She’s A Star / Oh My Heart / Ring The Bells / Waterfall / Come Home / Hey Ma / Bubbles / Say Something / Dream Thrum / I Wanna Go Home / Out To Get You / Upside / Whiteboy / Born Of Frustration / Sit Down / Sound / Top Of The World / Sometimes / Laid
It’s been eleven and a half long years since James last played a headline gig in San Francisco, the 1997 show being cancelled on the day due to Tim’s whiplash injury. Looking around the crowd, there’s probably a few people who felt that same kick in the guts turning up at the Fillmore on that sunny May evening. But they’re back and the sense of anticipation in the sweltering ballroom is immense, even the roadies getting cheered as they tune up. The crowd’s a wide mix from old school older in the face James fans to the very young, one guy having brought his two young girls along to enjoy their first show. They’ll be the coolest kids in class when the first gig stories get trotted out in years to come.
Just after 9, the band take to the stage, Saul playing guitar with his violin bow before the band break into She’s A Star. They sound sort of odd. It’s loud, but it’s not quite right and isn’t for the first half of the set, as if someone has taken the bottom end completely out of the sound. Tim’s vocals get a little lost at times in the mix, which is a real shame as he sounds in great form.
The new songs within the set fit in like old friends alongside the staple hits and the set is cunningly paced, with pretty much one Hey Ma track, one more familiar track throughout. There’s absolutely no need though, the new songs stand the test against the band’s history and it’s refreshing to see large sections of the crowd singing along. The band battle through the sound issues, only I Wanna Go Home really suffering too badly from it, which is a shame as it had probably to date been the highlight of the new songs. Come Home, getting on for 20 years old, sounds more fresh and invigorated than most of the rubbish that’s been pushed a cutting edge these days. Hey Ma is greeted by cheers of recognition and it’s even more surreal to hear an American crowd holler back the chorus than it was the British crowds from earlier in the year..
Tim comes down onto the barrier for Say Something, baffling the rather incompetent security guards who seemed to changeover twice during every song pissing off people stood towards the side in the process. The Laid songs clearly get the best reception tonight, the applause and shouting at the end being the loudest. Dream Thrum sounds gorgeous, Andy adding extra keyboards and the backing vocals really giving the song a life it doesn’t quite attain on record.
Out To Get You finishes with an improvised section and the whole band stood stage left. People stand open-mouthed, normal bands just don’t do this.
The highlight is the closing three song blast of Born Of Frustration, Sit Down and Sound. The sound seems to have been fixed by this stage and the crowd go wild. Born Of Frustration sounds huge yet intimate in these surroundings. Sit Down is simply wonderful. Not dragged out and extended, no fancy tricks, no call and response, it’s just a fantastic song, freed here from the baggage of a number 2 single and being the song half the crowd are waiting for. Sound is simply jaw-droppingly magnificent. As the song draws to a close, Saul drags it back to life, Dave takes over and Tim just sits and watches, as transfixed as the rest of us.
Top Of The World starts the encore and Tim appears on the balcony to sing the song. He looks at standing on the barrier and quickly realises it might be the last thing he ever did, so wisely chooses to stand leaning over. Again, the crowd look bemused, bands just don’t do this sort of thing. Sometimes finishes with mass singing of the chorus with the band kicking back in – initially they didn’t quite get the subtle cue to start singing back so it’s not as spontaneous as the band would like it, but it still sends the spine tingling. Laid, the best known song here, closes the set and there’s a stage invasion, badly managed again by the incompetent and overrun security, but seeing ten or so joyful San Franciscans on stage bouncing around. A great way to finish the set.
Overall, a great gig, it’s a shame the sound spoilt the opening parts of the set slightly, but it’s James. In San Francisco. It’s 11 years since I walked up to the Fillmore and saw the cancellation notices. I’ve seen them plenty of times since and it was still an exhilarating feeling to see them in the city. I can’t think how the locals felt.