Set 1 – Dream Thrum / Lookaway / Fairground / Say Something / Dust Motes / Hello / Riders / Just Like Fred Astaire / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Hey Ma / We’re Going To Miss You
Set 2 – English Beefcake / Hymn From A Village / The Lake / She’s A Star / Fire So Close / Alaskan Pipeline / Sometimes / Someone’s Got It In For Me / Medieval
Encore – Top Of The World / Space / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
VIP Soundcheck – Riders / Really Hard / Hello
After a well-deserved day off and chance to recover from the adrenalin-charged show in Glasgow, James return to Nottingham for the first time in a decade. They come on stage just after 8 and open as on previous nights with Dream Thrum. What’s immediately clear is that the sound tonight is going to be beautiful, crystal clear and the best on the tour so far. Lookaway is nailed to perfection too, from Larry’s plaintive acoustic strum opening the song, to Tim’s half-sung, half-spoken vocals and delicate strings from the orchestra. Then when the choir kick in, the song soars as the interplay between them and Tim develops to the song’s conclusion.
Fairground sees Tim mock conducting the orchestra and dancing with the violinist during his solo. At the end, he tells the crowd that it was lucky they didn’t know the song as they wouldn’t know where he messed up. There’s no sense of relief from the crowd just a ripple of applause of recognition at the string-laden slowed-down opening to Say Something. With the two girls from the choir at the front singing with Tim, it is a world away from the sometimes tired version that whips crowds into delight at regular shows.
At the end of the song, Tim inquires why a guy in the stalls downstairs had been escorted out. When the crowd tell him he was dancing, Tim and Larry aren’t happy and Tim goes down the stairs and into the foyer to bring the guy back into the venue. Larry gets Mark to start the intro to Dust Motes, which he says you can’t dance to, whilst Tim is busy bringing the dancer back into the arena to rapturous applause. Tim jokes that if anyone is going to get thrown out for dancing, it’ll be him. Unfortunately, the guy, who is clearly drunk, takes his moment in the limelight a bit too far and thinks he has Tim’s ear and wants to get on stage to dance. Apparently he gets thrown out again later.
All the drama prefaces a truly gorgeous Dust Motes, with Mark’s piano complementing Tim’s spinge-tingling vocals and some very subtle string accompaniment, until the second chorus where the choir provide a gorgeous lilting backing to Tim and then the drums and the male voices of the choirs lift the song up before it drops back down to its string and piano ending, seguing beautifully into Hello, with more Mark piano and Jim’s bass. Even before the orchestra come in and the choir add some delicious harmonies, the song is a world away from the comparatively suffocated version that ended up on Millionaires.
What is so special about this tour is the way the orchestration works – there are songs, like those two, where the song very obviously fits in with the remit and they are done with precision and care and raise the hairs on the neck, and then there’s the songs that need to be adapted to work with the orchestra and choir.
Riders is next and fits into the second group. Tim explains the song as about a dream where he had two paths to choose between – self-destruction and survival. The backing is quite menacing, with Andy making all sorts of strange noises putting his trumpet through an effects machine and builds, getting louder and wilder as Tim’s vocals get more frenetic until the song stops dead apart from some lovely reverb on Tim’s voice. It then comes back as an almost mantra-like chant by Tim, the choir and Larry. What it does as well is add a little more spice to the first set.
Just Like Fred Astaire is simply beautiful. Tim’s foray into the audience, tonight over the seats taking a camera off a guy half way back and singing to him, slightly detracts from the as close to perfect as you’ll get performance of the orchestra. The “come dance the water’s rising” ending is underpinned by some subtle “just like fred astaire” singing by the choir instead of the obvious joining in with Tim and blowing the roof off. The evening’s first comedy moment is supplied by Tim then being stuck in the middle of the seats and requiring a microphone relay team to get back on stage over the chairs.
Of Monsters And Heroes And Men fits into the first category of songs mentioned earlier, but it is all in the delivery. Tim looks on the edge of breaking down as he belts out the story with some dramatic male choir accompaniment. Andy’s trumpet call helps to build the musical drama to match as the song marches to its finish.
Hey Ma is a revelation. From Larry’s acoustic guitar that starts off sounding slightly battered and bruised, but right in with the mood of the song, through the choir raising the ante, to the harp-plucked build up to the last chorus which sees the rest of the band delaying and delaying the kick back in to the dramatic choir harmonies and brass over the crescendo that is the end of the song. I cast an eye to my left and the fine gentleman in the neighbouring seat is chair dancing, arm waving and singing along, just as I had been.
