Lose Control / She’s A Star / Oh My Heart / Ring The Bells / Bubbles / I Know What I’m Here For / Gold Mother / Stutter / Born Of Frustration / Porcupine / I Wanna Go Home / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Upside / Tomorrow / Sit Down / Sound / Say Something / Sometimes / Laid / Out To Get You
So, two big gigs in the hometown to finish off the tour. I was apprehensive when it was announced the gigs would be at G-Mex (I’m sure TMA would pull me if I said “to give it it’s proper name”) as previous experiences there hadn’t been positive. I didn’t make it to the 1990 show because of snow, which Tim very kindly reminded me of later and the 1993 show resulted in a number of eye and leg injuries in the moshpit which seemed to envelop half the venue (how you can mosh to PS is anyone’s guess) and the gigs there since have been spoilt by poor sound, stupidly located toilets, sub-standard burgers and disinterested punters.
Lose Control opens again after some hilarious new snippets of the “what would you do to make the world a better place?” question. I won’t spoil them but it’s clear that christmas spirits have been downed by a few people before agreeing to be filmed. Tim and Larry start the song on the raised disabled area towards the back of the arena and then make their way down the right hand side of the crowd. Just as well, they didn’t go down the left, they’d have been stuck in the queue for the bogs until half way through the set. They make the stage for Tim to finish the song as the rest of the band crank up the opening to She’s A Star, which sees Manchester raise its arms in communion. The sound is surprisingly good for the venue and the lighting steps up a notch again as the curved roof of the former Central Station forms a perfect backdrop. The song has mysterious lost it’s “it’s a long road, it’s a good section” at the end which makes it seem as if it finishes too soon, but never mind, it’s still a great opener for what’s to come.
Tim comes out onto the lip and hollers “hello” at the crowd who respond. Unimpressed by the volume, Tim then yells it and gets a much louder response. Oh My Heart again doesn’t feel out of place sandwiched between two of the better known hits. There should be an act of Parliament to make neglect of Hey Ma a criminal offence, but the good people of Manchester seem to love it so there’s hope yet.
Ring The Bells comes back to the front end of the set and confirms its position as possibly the best song on the tour. They’ve totalled nailed it this time round, it never sounds quite the same two nights running, the end section spiralling out as Andy makes full use of the stage, Saul prowls like a man possessed. Stunning stuff.
Bubbles spits and sparkles as it builds through the song, gaining momentum, taking new twists and turns before exploding into a wonderful cacophony of sound and Tim takes centre stage firing out passionately about the birth of his youngest son. I Know What I’m Here For seems like it’s never been out of the set. Live, it was always the Millionaires song, with the possible exception of the magnificent Vervaceous, that worked the best. It’s not the greatest lyric Tim’s ever written and it came out of a pretty dark time for the band, but it’s picked up by the crowd and it’s made into a celebration rather than the farewell that the lyrics point to.
Gold Mother sounds better tonight than it has on the rest of the tour so far. Shorn of the stage invaders, it had lost some of his impact, but in the bigger arenas, the sheer volume of the sound and the lighting make it a celebration. The song does actually sound like musical contractions in parts.
Stutter gets introduced as a very old song for very old people. It doesn’t sound old, it sounds like nothing else anyone is doing at the moment. It just sounds like the most indescribable wall of sound, looks like a wall of light and strobes. People who had been talking around us stop and are transfixed by what’s coming from the stage. It’s come a long way from the Hacienda footage filmed around the corner way back in 1982, yet it’s basically still the same song with the same lyrics.
Born Of Frustration follows and Andy comes to the front of the stage to lead the song with the trumpet. Six thousand people do their best Indian impersonations. The song’s been extended out at the end and sounds better for it. Whilst being a big hit machine in the Seven era, it wasn’t at the cost of the musical experimentation and power that the band had developed over the years and the outro, along with the mesmerising experience that is Sound, are the prime examples of this. Tim goes down onto the barrier and almost gets dragged into the crowd, losing a line or two of the song in the process.
“In case we’re getting too professional”, as Tim announces it, Porcupine is next. You’ve probably read my thoughts on this so far. They’ve not changed. It doesn’t sound at all out of place in the set. It’s a great song. Saul reappears in white with a pair of angel wings attached to his jacket at the back of the stage.
I Wanna Go Home and Of Monsters And Heroes And Men slow the pace of the set down but certainly there is no drop in the quality. Both fill the arena – I Wanna Go Home induces mass clapping at the start and then stares of awe as the band provide us with an aural attack distant from the relative sombreity of the recorded version. Of Monsters And Heroes And Men sees the mirrorball come down and the corners of the arena enveloped in the lights reflecting off it. Rather than chatter, the crowd around us stand and watch and take in the songs.
The opening bars of Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) strike up and there are cheers of familiarity and people start to dance again. The song is a staple set-filler, it’s a great song in the tradition of James singles, but it’s never going to be THE song at a gig that blows everyone away. Still sounds great though.
Upside, I’ve said enough about already, but it feels more heartfelt, Saul’s guitar more like a heart breaking, every night.
Tomorrow sees the band joined by a guy who performs the song in sign language on the raised part of the stage at the back. It’s as powerful and fast as ever, and gets the crowd moshpit going back further than so far in the show.
Tim introduces Sit Down as a song that was written in Ancoats in 20 minutes and they had to stop playing it because they were laughing so much. The whole venue is then joined in a celebration in the venue where the video was filmed eighteen years ago that helped make the song what it has become. A song of union, a song of good over bad, sticking in there and getting through to the other side. It’s not drawn out, elongated, sung back in a way that was threatening to make it overwhelm the rest of the set in the way it was in the past. They just play it relatively straight. It sounds superb. It is superb.
Sound is probably the longest version we’ve heard so far on the tour. As ever, it goes off in new directions, improvised, the lighting is stunning, simple but just adding to the song as it grows and grows, then stops then starts, stops again and then takes one final bow.
They come back and Tim chides the audience for the volume of their encore call. He then announces that they’re going to play a song they wrote at the Boardwalk in Manchester. Excitement ensues for about 10 seconds as this would suggest an older number, Burned, What For or something along those lines. It’s a little disappointing when it turns out to be Say Something (I actually had no idea that the place was still open in 1992). Tim jumps down in the crowd and onto the barrier for the song.
Sometimes kicks in and the now customary crowd singalong is the loudest and one of the most prolonged so far. Laid prompts members of the crowd to be dragged out and up on to stage, Tim having gone down in the pit to select them. It seems to take him an age to come back up which makes it very surreal that you can’t see him singing. As it has been every night of the tour, Laid sounds invigorated and fresh in a way it hadn’t for quite a while.
They go off but are called back for what Saul describes as a new song. It would be a bloody minded thing to do (and would probably have needed another song after it), but we Out To Get You. The second encore song choices have been quieter songs at the two gigs that they’ve been done at. It still sounds beautifully executed, the song reaches a climax with Saul, Jim and Larry in a huddle, Mark down off his keyboard stand. And then it’s finished. Dave wanders out to the front of the podium in front of the others and the band respond to the applause by applauding the audience.
A great gig, certainly the best I’ve seen at the G-Mex. The setlist has a little bit for everyone, from the older songs (although not as many as expected from Tim’s interview with Clint Boon earlier in the day which promised lots of old songs), the newer material and the less familiar songs. Sound and lighting was excellent too.
Off to do it all again.