Born Of Frustration / Oh My Heart / Waterfall / Just Like Fred Astaire / Destiny Calling / Five-O / Bubbles / I Wanna Go Home / Out To Get You / Upside / Hey Ma / Say Something / Ring The Bells / Sometimes / Laid / Don’t Wait The Long / She’s A Star / Come Home / Top Of The World
review by brd
Queuing quietly outside the soldout Phoenix with family/friends, I muse to myself that I’ve been waiting a decade to see James play in Toronto. In fact, their impending break up and long awaited reunion in this new millennium led me to the UK twice for numerous James shows. Inside, the venue is large, with a balcony at the back. We stake out a spot centre stage about 3 or 4 meters back from the front barrier. Its your typical well behaved Toronto audience, right into the music but not much pushing in at the front once the main set starts; a bit of a relief really when compared to a UK show which often has a few dozen lager louts who crowd in up front mid-show and purposefully stomp on toes when they’re not spilling their beer on you on the way back from the bar.
The long awaited moment finally arrives – James are on stage. They’re just brilliant – they kick off with Born of Frustration and just sweep away the audience for the next couple of hours. The crowd in Asbury Park the previous weekend were really into James but they’re walking in the dark when compared to Toronto tonight. The band gets caught up in the enthusiasm and even Jim Glennie bops and dances a bit through the show.
James promptly launch into two well received new songs, Oh My Heart and Waterfall, the latter in particular getting cheers of recognition, with the crowd joining the chorus and howling appreciatively at Tim’s extended note towards the end. As in other cities during this tour, the Hey Ma songs are warmly received and fit seamlessly into the setlist, whether it’s the rolling march crescendo of I Wanna Go Home led by Dave’s great drumming or the Vegas histrionics of Upside with Andy’s trumpet colouring. James underestimate the power of the new catalogue and their audiences by not including a Whiteboy or a Of Monsters and Heroes in their encores. Later in the set, Hey Ma with Larry’s great acoustic intro, which turns into an audience sing-song, finds a natural home in Toronto, the anti-war-in-Iraq capital of Canada, one of the few NATO countries NOT to send troops into the Bush/Blair expeditionary oil war.
Everything goes up a notch when ex-James member and now Toronto resident Michael Kulas is introduced on stage by Tim Booth. Kulas and Just Like Fred Astaire both get huge cheers of recognition, with Michael adding bass and vocals to the song – this truly a James one-off with duelling basses on stage. The warm reception of Fred Astaire is curious as the “Millionaires“ source cd was never released in North America; its obvious that James have short-changed their audiences by not including at least a couple of “Millionaires” in their tour setlist.
After having enjoyed a number of James shows in England and the US this year, its obvious that tonight’s guest addition to the band has raised Tim’s enjoyment and enthusiasm. As Fred Astaire progresses, its plain to see that Tim is truly inspired having former bandmate Kulas matching his vocals; you can see it in Tim’s eyes. Its further proof that Brian Eno knew what he was hearing in 1997 when he advised James they needed to add then guest vocalist Kulas to the band. James are again complete for a few songs tonight. The short and pithy Destiny Calling, now that we are older, is then warmly received, followed by the elegant and extended Five-O. The latter is raised to a new level with Michael’s warm vocals and acoustic guitar, which in turn incite Saul’s charging violin. The audience goes barmy as Kulas departs the stage at the song’s close.
A few songs later, Out To Get You seems to intersect the collective heart of the crowd, turning into another singalong, brought to a climax by the ever amazing Saul and his song closing violin piece; almost brings tears to the eyes. Just amazing. Just a bit later in the set, as the opening verse of Sometimes starts off, the audience joins in en masse drowning out Tim; the song seems to have filled that special place for North American fans that Johnny Yen held in UK fans hearts for years; the crowd transcends the moment. Then Laid breaks loose, joined by Kulas mid-song, bringing the main set to a breath taking close.
Encore opener Don’t Wait That Long, one of my favourites from Seven, sweeps the crowd off its feet with its building intensity and Larry’s great guitar work. I’ve never been able to figure this song out as I’ve always heard it as a musical genre outside of the broad James cannon; and another road they could have easily followed. All of a sudden the opening chords of tonight’s single Whiplash sampler She’s A Star breaks out – where’s Kulas when James needs him! As the song closes Tim thanks the audience for their great reception and to great cheering announces that James plan to return to Toronto in the new year; he asks everyone to bring friends along next time so that a bigger party can be had. Then Come Home snaps to a start – indeed that’s what James have done tonight – and then crashes to a cheer filled close.
After an elongated pause, James return for a final encore to bring us to the Top of the World – indeed. Like Pavlov’s dog, during the opening chords I look around the floor and the balcony, wondering where Tim will appear; I guess there’s no clear spot as he turns up centre stage. I close my eyes to the song and memories of great James concerts bounce through my head; I centre in on a recollection of the then last James show ever, December 2001, wandering by Wembley Arena looking for the box office, we could hear James doing Top of the World at the end of their pre-show soundcheck, sublime. Tonight has been added to that catalogue of great personal memories.