Lose Control (acoustic) / Waltzing Along / Oh My Heart / Ring The Bells / Whiteboy / I Know What I’m Here For / Gold Mother / Porcupine / Say Something, I Wanna Go Home / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Dream Thrum / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Upside / Born Of Frustration / Sit Down / Sound / Out To Get You / Sometimes / Laid / Tomorrow
So onto Birmingham after a terrible drive through the rain from Scotland, a pizza / samosa supper at 3am and a stop at the wonderful Tebay services on the M6 (the only independent services in the UK – where else would you spend £30 on pate, cassoulet and sauces on a motorway). The venue is located pretty centrally in Birmingham and looks like one of the traditional arena sheds, but actually isn’t too bad once you get inside. The standing area looks pretty sold out and apart from a few blocks covered with curtains, the seating area looks pretty full as well. Athlete start off proceedings which allowed me to have a few beers and a catch up with some friends.
As the lights go down, Larry appears sat at the back of the standing area on one of the stacks in the sounddesk area and Tim appears on the rail of the seating area above him. As at other nights they kick through a gorgeous acoustic version of Lose Control whilst weaving their way through the crowd. The start of the set follows the same pattern as yesterday through to Gold Mother, yet, as James always do, the songs sound different as improvisation in sections take songs off in different directions accompanied by lighting that, yet again, is nothing short of spectacular. If anything, Waltzing Along doesn’t quite make the right set opener (excluding Lose Control) as it doesn’t have quite the same umph (if that’s a word) factor as some of the other hits.
Porcupine is introduced as a new song, but now doesn’t feel like one. Every night it sounds bigger and bigger. Wonderful. Saul’s violin in the outro, with him after costume change number one and stood on the raised section at the back in a white suit, is simply stunning.
Say Something sees a special guest, Phil from The Twang, brought on stage to sing backing vocals. Tim stays out of the crowd tonight and the backing vocals add an interesting new twist to the song. We were a bit disappointed that we didn’t get Hymn From A Village, which The Twang had professed their love for on last year’s tour.
The middle section might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a stunning demonstration of the breadth and depth of James as musicians. I Wanna Go Home going into Of Monsters And Heroes And Men is as perfect a combination as you could find to slow the set down without losing the power and sheer quality of the show. Tim holds the high note in I Wanna Go Home for about half a minute as the music crashes back in around him. Dream Thrum, with a simple purple wave background, isn’t half bad either, piercing the air throughout the arena and sounding dreamy and melodic.
Prior to Getting Away With It, Tim hears some cock down the front shout if they were going to play any good songs which Tim admonishes him by asking him was he listening to what just happened and that he should try putting his heart into performing to large amounts of people and to come back when he’s done that in front of large amounts of people. Saul joins in and jokes that all the good songs are at the end.
Tim is clearly still irritated by the guy at the end of the song. He calls him “a motherfucker” and reminds him that they are “awkward Mancunian bastards who’ve been around for twenty years playing music the way we like to play music. If you don’t like it, the exit’s over there” to massive cheers from everyone else.
Upside is introduced as another song off Hey Ma and again is one of the highlights, the song being halted again before the final chorus to add to the impact at the end as Andy appears again on the raised stage at the back.
Born Of Frustration, Sit Down and Sound form a magic trilogy to end the set with the whole venue appearing to singalong, dance and wave their arms aloft. The songs are at least seventeen years old yet still sound as fresh and invigorating as ever. The huge sound systems of the arenas just add to the power of the sound coming from the stage. The visuals are stunning too. Andy prowls the stage from the lip at the front to the stage at the back, resplendent in his red dress. Tim dances as only he can and the rest of the band are more active than on previous tours. The crowd can’t fail to be won over.
The encore starts with a gorgeous version of Out To Get You. Andy and Larry move around the stage as Jim and Saul get into their customary huddle. Sometimes starts with a faster and louder intro than previously on the tour and the singalong doesn’t need any encouragement at the end and then the band kick back in before stopping the song to follow with the opening bars of Laid which is as jubilant as it’s been the whole tour.
The band leave the stage but very quickly come back as Tim says they don’t want to leave the party. He starts to swear and then stops himself as there are children present. Tomorrow is a new addition to this tour and brings the set to a frenetic close.
A great gig, on a par with Glasgow, and proof that James can still take on the big arenas and win over a crowd, even more impressive with a setlist which isn’t hit after hit after hit. Proof that there is some justice in music these days that a band that has its integrity and bloody mindedness still intact can be a success. With shows this good, it’d be a travesty any other way.