Dust Motes / Ten Below / She’s A Star / Come Home / Dr Hellier / Look Away / Tomorrow / Stutter / Out To Get You / Dream Thrum / I Wanna Go Home / Ring The Bells / Sound / Lullaby / Sometimes / Laid
Some things in life always let you down. Some things never do. After a rather predictably average performance by the overpaid England primadonnas, the crowd inside the small O2 Academy 2 venue is waiting for James to do their bit and raise spirits back. They take to the stage about 45 minutes after full time, with Tim resplendent in a Vivienne Westwood hat, by which time the anticipation has built to fever pitch. Typically, James throw in a curveball to start. Dust Motes (which is what it said on the setlist) is a track, presumably, from the forthcoming The Morning After mini-album, and as such is a slower, more brooding number than those from the sister album The Night Before. In James tradition, the song grows and builds as it progresses. It sounds excellent, and it’ll be interesting to see how it translates to record.
Whilst not standing out on the album, Ten Below is probably the song from The Night Before that translates best to the live environment. It’s helped by a simple but effective lighting as the song breaks down and Tim sings through the microphone.
Given this is a festival headline warm-up slot, there’s going to be a selection of Greatest Hits in the set tonight. Tim alludes to the fact that they’re clashing with Paul McCartney at the festival and that they’d considered doing a version of Hey Jude to stop people disappearing to see him, but then decided they’d probably start with She’s A Star. Come Home follows that, after some joking around on stage about who farts the worst. Come Home is ragged and on the edge of breakdown, but is all the better for it.
Next is another new song Look Away. Although it was previewed at the Proud Galleries gig in December 2008, it’s now a completely different beast and sounds like it could well be the standout track on the new album, with the catchy hookline “you weren’t in the building when the walls came crashing down”.
It’s back to the more familiar for the rest of the set. Tomorrow starts the crowd jumping, Stutter keeps them going and is, as ever, proof of this band being something different, out of the ordinary – you just don’t have songs unreleased in studio format that are thirty years old that steal shows like this. As a contrast, Out To Get You takes the pace back down again and is as soothing and beautiful as ever, as grown men belt out the lyrics at the top of their voices. Dream Thrum follows, and whilst it’s played beautifully, you do feel there are more worthy tracks in the back catalogue that could be revisited and reworked. No such issues with I Wanna Go Home, which simply explodes into life and takes the crowd with it. The set finishes with a double whammy of Ring The Bells, which reduces the alcohol-infused crowd to one heaving sweaty mass. Sound finishes the set and just when you think it’s time to maybe rest it for a tour, they take it off in different directions again, the ending is pure James improvisation.
Tim comes back and asks the crowd if they want to hear Lullaby and Top Of The World or Sometimes and Laid as the encore. When it’s put to the vote, it’s inconclusive so Tim offers a compromise of one of each. The crowd are entirely respectful of Lullaby, as the fragile opening bars rise out above the steam and heat of the crowd. It’s sparse and fragile and beautiful. Sometimes is sung along by everyone with a pulse and it crashes into the wild abandon of a crazy Laid to close the gig, allowing the crew to pack up and make the overnight Isle of Wight ferry.