Dust Motes / PS / Five-O / Tell Her I Said So / It’s Hot / Born Of Frustration / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Tomorrow / Rabbit Hole / I Wanna Go Home / Runaground / Jam J / Johnny Yen / Sit Down / Out To Get You / Laid / Say Something / Ring The Bells / Stutter / Sound / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck : Just Like Fred Astaire / Runaground / Rabbit Hole / Whiteboy / What For
Let me start with the VIP soundcheck. It’s a new experience for me and it works really well. The band are on good form, despite the absence of Larry, who is at hospital having treatment on his back, having things “stuffed in my mouth, in my arse and up my spine” to paraphrase him at the start of the show. The six-piece start with Just Like Fred Astaire, as they try and work out a set they could do should Larry not make it. Runaground, which hasn’t been played since the Best Of tours in 1998 is next as the band want to introduce it into the sets on this tour. Rabbit Hole also gets a first UK airing after a couple of plays on the US tour. Whiteboy is a bit messy, but the band have already done their three allotted songs by this point. They finish, with an audience request that the band take up and play despite Tim initially saying there was no chance they could play it – What For is led by Andy’s trumpet in the absence of Larry’s lead guitar and sounds fresh and vibrant – definitely a case for adding this to the setlist at some point on the tour.
Back to the main set. I miss the Pigeon Detectives as I’m outside flyering for Tim’s new website (free download of a new song, album next year, be nice to the flyerers please), although they seem to have gone down well with the people around me. James make to the stage at a couple of minutes to nine (early!!) and Larry is with them, although he is very clearly a bit uncomfortable and drinking Mark’s wine might help him through the show, but probably won’t do his back much good.
The opening of the set is more subdued than normal due to the seats and a setlist deliberately aimed at starting by demonstrating James’ more mellow side. Apart from the two ignorant couples in the first row of the second set of stalls on Larry’s side who don’t shut up the whole gig (you know who you four are, or maybe not given you just carried on throughout), the crowd listen and appreciate the beauty in Dust Motes as well as the two Laid favourites PS and Five-O. As much as those two songs form the centrepiece of the Laid album, live they demonstrate the breadth of musical talent in the band, Larry’s slide, Saul’s violin and Jim’s subtle bass, held together by Mark and Dave. Tell Her I Said So livens the pace slightly and sees Tim go out into the seats to try and get the audience to sing the refrain of “here’s to long life”. It’s Hot is where the pace starts to kick up and it’s refreshing to see how many people know the new material and don’t see it as an excuse to go off to the bar.
Inevitably though it’s the trio of Born Of Frustration, Getting Away With It and Tomorrow that get the audience up on their feet and from now on in there’s not much sitting down done in the stalls. Tim ends up in the crowd again for Born Of Frustration, with people dancing around him. The on stage set up is quite simple, but the lighting is quite beautiful the whole night, adding to the music rather than distracting from it, and the sound, unusually for the Apollo, is crystal clear.
Rabbit Hole brings the pace back down a little bit, but it is a beautiful song and it’s given the respect it deserves as does I Wanna Go Home, which Tim says they just can’t drop from the set. The audience clap along as the song builds. Tim seems to hold the note near the end of the song for longer every time they play it. Runaground is introduced as a song that they haven’t played for 15 years (maths not a strong point!) and a song that Larry has never played. The band joke that they have all sorts of setlist twists planned for Larry as he missed Wednesday’s main rehearsal.
Jam J is brutal. Jim leads with the bass, the strobes kick in almost blinding the crowd with their intensity, Tim prowls the stage like a man possessed. Huge cheers greet the return of the seminal favourite Johnny Yen, which shows no sign of ageing just yet. The band, except Mark, make their way to the front of the stage and sit down on the monitors for a poignant, slowed down, almost acoustic run through of Sit Down which has the whole crowd singing back to them. Again, they bring something new to playing this song and it works brilliantly as it is reborn and now makes perfect sense amongst the lesser know more experimental moments in the set. Out To Get You continues to teeter on the edge of needing a rest from the set, but once again it’s rescued by the improvised end section, which never sounds the same twice. It’s telling that what was described as a “throwaway b-side” that got reworked should provide the focus for so much outpouring of emotion from old men in the crowd.
Thankfully separated from Sometimes, Laid prompts a mass stage invasion and is as mental as ever, you can’t see most of the band for people on stage. It’s followed by Say Something and Ring The Bells and now the seats are a hindrance as everyone wants to dance. Even Larry, who seems to have forgotten his back problems temporarily. To close the set Tim says they plan to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but that is doing Stutter a massive massive injustice. It’s not got the pop immediacy of some of the hits that precede it, but it is James all over. It’s almost as old as the band itself and it has aged equally as well.
The band come back and strike up into Sound once technical problems with Mark’s PC are resolved (which gives Tim another chance to air the Mac / PC debate). Again, it twists and turns in new ways and ends up with Andy in the crowd and Tim on the floor. Sometimes closes the set with a singalong of the chorus, unprompted, which is when it works its best.
So, in summary, it’s a stunning opening to the tour. The fears about a seated venue are generally unfounded unless you’re unfortunate enough to be sat near people who have little interest in the gig, which seemed to be very few. The band are on their best form since the reformation, probably driven by the rapport and intensity of the US tour where they flipped sets around and threw songs in they hadn’t played for years. Relationships seem strong within the band, they have a lighting man who understands the music and a front of house who is getting the sound spot on. Tim’s voice is the strongest I can remember it, both on record and live and there’s a gel that is holding them all together. Assuming Larry’s back holds out, this could be a very special tour.