Lose Control / Waltzing Along / Oh My Heart / Ring The Bells / Whiteboy / Hymn From A Village / Gold Mother / Stutter / Tomorrow / I Wanna Go Home / Out To Get You / / Top Of The World / Dream Thrum / Upside / Come Home / Sit Down / Sound / She’s A Star / Born Of Frustration / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Sometimes / Laid
So, the final night of the tour, in the greatest city in the world, the greatest band in the world. Athlete open proceedings. I’ve held my silence about them so far, but they are DULL. Not bad, they are perfectly competent musicians, but there’s no life, no excitement to the performance. It’s a blessed relief when they finish and we can wait for the main attraction.
It’s a slightly surreal atmosphere tonight. There’s more people in the venue, there appears to be more alcohol consumed as well and there’s the bizarre sight of men and women with plastic hooked noses, dressed in pink jackets and skirts handing out Tangfastics sweets from little pink suitcases. What that means is anyone’s guess. As the lights go down, we get for the final time the screens with the crowd explaining what they would do to make the world a better place.
As the previous night, Tim and Larry appear on the disabled ramp at the back of the auditorium to sing Lose Control. It’s almost like the Pied Piper of Hamelin as they weave their way through the crowd to the stage, followed by a series of mobile phones and cameras held aloft. Waltzing Along opens the full set with Andy on guitar, the crowd go wild, singing along, dancing all the way back to the soundboard in parts. As last night, the sound is superb, the lighting is wonderful and there’s brilliant footage being filmed for the screens at the side of the stage.
Oh My Heart and Ring The Bells really start to notch up the pace of the show, both are played at breakneck speed and have the crowd reduced to a heaving mass down the front. Bells is stunning, Andy moving to the front of the stage to deliver his trumpet call to arms, Saul prowling the stage high on adrenalin and Tim dancing in the way only Tim can. Whiteboy doesn’t slow the set down one bit, arms are raised aloft to mimic the admonishing finger wagging of the song. Even without the swinging lights of the April tour, it’s the real fun moment of the set.
Then we get the first surprise of the night, Hymn From A Village, Didsbury Village, as Tim describes it at the end. It’s wonderful to hear it again and a very welcome surprise. It’s as lob-sided and awkward as it ever was, but doesn’t sound out of place in a James set twenty-five years plus on from its debut. This tour has been about the hits and Hey Ma (and there’s been a surprising number of complaints about the neglect of Hey Ma – although we’ve had 4-6 songs every night – which must bode well going forward), but throwing curveballs like this in is what James are about, have always been about.
Gold Mother next. I’ve said earlier in the tour this seems a little lost without the stage invasion and the associated chaos. Not tonight. Larry adds some backing vocals which work fantastically well. Tim takes the podium at the front and turns to band members in turn hollering “silence”. It’s visually extremely powerful, backed by some great strobe lighting impacts. Tim corrects himself after telling the crowd the song was about contraptions, which ensured much mirth around us.
Stutter is introduced as a song from 1985, which Larry corrects as being earlier. It sounds like a song from another age, like nothing else ever performed in this environment before. Those who had chattered through Hymn and Gold Mother, waiting for the hits at the end, shut up and watch. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used the word mesmerising on this tour. It’s overused but it’s so appropriate for this. Through the wall of noise, there’s a tunefulness, a passion, a story. Larry again adds some backing vocals adding again to the effect. Wonderful.
Tomorrow is next and the band are joined on stage by a guy performing the song in sign language, before the band take the set down for some quieter mid-set moments. I Wanna Go Home strictly doesn’t do this – the audience clap along at first and then the songs explodes in a flurry of trumpet, guitar and drums as the lights kick in and the stage is enveloped in white and yellow. Truly stunning.
Out To Get You has a similar impact. It starts and then the band take over the song and take the recorded version to new levels. There’s a huddle around Jim and Saul whilst Tim, Dave and Larry form a triangle as the song goes off on a tangent, driven by Saul’s violin.
Another surprise in the set is Top Of The World. The mirrorball comes down from the ceiling as the opening bars are played. Jim’s bass on this song is spine-tinglingly eerie. Tim’s delivery is very straight-faced, but there’s so emotion in the eyes and the delivery as he is projected onto the screens at the side of the stage. It’s followed by a beautiful rendition of Dream Thrum, sparking life into one of the weaker Laid tracks, relying on the craft of the musicians rather than power and with Tim’s vocal sounding as good as it’s ever done.
Upside is introduced as the single that should have been off Hey Ma and it’s the precursor for a set of eight songs to close the set, and the tour, that the likes of Coldplay, Keane, Kaiser Chiefs, Kings Of Leon and basically every other band on the planet should be in envy of. Come Home gets its first outing of the tour and causes delirium and an even bigger moshpit. It’s not the most polished performance, but the song works best that way, hanging loosely around the main riff.
Sit Down, with its gorgeous piano-led opening, just increases the chaos. This is the song’s spiritual home, but tonight it’s kept simple, it’s played loud, the crowd respond and create a sense of communion that feels as if the whole place has come together as one. When Tim sings “those who feel the breath of sadness”, the whole place seems to raise its arms in response. It’s simply stunning now, it’s not contrived or forced as the song was at risk of becoming in the past. It’s a song to be proud of. If it’s the only James song people know, then that’s fine.
Sound seems again to be even longer than before. Twisting, turning, spitting, stopping, starting, strobes piercing the air. Andy stands on the raised platform at the back and is projected onto the screens as he squeezes every last note out of it. The crowd response at the end tells the band everything they need to know about what they thought of the show.
Coming back on for the encore, the band seem unsure as to what to start. Following a quick chat, Saul grabs his guitar and violin bow and starts up She’s A Star. The crowd go wild. Born Of Frustration sees Tim jump down on to the barrier, finding a safe arm to hold him up as he crashes through the song. Andy again takes centre stage as the lights focus on him. Still unsure what to play next, they decide on Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), which Tim describes as the band’s theme tune.
There’s no way they are going to be allowed to leave at this point. Sometimes is next, introduced as being written at the Boom Boom rooms in Manchester. As with all nights of the tour, the crowd join in a singalong of the refrain at the end, this time unprompted. It’s quite a sight to see Tim dancing to 6,000 people singing one line of a song without any musical accompaniment. The band bring the song back in for the climax. And then it’s into Laid, the familiar ending on this set. The band are joined on stage by Santas, friends and family and people pulled from the crowd. The song extends as if noone wants it to finish, but like all good things it has to come to an end.
This has been the best tour I’ve seen James on. They haven’t done a show that has made me make the bold proclamation that it’s my favourite ever, but each and every one has been at a consistently high standard and has given something new each show. The only slight downer was the venue at Leeds and the issues in getting there and finding a decent viewpoint. The set has been varied, with Hey Ma well represented, a fair splattering of the better known hits and the resurrection of some older less familiar tunes. The band have looked as together and coherent as they ever have done. It now feels like the end of a period though. There’s no shows set up for next year, but there’s the promise of new material, still talk of a US tour, and possibly plans for a DVD of the Manchester shows. Porcupine, although not played tonight, has shown the creative juices are still there, and we got a sneak view of Look Away at Camden and there’s still 50-60 seeds of songs they’ve written so far.
A massive thanks to the band for another wonderful two weeks, Zeb for sorting lots of stuff out for us, Nick, the camera guys and old friends and new on the road, way too many to mention, except one special thanks for Mike (takemeanywhere), driver extraordinaire, service station guru and all round top bloke. LYM.