Lost A Friend / Seven / Come Home / Ring The Bells / Dust Motes / Rabbit Hole / Tell Her I Said So / It’s Hot / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Tomorrow / Jam J / PS / Out To Get You / I Wanna Go Home / Runaground / Stutter / Sound / Laid / Sit Down / Sometimes / Top Of The World
VIP Soundcheck : Lost A Friend / Lookaway / Five-O / Just Like Fred Astaire
Leeds gigs haven’t always been my favourite – there’s always been an element of the unwelcoming in the environment, driven mainly by the monotone “we are leeds” chants of the terraces, but not tonight. There’s a buzz of anticipation as Frazer King finish their short but excellent support slot – “a sort of good Twang” someone near me was overheard telling their friend.
Rather than dive straight into the slow new songs, the set opens with four faster songs – Lost A Friend continuing its welcome resurrection into the set, before a trio of singles Seven, Come Home and Ring The Bells. The real beauty of the recent James set lists is that they’ve rediscovered that you don’t have to play all the hits every night to please people, so Seven and Come Home come in tonight and Born Of Frustration and Say Something don’t, and everyone still leaves happy. It leaves space for the new, the old, the unusual and then the usual cavalry at the end of the set, and it works perfectly, something for absolutely everyone except the soulless and most myopic of fans. Seven has Tim down on the barrier early in the set, Come Home displays the ragged edges that make it the song that it is, whilst Ring The Bells, surprisingly, feels the more tired of the three – maybe time for one of those workovers that James excel in with the bigger more regular hits. Not that it’s bad or anything, just familiar.
They then go into four songs from the mini albums this year. The sound issues Dust Motes had in Portugal seem to have been resolved and it now sounds beautiful as it tiptoes along until bursting into life and light and then ending with Tim putting a stunning quivering effect onto his voice. It melts into Rabbit Hole, which, despite its frailty is beautiful, there’s elements of Wild Beasts in the outro section, but it also shows Tim’s voice at its most dreamy and delicate and the musical backing to it meets it perfectly.
Tim explains that the new songs are being played together to get them out of the way for those not familiar with them which is doing them a massive injustice. They are as much a part of the essence of James as the more well-known about them. This reformation was about rekindling the James spirit – new material, reinterpretation of the past, challenging themselves and the crowds – and the new songs have a rightful place in this journey. He then introduces Tell Her I Said So as a song cowritten by his mum and it incites hand-clapping to the beat and a singalong at the end, before Tim explains he sang it to his mum during the day when he visited her and she quipped that “it wasn’t as catchy as Sit Down”. A hard task-master is Mrs Booth. It’s Hot seems to grow new wings and life every night and is turning into a beast of a song.
Back to a couple of hits as Getting Away With It generates a singalong as Tomorrow widens the moshpit out further, ending with a very curious new outro. Jam J doesn’t quite hit the heights of previous nights, the mix doesn’t quite work and the bass drowns the rest of the band a little. The lights are simply stunning though, forming an integral part of the whole experience. PS almost has Larry’s slide guitar and Saul’s violin duelling for position.
Then the highlight. Tim countered, or agreed, I can’t work out which, with my assessment that Out To Get You feels like it could sometimes be rested from the set, except that it explodes at the end into something new or wonderful every night. Tonight, Saul Davies, not the most willing violinist in the world, simply makes the whole place his own with an incredible solo that words cannot do justice to. You just need to look at Tim, Larry and Jim watching him, as engrossed by it as the rest of us. It seems like the solo is never going to end, and to be honest, we could have watched him all night. Never has the song sounded more vibrant, more alive, more and more superlatives.
I Wanna Go Home takes up the challenge of following it, one of those James songs with a new life in the live environment, a showcase for what the seven can do given a big soundsystem and the freedom to improvise. Runaground is brought back and fits the mood wonderfully, before Stutter is pulled forward from the end of the set, but loses nothing. Saul, driven by adrenalin, hammers the hell of the drums and then Larry’s guitar and then Larry’s hand.
Sound and Laid close the main set. The former ends with Andy on the front of the balcony, transfixing the crowd whilst the rest of the band plough new improvised furrows on stage. Laid, again mercifully separated from Sometimes, is wild, Tim ending up almost in the crowd again.
The atmosphere is red-hot as they come back out for the encore so the band sit down at the front of the stage and play a beautiful yearning almost acoustic version of Sit Down, which has the 2000 crowd singing back every word. It’s like a communion, as if the band has expanded several hundred fold just for the one song. Sometimes, despite the crowd picking up the refrain and chanting it back to the band, can’t quite compete with it.
There’s still a bit of time before curfew so they come back out, and in awkward typical James fashion, eschew playing a hit, for the eerie haunting wonder of Top Of The World, Tim even asking that people don’t clap along. Rather than killing the atmosphere, it feels like the slow comedown, the big arms around the crowd hug to soothe them on the way home.
Best gig of the tour so far.