd for Say Something, which sounds fresh and invigorated tonight in the surroundings. You get the feeling this crowd would love them whatever, but this is certainly the best festival set I’ve seen since the reunion, and up there with the best of all the shows.
“This is our favourite of the new songs” is how Tim introduces I Wanna Go Home, and the newly-crowned winner of the One Of The Three messageboard Survivor justifies its award. It builds and builds and then explodes in a sea of light, stunning violin and keyboards and Tim holding a “home” for what seems like an eternity. Moments like this encapsulate everything that makes James the band they are.
Out To Get You is so good that it doesn’t feel like a drop down. The arms are back up in the air everywhere, everyone is singing along, not often in time, but whatever, the impact is almost enough to drive you to tears, the reception at the end has the band stood in admiration out at the mass of arms. Lose Control is a recent addition to the set, and with just Tim and Larry on stage, calms the mood down slightly and gives the rest of the band a rest. I think it’s 16 years since I last heard it live, let’s hope it’s not that long before it’s heard again.
Over the opening refrains of Upside, beautiful guitar and keyboards combining perfectly, Tim says “this is the sound of a heart breaking” and the song is gorgeous and yearning, dripping with the emotion and personal meaning of the lyric. The contrast between the mellow verse and the passion with which the chorus is delivered is uniquely James, indescribable to those who don’t get it. Tim stops and stands stock still before the last chorus kicks in and the band take the song away after the key change.
Whiteboy gets the most recognition of the new songs and it’s a riot. Whilst some of the other songs from Hey Ma walk through a whole series of human emotions, Whiteboy is fun, almost joking in its tone and delivery but you can’t help smiling wide as Tim admonishes the character in the song with a playful wag of his finger.
And then, after an elongated intro, Saul is given the task of counting in the intro of Sit Down in Portuguese. I’ve missed the old bugger and it’s given the same loose ragged treatment that Come Home, surprisingly absent tonight, has and it sounds all the better for it. Sure it has been overplayed on radio and it’s the only song radio play regularly in the UK, but so what? It’s a communion when it’s played, as long as that’s not forced then why not play it – throw it in the middle of the set and let it work its magic. It’s not their best known song in Portugal but it gets possibly the biggest cheer, the most arm-waving and a magnificent reception.
Sound gets a harder edge than I’ve heard for a long time, Larry taking the lead on this with almost staccato guitar before it drops down and then comes back in. The crowd are already won over, but, held together by Jim’s bass and Andy’s trumpet, it ensures that, even at close to 3am, noone is leaving or taking their hands off the stage. Tomorrow seals the deal, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of what’s gone before it. The band stand on stage stunned at the reception and applause they receive from the massive crowd. It’s fully deserved though.
The encore opens with Hey Ma, which Tim introduces as the title track of the new album. Larry quips that it’s difficult to find in the shops. The lights and the extended builds into the chorus from Mark’s keyboards simply add to its stunning effect. Getting Away With It is a big favourite in Portugal and is greeted as such, with the crowd waving and clapping over the intro as far back as the eye can see.
Sometimes is James’ biggest hit in Portugal, so it’s no surprise, it’s retained at the end of the set, the crowd drown the band out over the opening section. There’s no need for Larry to encourage the crowd to sing the chorus back. And it’s the loudest, most sustained singback I’ve heard so far. Tim looks genuinely stunned and moved by the response. To finish off, they swing into Laid, with Tim encouraging the at first reticent crowd to climb over the barriers and onto the stage. At one point it looks like it’ll be overwhelmed with people, but security prevent more getting on. It’s a wild way to finish off a magnificent show and demonstration that James can take themselves to crowds of this size, connect and make the event more than just a simple rock concert. Saul thanks the crowd in what sounds like fluent Portuguese and they’re gone. It’s going on for 3.30am, but you suspect people would have stayed all night for more.
The band have always talked passionately about their love of shows in Portugal and Greece and the amazing reaction from the crowds. Without having experienced it previously, it was easy to be cynical. No more. James are serious business in Portugal, for example, Fresh as a Daisy was playing in the big Media Markt store in the city in its entirety earlier in the day. If they add some Portuguese dates to the end of the year tour, I’ll be there. If you’re considering US shows in September and October and the cost is putting you off, then I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending you wait for the return to Portugal Tim promised at the end of the show. As well as being a beautiful and fascinating country to visit, the passion and the energy of the crowd will take you with it if you’re not hollow inside.
Obrigado James, obrigado Porto.