SetlistDream Thrum / Oh My Heart / Ring The Bells / Waterfall / Hey Ma / Say Something / Bubbles / Honest Joe / I Wanna Go Home / Out To Get You / Upside / Whiteboy / Laid / Sit Down / Sound / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / She's A Star / Sometimes / Top Of The World
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Review by BRD
North central Milwaukee at the beginning of the fall, its noticeably cooler than Chicago where the daytime high was 30 C wehen we left mid day. In search of a pre-James show dinner, we come across an Oktoberfest celebration around the corner from tonight’s venue. Does it get any better than this? A James concert AND a Deutsche bier festival in the same night!
After one Oktoberfest beer too many, we find it does get even better – its one of those nights where the audience is fantastic and James grow on their energy, turning a good performance into a truly memorable one. Kicking off with the reflective elegance of set opener Drum Thrum, well received as always, James build up momentum with a four song Hey Ma sampler ranging from the great Oh My Heart to new single Waterfall, interspersed with a few older songs like Ring the Bells and Say Something. Then out of the blue the band bring the show to an early climax with a one-off (for this tour) performance of Honest Joe – the great rhythm section of Jim and Dave pound the beat into our heads whilst Saul and Tim trade vocals through megaphones, and Mark and Larry wash the sound with their keyboards and guitar. Before anyone can catch their breath, James move uninterrupted through the starkly different musical musical genres that are I Wanna Go Home and the acoustic Out To Get You, taken to a peak with Saul’s beautiful violin outro. The audience come close to collapsing after nearly 20 straight minutes of vastly different and great music; James are simply amazing.
Tim then takes us Upside with his dancing bears and Andy’s nice closing trumpet solo, before giving us that great single that never was, Whiteboy, with a distinctly different guitar outro from Larry that forms a duet with Andy’s trumpet. The crowd give a lusty welcome to Laid, with Tim reminding them that its actually a James song, before joining in enthusiastically to Sit Down. This tour’s version of Sit Down seems to be an amalgamation of assorted variations of this great song through the years – the warm, spine-tingling piano intro from December 2001, followed by the full band dancebeat entry from the ’98 remix and then closing with the audience singalong that’s been there off and on through the years. It really sounds good. And tonight’s extra long version of Sound seems to be just the right sort of set closer.
The audience chant James for a few minutes before they return to the stage for one of my favourites, Getting Away With It (though I could never figure out the lyrics), with Saul doing a really nice violin part tonight. Though the audience don’t seem to know this song (what a shame) James really pump it out perfect tonight. Then the encore takes a bizarre turn – Tim introduces on stage some bloke who is a local singer. The mystery guest proceeds to announce that the local baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers, have won tonight’s game, thus entering major league baseball playoffs for the first time in twenty years; then he professes his love for the music of James and his gratitude for their first show in the US in over ten years, and then concludes his soliloquy by proposing marriage to his girlfriend of a number of years, once she’s found in the crowd. I feel embarrassed for the bride to be. After the show, in the venue’s beautiful downstairs bierstube/restaurant where we’re having a night cap, the groom-to-be enters and seems to be more pleased with his autographed James t-shirt than with his betrothed; best of luck to both of you. So, who’s going to ask if James play weddings?
Back at the concert we came to see, James, displaying their infamous wit, launch into a great take of She’s A Star, after an unusual (violin) bowed guitar intro by Saul. Beautiful. The encore then comes to a drawn out close with the audience doing a wonderful job singing out Sometimes. After a number of minutes, James return to the stage and end the night in a mellow mood with the gorgeous Top of the World. Indeed – that’s where we all are at the close of the show. What a great performance, enhanced by the venue – a thoroughly elegant and balanced ballroom at the Turner Theater. A former German gymnastics club, dating back to the mid-19th century, the ballroom suffered from a fire 50 years ago but was rescued by a local entrepreneur and is now providing a top class venue. The staircase up to the ballroom is decorated with a marble plaque bearing the names of the club members who gave their lives in the American Civil War 1861 – 1865. What a tangent deep into the heart of Milwaukee. Similar artifacts ground the building – it’s not only James that lasts.
Afterwards, we chat a bit with fans who’ve come to Milwaukee for the show from as far away as Chicago and Rome, Georgia. Meandering back towards the Oktoberfest, which as it turns out has just closed for the night, we bump into Tim in front of the tour bus and exchange a few words. We then wander a bit and find a local micro-brewery, still serving past midnight, and close the night with a large weiss bier. A perfect close to a perfect night. Perhaps proof there is a god, wherever she may be.