Lose Control / She’s A Star / Waltzing Along / Oh My Heart / I Know What I’m Here For / Whiteboy / Bubbles / Stutter / Tomorrow / Porcupine / I Wanna Go Home / Out To Get You / Dream Thrum / Upside / Ring The Bells / Sit Down / Sound / Born Of Frustration / Sometimes / Laid
As my good friend Mr Nuttall has explained already, Monday was something special. You wonder what James were going to come up with him to match it. There’s always one night that’s better than the other in two night stints at a venue and although Tuesday was an excellent gig, Monday probably just shaded it. Tuesday’s gig though built and built from a slow start. Lose Control saw Tim come through the audience again with Larry on guitar in tow. As on Monday, they then go straight into She’s A Star, which works well as an opener to the full band part of the set. Waltzing Along is thrown back in to follow, and you wonder if tonight is going to be a hits night rather than some of the less familiar choices of the previous night. Andy adds guitar to the song, looking very fetching in his red dress and shades, and fortunately tonight without the bobble hat.
Oh My Heart is the first of the Hey Ma tracks and feels like an old friend at the start of the set. It, like all the others, doesn’t feel out of place amongst more well-known company. There’s still a mosh-pit in the centre, arms waved in the air and people singing along. Quite right too. But there doesn’t feel like there’s that spark there tonight on stage or coming from the crowd at this point which made last night so special. Moving Ring The Bells back in the set doesn’t help at this stage as it has been probably the best of the older songs and Monday’s version was one of the best they’ve ever done.
I Know What I’m Here For does start to bring it back though. Whilst maybe not the strongest song in James’ canon, it’s fun and gets the crowd going, and, that keyboard line isn’t so prominent again. Whiteboy is an absolute blast, lots of finger wagging going on in the crowd, mimicking Tim on stage. Tim tells the crowd the song is from the “stupendously fantastic album Hey Ma” which “only half of you bought so the other half are left out”. The electric drum thing comes back out so it can only mean one thing – Bubbles is back in the set and it sounds absolutely stunning again, brooding, building, exploding, magnificent, James.
Stutter dismisses the hits only tonight theory. Introduced by Tim as a song from 1985 (1982 actually) and the best song they had in those days, it’s huge, awkward, stumbling and mesmerising. The lights and the three drum attack of Mark, Dave and Saul combined with Larry and Jim’s backing vocals have the crowd standing back in awe. It’s still one of the best songs they have. Or anyone else for that matter.
Tomorrow makes its first mid-set appearance of the tour and has the crowd back into moshpit mode. The sound in the Academy is excellent, allowing the power of the music to fill the corners of it, whilst not dampening Tim’s vocals. Not even him making his customary excursion into the crowd and onto the barrier can dull that tonight.
Porcupine is introduced as having been re-written at 4am. There’s a new final verse including the line “you’re a skunk and I’m a porcupine”. Although new, it’s one of those immediate James tracks you find yourself singing along to after about the third time. It bodes well for the next album, which will hopefully be sooner rather than later.
I Wanna Go Home is delayed as Jim’s bass needs tuning. Tim quips that he’s clever because he knows it needs to be in tune for this song. The crowd start clapping along with the song, in stark contrast to the quiet introspective subject of the song. Out To Get You evokes a similar response and the set has started to really kick in and take off by this point after the quiet start. Dream Thrum is a mellower track, but sounds beautiful with simple backing video and blue and purple lighting.
Upside is as drop dead gorgeous and beautiful as ever. The intro does sound like a heart breaking and Tim’s vocals send a chill down the spine. It moves from the pain of separation to the euphoria of love from verse to chorus and back again. Tim holds the last chorus for what seems like an eternity and then the song goes off into the night as Tim dances, Andy hammers the trumpet and the world feels a better place to be.
Ring The Bells has been moved back in the set, replacing Born of Frustration in the trilogy to complete the set. Whoever chose Sound as the first single off Seven needs their head feeling. This was the obvious obvious song to follow Sit Down. It contains everything great about James in just under five minutes. Tonight, in the live arena, it shows off a band at the peak of its powers.
As for Sit Down, there’s nothing more you really want to say about this song. It starts with the gorgeous piano intro, Tim is nearly drowned out by the crowd singing it back. It has its detractors, it’s the one song most casual observers know, it’s been played to death. It’s fucking brilliant. Brixton goes mental. Rightly so.
Sound closes the main set, seemingly longer by the night, twisting and turning, controlled by Dave and Jim with Saul and Larry adding vibrancy and colour, Andy trumpeting over the top and Tim prowling the stage. As they leave, I question whether I’ve seen the band this good over a sustained tour. I think the answer is probably no.
The encore dispatches the traditional slow first song for Born of Frustration and it works beautifully as it keeps the crowd at fever pitch. Tim again comes out to the crowd where there’s a surge towards him as he perches on the barrier, not missing a note. Sometimes starts off slow tonight, the first verse close to acapella, but the rest of the band kick in and it drives along before the communal singalong that has become tradition.
Then it’s into Laid, and I find myself being pulled into the pit to get up on stage. I jump around for three minutes like a lunatic probably making a bit of a tit of myself, but who cares? It’s ridiculously hot up there but you just lose yourself in the music. The sight of three thousand beaming faces as the song closes is pretty special. You don’t really ever get to see it how the band do, but the joy and delight on the faces in the crowd was something I’ll never forget. James take you places no other band can.