Set 1 – Dust Motes / Hello / Alaskan Pipeline / The Shining / Someone’s Got It In For Me / English Beefcake / Just Like Fred Astaire / Hymn From A Village / We’re Going To Miss You / Hey Ma
Set 2 – She’s A Star / Lookaway / Space / Riders / The Lake / Fire So Close / Say Something / Tomorrow / Medieval / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
Encore – Top Of The World / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck – Tomorrow / The Shining / Sometimes
Now, Liverpool that was more like it – what a contrast to the previous night’s show in terms of atmosphere and crowd reaction. From the moment the band first came out, the cheers welcoming the band suggested this might be one of the special evenings that happen when James come to Liverpool. With tonight’s gig, I’ve seen them 19 times in this city, and this one ranks up there with the very best of them.
In partial response to the muted atmosphere the previous night, the setlist has also undergone a revamp. There’s not many changes in the line-up of songs, but the order in which they’re played helps change the response of the crowd. The fact it’s a Saturday night probably helps too as there may be more alcohol fuelling the singalongs and the cheering. The band are also clearly more invigorated tonight than they were on Friday, so it’s a potent mix waiting to explode.
Tim does tell the crowd that they’re going to start off slowly and see what happens. Dust Motes and Hello open the set and there’s an eerie hush across the crowd as Mark’s piano fires the opening bars across the audience. Tim is on great form vocally and Shabby on the sound-desk does a fantastic job in adding some gorgeous reverb onto Tim’s voice. Hello is the perfect accompaniment to it as well, soothing the crowd with its fragile piano and some beautiful strings.
Keeping the pace down and allowing the quality and intricacy of the musicianship to show through, Alaskan Pipeline follows with its extended opening and gorgeous closing soprano section. It’s very interesting to note that the Millionaires and Pleased To Meet You songs that haven’t been much part of the James sets since the reformation have lent themselves to reinterpretation by Joe. The Shining, which gets its first airing of the tour tonight is another example of this – the harp adds dramatic effect to the song and the choir take the song to a new level by accompanying Tim in the chorus.
At the end of an impassioned Someone’s Got It In For Me, someone in the crowd shouts for Say Something, and Saul puts him down with the retort that the song had said it all. Saul is clearly enjoying playing the Millionaires and Pleased To Meet You songs he had such a central role in and finished the song almost on his knees, as Tim continued to dance over the orchestra’s outro. English Beefcake works brilliantly now and it seems to have benefitted from a few performances for everyone to feel comfortable with it. Cruicially for the band, the response was much louder and pronounced than the previous night and it seemed to reflect back on stage and drive the band on, because there was much more energy on stage as well.
Just Like Fred Astaire has the crowd on their feet, even before Tim jumps off the stage and up the aisle. He stops to dance with a guy half way back, has a girl run down to plant a kiss on his cheek. A lot of the crowd stay on their feet for Andy’s opening trumpet call from one of the boxes before the reinvented Hymn From A Village, with its plucked strings replacing Jim’s bass and Tim finishing the song stage centre spinning around.
There’s a false start on We’re Going To Miss You, but once the song gets going, the upper tier starts waving their arms en masse and Tim joins in, as does part of the lower tier. It’s a new reaction to the song, which maintains all its dark, brooding menace that the recorded version has, but again with a new orchestra-led arrangement, the choir contributing to and lifting the chorus.
Tim then tells the story he tried to tell last night about Liverpool crowds and them being the first to Sit Down to it then proceeds to tell them it won’t be played as they think people have heard it too many times before. The logic isn’t difficult to argue with, but you’d have to think the orchestration of it could be something quite spectacular. Instead of Sit Down, the first half of the show is concluded by Hey Ma, which Tim dedicates to George Bush and Tony Blair. It still feels surreal four years on from its unveiling to have the crowd singing along to the chorus. It finishes with an extended harp section before the chorus crashes back in, both Tim and Larry facing the harpist as she plucked slightly quicker, building the tension.
