Dust Motes / Dream Thrum / PS / Tell Her I Said So / It’s Hot / Born Of Frustration / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Johnny Yen / Rabbit Hole / Bubbles / Bring A Gun / Jam J / Don’t Wait That Long / Out To Get You / Sit Down / Ring The Bells / Laid / Stutter / I Wanna Go Home / Sound / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck : Bubbles / Bring A Gun / Lookaway / Don’t Wait That Long
The soundcheck starts, as yesterday, without Larry, who is still very clearly suffering from a slipped disc and the associated treatments he’s had for it. The remaining six play Bubbles first before playing Bring A Gun for the first time in the UK for almost twenty years. Following a Q+A session talking about the band’s favourite songs, pasta carbonara and again places James haven’t played for years, Tim picks up an acoustic guitar and the band play Lookaway. There’s a lot of good humoured ribbing when Tim struggles to take the guitar off at the end of the song. They finish with some more questions and Don’t Wait That Long from Seven.
There’s much more of an expectant atmosphere in the all-standing sold-out Academy than last night at Hammersmith. Tim explains to the crowd the reason for Larry being seated and tries to get us to encourage him to stay seated. The band take the brave move of starting with a series of slower numbers as the previous night. Whilst musically it works, Tim himself notes at the end of PS that there’s a lot of talking going on in the crowd. This is more a Friday night “hits out for the lads” crowd than the previous night and you sense a bit of impatience for the big singalong anthems.
Dust Motes and PS sound beautiful, but I’m still not convinced by Dream Thrum in the set. It’s not my favourite song and whilst it works in the context of where it is on the Laid album, I don’t think it quite works in the live gig. Tell Her I Said So and It’s Hot, despite being unfamiliar to many in the crowd, get them moving a little bit more, but it’s when Born Of Frustration kicks in and Tim jumps on the barrier and then ends up in the crowd at the side that the place really explodes into life. Larry at this point is behaving himself and staying seated, with Tim and Andy going up and playing or singing to him at various points of the set.
Johnny Yen gets loud applause and has benefited from being out of the set for a while as it now sounds fresh. Taking a risk again, the set is slowed down for Rabbit Hole and Bubbles, the latter exploding into a wall of sound that has everyone dancing. Bring A Gun is dedicated to the students and sounds as strident a protest song now as it was in the days of James Anderton and the GMP. Jam J is wild, Jim’s lead bass line echoing through the hall as the strobes kick in, Tim dances like a man possessed and the crowd either dancing or standing in awe at what they’re experiencing.
Don’t Wait That Long brings the mood back down slightly as the throbbing bassline kicks in and then Larry, still in obvious pain despite the numbing effects of the epidural and wine plays a beautiful solo, before Out To Get You, as ever, brings the side out of big “hard” men who sing along to every word.
Sit Down is next and the band make their way to the front of the stage and sit down on the monitors. There’s been a lot written about this song, but stripped down, played like this, it feels like James have changed into a 5.007 piece, rather than a 7 piece. Take away the radio play, the constant rotations on Hits FM, it being probably the only James song your colleagues know (until they hear the others of course) and it is simply possibly the greatest piece of communion music and lyrics ever written – if this version doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, you probably don’t have any.
From then on it, it’s chaos. Ring The Bells and Laid have the crowd jumping, swaying, dancing as one. A bare-chested guy is invited on stage by Tim for a dance-off during Laid. The piece de resistance is Stutter, unreleased in studio format, released live as a b-side and on an album that fetches £100 on cd and one of the first songs they ever wrote. It is of course now indistinguishable from the early demos, but it’s James at their rawest, most powerful.
The encore starts with I Wanna Go Home and it doesn’t feel out of place amongst the hits around it. There’s a sea of hands clapping along until the break point in the song when everyone starts dancing again. Sound is as wild and wonderful as ever, Andy ending up in the crowd in the middle of the stalls and Larry is now up on his feet, disobeying doctor’s orders. Sometimes finishes the night and ends up with Tim being carried horizontally face down over the front rows as the rest of the crowd sing along the refrain.
And that was it. A great gig, but it would be interesting to see how the more casual James fans viewed it. The start required a lot of patience for those less familiar with the non-hits in the back catalogue and new material and you sense Tim felt that with his comment about the talking. It’s a brave move to take on a crowd with so many unexpected songs they might not know, but that’s far more of a gig experience than simply rechurning Waltzing Along or Destiny Calling, which we’ve all heard a million times before. It’s a real shame Larry’s injury is restricting him physically because of the visual impact he has roaming the stage. As good as the two London shows have been, I have the feeling that somewhere on this tour, the balance is going to get hit just right and they are going to produce a set and a show that shatters all expectations, a mix of old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, loud and quiet.