Someone’s Got It In For Me / Lullaby / How Was It For You / Look Away (new song) / Burned / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Dream Thrum / Porcupine (new song) / Just Like Fred Astaire / I Know What I’m Here For / Stutter / Upside / Sound / Lose Control (acoustic)
Not so much a gig, as an open rehearsal this one. And a set list far out of left-field. The Proud Gallery is an awful place for a gig, the sound set up is all wrong, the white background against which the bands play is unsuited to gigs and has The Blues Anthology written directly behind Tim, the floor (and I’m sure it’s part of the “concept” of the fact it used to be stables) is uneven and rutted and the lighting seems to consist of an on/off switch. Tim’s clearly jetlagged, there’s issues with the bass which packs in completely at the end. And, despite everything, it all holds that uniqueness that has made every James gig special in its own right.
After what seems like an age getting into the venue, and then longer into the room and then even longer for them to come on, Someone’s Got It In For Me would normally be a strange opener but fits the tone of what’s to come. Lullaby keeps the pace relatively sedate for the start. How Was It For You gets a part of the crowd dancing. To be honest, it’s loose and on the edge of falling apart, but that just makes it more exciting.
Look Away is the first of the two new songs. It’s difficult to tell what Tim is singing about as Dave’s drums are way too high in the mix to make them out, but the song itself is quite mid-paced and languid and builds gently. It’s not immediate, but the best James songs previewed live are generally the ones that aren’t (with the odd exception – Upside, Sit Down). It’s great to hear new material though, laurels are clearly not being rested upon and the appearance of them would seem to suggest more releases down the line.
On the night fans can first get their hands on the new James live CD, it’s fitting that the highlights of the set are the reappearance of two long-lost favourites from the first live album. Burned, apart from a short-lived and rare appearance on the 1991 tour, hasn’t been played for twenty years. It’s been called for by fans for a while now and it’s refreshing to see that someone in James Central has listened and they’ve tried it. It sounds as biting, pointed and relevant today as it did then.
Getting Away With It takes ages to get started with them not quite having worked out responsibility for starting it, but it induces the first main singalong of the evening and breaks the gig a little for some of those less familiar with the side of James back catalogue on show tonight. It’s then into Dream Thrum, which was resurrected on the recent US tour, which builds momentum as the song grows.
The second new song, Porcupine, seems more formed than the first although Tim needs his lyric sheets. As with Look Away, it’s not an instant classic but definitely is something that I’d like to hear again on the tour as they hone it down in soundchecks and the remaining rehearsals.
Two Millionaires tracks follow, making it three on the evening, the most in a set since the reunion and an indication perhaps that the tour will touch all bases in the back catalogue. Just Like Fred Astaire is characterised by Mark’s keyboards and sounds as uplifting as ever. I Know What I’m Here For benefits from having the effects turned down slightly and guitar higher in the mix.
The second highlight is Stutter. For years, this was a traditional set-closer and brings up the end of One Man Clapping. Without the lights that used to accompany it, it’s not stripped of the power of the music as it spirals to a crescendo of noise at the end.
The set is changed slightly to allow the only Hey Ma track of the evening, Upside, to be added. There’s an argument between Saul and Larry over Saul’s guitar strap, which he claims Larry has. It’s all good-natured and once the set up is sorted out, the song is There’s a guy next to me and this is the only song he sings along to, which struck me as weird, but on reflection not a bad thing for James’ future.
Sound is troubled by issues with Jim’s bass. This does allow the song to take on a different slant and sound different again. It’s curtailed slightly as it’s still early days for the tour and rehearsals so we don’t get the instinctive improvised extended ending sadly.
In the absence of a working bass guitar, the encore is restricted, probably by curfew as well, to a gorgeous acoustic rendition of Lose Control from Tim and Larry.
This was, as Tim pointed out, never going to be like a normal James gig. These shows are there to test out songs for the tour that haven’t been played for a while or to roadtest new songs. James’ audience has become accustomed to this so there’s few dissenting voices. The choices of songs though show that there’s a thoughtfulness gone into some of the selections that hopefully will make the tour a real celebration of 25 years since What’s The World was first released.
Bring on Brighton. And please can we go back to Hoxton next time.