Sit Down / Tomorrow / Hymn From A Village / Dr Hellier / Ten Below / Porcupine / Come Home / Oh My Heart / I Wanna Go Home / Out To Get You / Crazy / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Sound / Sometimes / Ring The Bells / Say Something / Laid
Sometimes from the lowest expectations, something wonderful can come. The lyrics of some of The Night Before songs refer to Tim’s childhood. Revisiting Boscombe (where the O2 Academy is, rather than Bournemouth) brings back memories of childhood holidays, walking past the mini golf at the entrance to what was Alum Chine and up the hill to the High Street, which has now become pedestrianised and has a bar next to McDonalds frequented by some very strange looking and clearly on an all dayer women with what I assume are their men playing football on the street oblivious to passers-by. You wonder what sort of crowd we’re going to get and whether James are going to fill the Academy.
The Academy, formerly the Opera House, is stunning, the first one of the newer Academies that you could fall in love with as a venue. There’s a nice high stage, there’s no sticky carpets and there are two balconies circling the main standing area. James Walsh comes and goes with a mix of his own solo material and some Starsailor oldies, but as the venue fills up, there’s a great sense of anticipation.
As the house lights go down, a big yellow light hits the ceiling of the venue, Larry’s opening chords of Sit Down start up and Tim appears at the back of the standing area. He makes his way through the crowd who are pretty much drowning him out before perching himself on the barrier or stage (it’s difficult to tell from where I’m stood) to sing the end of the song. As with the previous nights it has the crowd eating out the palms of their hands. The first indication of the shake-up in the set that’s to come is Tomorrow as the second song. It works superbly, there’s a heaving mass from left to right going back quite a way into the back of the standing area.
Next is Hymn From A Village, and the reaction isn’t that much different as Saul and Andy cowbell duel their way through the resurrected reinvigorated early single. James have changed a lot since the Factory days of the early to mid 1980s, but their songs truly stand the test of time up against their better known more popular siblings from the 1990s and beyond.
The new song trio that’s next is generally the gauge by which how the rest of the gig will go is measured. Naturally there’s a lot of people who haven’t heard them yet, despite the free previews on the official site and that’s fair enough. What happens though is that those who haven’t, in the main, shut up and listen and watch. Tim swaps his woolly hat for a black bowler type affair and almost appears as a dark shady villain character, appearing sinister as he belts out the lyrics to Dr Hellier. As the song reaches its end, there’s an explosion of strobe lighting as Tim shouts into the microphone. Ten Below is almost languid and laid back in comparison but possesses that dark beauty and character that many of James less obvious songs possess. The last of the trio is Porcupine, which sees Tim mounting the mirrorball stage to sing overlooking the crowd bathed in white light and with the effect of the mirrorball whirling around him, Saul’s violin piercing through the rest of the instruments as the song flies off into its extended outro.
Come Home is, like last night, chaotic, ragged and exciting and has the crowd back dancing and singing back every word. Tim introduces a new addition to the tour set, Oh My Heart, as a song about wanting to get your heart broken so it can mend, and the reaction shows that Hey Ma has driven its way into the consciousness and record collections of much of the touring fanbase. I Wanna Go Home just hammers that point home. It’d be easy to chatter over the start as it takes a while to build, but, boy, when it does it goes off in all directions. Tim holds the final “home” for what seems like an eternity. It’s stunning and the crowd love it.
Out To Get You is simply beautiful. Saul takes centre stage with his violin outro, stood on one of the monitors and bathed in white light. Tim explains the story behind his liver disease when he was younger and how it was the inspiration for the next song Crazy. The song is just that. In the way a relatively simple song like Laid is transformed into a different beast live, Crazy delivers in exactly the same way, there’s extra instrumental sections thrown in, Tim uses his voice, not to sing but to add colour as well.
Getting Away With It, pulled out of the encore, is introduced as the band’s anthem and it gets the best reception it’s had on the tour so far, there’s masses of arms raised and a massive singalong. The opening bars of Sound then chime up, which would normally signal the end of the gig, but it’s too early just yet. It doesn’t stop it being as tormented, spiteful and fierce as it’s ever been. Andy, taking the mirrorball stage, looks like he’s trying to blow Dave’s head off with his trumpet.
The main set finishes with Sometimes, the crowd are now well and truly blown away with the power of the performance tonight. The sound has improved during the gig which means the relentless guitar is piercing through the heat rising from the pit. As the song hits its end, Tim asks the crowd to sing for them and they’ll come back. The crowd settle for a “we want James, we want James” rather than singing the chorus.
The encore merely seals the victory. Ring The Bells takes off where Sometimes finished. Then Tim jumps down onto the barrier, there’s a slight delay as guitars are sorted out but you can tell Say Something is coming next. But it’s different. It’s slowed down, it’s under-stated, it’s stripped back, it’s finally getting the retreatment it’s needed for a long time. Tim is almost pulled over into the crowd as he tries to get a closer connection. And then the audience sing the chorus back with no encouragement. It’s five minutes that demonstrate just why James are different to any other band in the country.
Laid seals the deal as if any more was needed. The whole place goes wilder and then they’re gone. No second encore tonight unfortunately, but you feel it might have been a comedown had they taken on an extra song – sometimes less is more.
So, despite the lack of set highlight Stutter, this was probably the best gig of the tour so far that I’ve seen, matched only by Edinburgh which benefited from the more exotic set list. The venue was superb, the sound great once it got sorted out, the lighting was better than ever and the band still look like they’re having an absolute blast, playing what they want to play and mixing it about and not playing it safe.