Tim says to the crowd that it’s tense. I think it’s one adjective of many that could be used. I’d go with dramatic, and We’re Going To Miss You continues in that vein. Strings, brass, drums, guitar and choir fight for position, but never get in each other’s way. Just to cap off the best first half of the tour so far, they get the walk off whilst the song is still going spot on tonight as well, the orchestra stopping playing and going first, leaving band, choir and crowd to finish it off.
The second half starts with just the orchestra on stage and Tim comes on wearing a long conductor’s coat and starts to mock conduct the orchestra through the William Tell Overture whilst dancing at the same time. When it stops, Tim calls for Jim and Larry, looking forlorn and the rest of the band come back out. Tim addresses the crowd, hoping that they are getting what’s going on, and that’s there no Sit Down and they’ll have to come again, joking that the songs were chosen, partly by picking songs they hadn’t played for a long time and partly by lottery.
English Beefcake works a lot better tonight than it did earlier in the tour, some delicious harmonies from the choir, underpinning the strings in the instrumental sections and a simply wonderful outro. Hymn From A Village sees Andy start it from one of the circle boxes, before the song ascends into an almost music-hall rendition of the song. From a spindly mid-80s indie hit to a celebratory romp of plucked strings, blasted out brass, choir and audience clapping. In just over three minutes, it encapsulates the whole magic of this adventure – everyone on stage out of their comfort zones, yet with the confidence in themselves as individuals and as a group to make it work spectacularly.
The Lake, in its fourth ever live outing, now feels like it’s been in the set forever. Eerie in parts, poignant and exquisitely played and sung, it’s an undeniable highlight of the set. Looking at the choir as they add delicate shade to Tim’s vocals, one of the girls is drumming with her hands along to Dave’s beat. Again, Tim looks to be on the edge, in the washing machine as he described it in the soundcheck.
She’s A Star sees most of the band leave the stage, with just Tim and Mark on piano accompanying a string-led reinvention of the song. The opening section pierces the atmosphere in the hall like a knife as the strings replicate the slide guitar, then change pace for the build into the chorus, where the choir again come into their own.
Fire So Close is introduced as a folk song from the era when they were pretending they weren’t a folk band and not being very good at it. Again, the power of the four boys from the choir and Tim on vocals, combined with Larry’s acoustic and David’s lead violin, make for a very thrilling combination that seems to both stay true to the original but also feels reinvented and reinvigorated. Larry and David’s duel seems in particular to be more dramatic by the night.
Alaskan Pipeline oozes and drips emotion from every note, from the orchestra’s extended opening to the song into Tim’s softly sung fragile vocals at the start, which get augmented by the girls in the choir as the song builds. It’s not a complex song, but it doesn’t need to be although the soprano from the choir at the end is so hauntingly and achingly beautiful that it is difficult not to collapse into an emotional heap.
Sometimes was always going to be an interesting one after Glasgow, and whilst it doesn’t quite reach the heights it did there, it’s still quite a cathartic experience, Tim making full use of the monitors to project himself, the choir lifting the song at points, Larry’s guitar in the middle section and the obligatory singalong which goes from choir to audience and back to choir. Tim encouraging the crowd to “help an old man out” and challenging them to be as loud as Glasgow. He aslo ends up dancing with Joe
Someone’s Got It In For Me makes a welcome return. It had always been a track that worked better live than it ever did on record, and with the addition of extra strings, harp and some beautiful brass, it’s more powerful and ferocious than ever.
Tim tells the crowd there’s one song left and is met with a flurry of requests, to which he responds that there’s no requests and the juggernaut isn’t going to be turned round. The main set ends with a beautifully chaotic Medieval, choir at the front of the stage, Mark and Saul on additional drums, and the audience joining the choir singing the “we are sound” as there’s both visual and aural chaos on stage.
The encore starts with another set of requests being thrown at Tim, including Jingle Bells, but they start with Jim’s spindly bass driving a eerie Top Of The World, which again contains a simply stunning Saul violin part and more harmonies from the choir which act as another instrument.
Space wasn’t an immediate thought when trying to pre-guess the setlist and has taken a couple of listens to fully appreciate. It’s clearly one close to Tim’s heart, as when he’s on his knees at the end singing “calling you to see through me”, it looks like he’s going through an emotional wringer.
Getting Away With It is a perfect set-closer. It is almost as if it was written for this occasion – you know when the orchestra is going to kick in, you don’t need to surprise anyone with any clever tricks with the song, simply add orchestra and go. The whole crowd are on their feet for the first time.
So, tonight was in my opinion the best show of the tour so far in terms of the performance and the sound was nailed down superbly, the loudness of Dave’s drums and quietness of the choir banished. The crowd reaction doesn’t match that of Glasgow, but that would be laying down a very heavy marker for any crowd to respond to.