SetlistSay Something / Oh My Heart / Ring the Bells / Waterfall / Whiteboy / She's A Star / PS / I Wanna Go Home / Out To Get You / Upside / Hey Ma / Sit Down / Sound / Tomorrow / Sometimes / Lullaby / Born Of Frustration / Laid / Top Of The World / Come Home
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After listening to two hours of ebullient music-making at the Paradise Sunday night, it’s still difficult to put a finger on why James – which fills arenas at home – never truly penetrated these shores beyond the mega-success of “Laid,” 1993’s giddy ode to adventurous lovers. The show offered a variety pack of styles that have proved popular since James’ inception in the mid-’80s.
There were heart-expanding anthems in the U2 mould (“Out to Get You”), tightly coiled guitar rockers (“P.S.”), jiggly Manchester dance rhythms (“Born of Frustration”), and dreamy pop (“Say Something”). Tim Booth’s strong vocals, Andy Diagram’s punchy trumpet, and grinning violinist Saul Davies imbued the songs with passion and elegance.
But pondering the particulars of commercial acceptance was not at the forefront of the brain on Sunday, the first of two nights at the Paradise. It was too busy sending signals for the hips to sway, the feet to stomp, and the head to bob as the septet worked through its repertoire on the first night of its US reunion tour.
Regrouping after a seven-year layoff, James dipped liberally into its new album “Hey Ma,” out today. And such was the vitality of the fresh material that if you weren’t a diehard James fan, the only means to distinguish old from new was the size of the recognition applause for the opening chords of each song.
That said, the enthusiastic crowd already seemed well-versed and approving of the new songs with no noticeable dip in energy. Many sang along with the lilting, romantic “Upside” from the first verse. The room swayed to the lyrical violin passages that opened “I Wanna Go Home.” And “Hey Ma,” an incongruously jaunty pop protest of the war, found many chanting the discomfiting refrain “Hey, ma, the boys in body bags/ Coming home in pieces.”
Booth, shorn of his ’90s moptop and sporting a thin moustache, was as charming between songs as he was loose-limbed during them. He flailed and snaked wildly but never lost his vocal focus, hitting the ecstatic falsetto heights of “Laid” with admirable power during the first of two encores.
The band departed each looking slightly stunned at the generous ovation. Booth, in particular, seemed touched and thanked the audience for getting the reboot of the band off to such an auspicious start.