As Far As I Can See / Wave Hello / Monkey God / Bless Them All / Consequences / Dance Of The Bad Angel / Gloria Descends / Hit Parade / Old Ways / Down To The Sea / Bone / Shatters / Monsters / All About Time / Fall In Love With Me / Buried Alive / The Point Of Darkness / What’s The World
review by oneofthethree
It’s another disappointing turnout for the gig in Sheffield tonight – frustrating in the sense that this is great music and there’s a connection being made between the band and the crowds that are there, but then there’s almost a real sense of back to basics, that this is a delicious secret that’s being shared by a few but which deserves a wider audience. James played gigs like this for years and it didn’t serve them in bad stead. The sad dynamic of the present music industry and the economic climate is that the big gigs, the “experiences” of Kylie, Lady Ga Ga, U2, Muse, will still sell and for silly prices and even old-stagers like James can trade on their reputation for being a great live band by still being a great live band and with new material that whilst not as singalong as the hits from the nineties still stands the acid quality test. Tim’s situation is different – he has a great record, a great band, but are people going to go out and spend £20 a ticket, plus drinks, food and transport, for something that’s not as familiar to them, that isn’t pumped via Hit FM into their houses, when they’re struggling with rising living costs, fear for their jobs and general uncertainty? The answer would seem to be no. You can’t reduce ticket prices too far, because these tours, even operating on basics, still cost money to put together and there’s little left to actually promote the gigs other than word of mouth and the internet. There’s no lavish SJM glossy video, front page on Seetickets website, newspaper adverts to promote Tim in the way James had for their last tour.
In a way, and it won’t console Tim’s bank manager, this has a positive impact at the shows in the way the audience react to the songs. Most of the people at the shows will have sought out details, had to make an effort to get there past clicking on a link on a mailing list. Looking at the people singing along, there’s a large proportion of them, Fall In Love With Me is respected because people get it and know they need to shut up. Double or triple the audience size and you’d get heckling, unrest that there’s one James song tonight, right at the end and it’s a 28 year old single on Factory. On the way out, two guys were talking, one a James fan who’d brought his mate along, and was apologising for the gig being “shit” as there were no James songs and his mate, who’d never seen James and clutching a special edition, cutting him down by telling him something along the lines that he thought he liked music and how could he not have enjoyed that show.
Anyway I digress. The Leadmill has an odd sound set up, the main speakers in the ceiling but then some huge bass speakers either side of the stage that seriously boom out. Stand near them and you can feel the floor vibrate for most of the show. It does have a nice high stage though which gives everyone a great view and allows Chris to work his magic with the simple, but very cleverly executed light show.
The gig starts with Tim coming through the audience with the rest of the band singing As Far As I Can See. There’s a comedy moment when a guy in a pink shirt is given the mic by Tim to whistle and can’t manage to get anything out. Everyone laughs. Tim smiles and gives him another go and he cracks it this time which gets him a cheer from the crowd. They then work their way to the stage, Tim stopping to sing to and with other people in the crowd. At the end of the song Tim tells a story of how Patti Smith once chastised an audience at a far from sold out gig for not bringing their friends and says we would consider ourselves ticked off.
Wave Hello and Monkey God start to rock out, the latter having a change of lyrics in one of the verses which works really well. Tim tells a story about the royal wedding and his visit to his mum in the old folks home as some technical stuff is being sorted out. Bless Them All starts soft and slow before exploding into a chorus and an ending with the audience being invited to sing-along into the microphone as the band add harmonies to Tim. Consequences is dark and brooding and gets a great response from the audience.
Another comical moment ensues at the start of Dance Of The Bad Angel when Tim sings the first line and waits for quiet and then realises the noise is the venue air-conditioning, so carries on. It’s the one song that suffers most from the slightly overpowering bass. No such worries with Gloria Descends, which ends with some absolutely beautiful vocals with Tim, Lee and Neil singing “descends descends” in turn.
As in Wrexham, the band introduce another Booth and the Bad Angel song that they’ve learnt on the tour. Tonight it’s Hit Parade, which was played about seven times in the soundcheck earlier as they were trying to get it right. It’s punchy and upbeat and leads the way into Old Ways, which is again a highlight of the set, Dan jumping on his stool, Neil rocking out and his hair flying everywhere and Tim pointing and smiling at an enthusiastic dancer in the crowd. It also has a beautiful breakdown section in the middle with Dan’s keys.
After Down To The Sea, Tim asks if anyone has any questions as no-one had at the VIP soundcheck – I’m not sure however he was expecting the favourite dinosaur question. I didn’t catch his answer if anyone was wondering, although Lee suggests Larry out of James as his answer.
Bone and Shatters have become staples in the latter part of the set, and with good reasons. Bone is long and languid and showcases the skills of the band, whilst Shatters has an anthemic quality, particularly in the live environment.
Monsters again proves to be a highlight, dark, weird and shouty, Tim having earlier said he’d developed from what Brian Eno had called a “crooner” into being able to be a “shouter” as well. All About Time, introduced as about addictive culture, is as wild as ever – it’s surprising Tim can sing the lyrics at the speed he does and get them all right. No notes needed. The band take over and jam the song to its end with Tim using the large stage to lose himself in dance.
Fall In Love With Me starts the encore and is beautifully observed by all, except the air-conditioning. There’s some sound issues during Buried Alive, where it cuts out a bit before there’s a quick fix mid-song. The Point Of Darkness ends with five of the band, not Saul for some reason, stood together singing accapella and then the audience join in. It’s a surprise success live and is a great set-closer.
They do however then respond to calls to come back for a second time and we’re treated to a very short run through What’s The World. It’s funny that until it’s played, I hadn’t realised there wasn’t a James track in the set. It didn’t matter and whilst both Suffering and Falling Down have sounded great and been given a new life by how they’ve been played.
It just still feels wrong that there weren’t more people there to see and experience this.