After the interval, Tim comes back out on stage and looks around and tell us how embarrassing it is as the band were behind him before. He picks up the baton and plays with the orchestra using some batons before leading them into the William Tell Overture. The crowd roar with laughter as Tim starts to dance wildly.
Joe and Mark come out and the second half of the set starts with She’s A Star, which immediately has the crowd back up for it. Tim’s voice sounds the best it has on the tour so far and the arrangement works perfectly, different to the original, but retaining the qualities that made it such a great comeback single in 1997. Lookaway sounds like the hit single that never was – the choir lifting the song to new heights as they join in with Tim on the refrain at the end. Despite not being a well-known song, Space gets a great reception and Tim’s dancing and the emotion he puts into the end section of the song means it gets an amazing response.
Riders, like the other two Strip-Mine songs dating from James “folky” period, works brilliantly in this setting, rising to the drama of the dead stop, which is held for several seconds, before the choir and Tim take the song to its conclusion with singing that becomes more intense as the song continues.
The Lake is absolutely absolutely stunning. Poignant, on the edge, augmented by strings and then brass, it makes the fact it’s been overlooked for so long feel almost criminal. Fire So Close gets introduced as one of the first songs they’ve ever written it, but it sounds as fresh as their latest material – the combination of guitar and violin and putting Tim together with four boys from the choir is a stroke of genius. Tim holds the long note in the song for what feels like an eternity before the violin / guitar duel, which ends with the violin playing over the end when the boys kick back in with the chorus. The crowd rise to applaud where they sat down and clapped the previous night – the difference between the two shows is a chasm at this point.
Say Something starts with two girls from the choir coming to the front to accompany Tim, who jokes that his precondition for doing this tour was to be surrounded by attractive females. Joe laughs, as does the crowd, who have mainly stayed standing and sing back every word.
Tomorrow gets its first play of the tour, Joe having stayed up all night working on the arrangements according to Tim. It works brilliantly, fast and frenetic strings at the start, Saul and Larry’s guitar making sure it maintains the pace and power of the original and the crowd going wild, drowning out the choir.
Medieval is almost curtailed by a stage invasion. Whilst the security clamped down on heinous crimes such as standing six inches into the aisle, doing that illegal dancing thing, using a flash on a camera and daring to video a few minutes of the show for posterity, they allow a guy brandishing a 2010 tour fan VIP laminate to jump up on stage to try and join in with an instrument from his pocket. He’s quickly escorted off stage, but it throws Tim and Saul looks furious. The choir take control and sing the refrain beautifully. The main set then ends with Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) and the song soars as the crowd singalong, Tim prowls the stage, making full use of the monitors. As the song finishes, the reaction from the crowd looks to stun everyone on stage.
For the encore, Tim appears at the front of the balcony and sings Top Of The World from there, but making sure that he points out Saul for his violin solo, which again takes centre stage of the song. The song goes into a beautiful Of Monsters And Heroes And Men, which veers from subtle to sinister and back again.
Sometimes seems to have taken on a new life on this tour. With the set shorn of the other perennial favourites, it’s the only one of the real big hitters left in the set. It would take someone without a soul not to get drawn into the singalong at the end, which Tim turns into a choir versus audience competition. The orchestra take to their feet as they kick back in to bring the song to its close. Everyone is now on their feet saluting the band, the orchestra and the choir.
Tonight is a world away from Friday’s gig. The sense of anticipation in the crowd even before the show promised it would be a world apart from the previous night, the changes to the setlist worked brilliantly in building and holding the atmosphere even though only 3 songs changed from night to night and the performance was at a similar level, and there was much more interaction between band and crowd than the previous night, Tim, in particular, being a lot more talkative between songs.
In summary, it was a great gig to go down in the annals of superb Liverpool shows of the past. Tim’s spot on when he talks about the reaction the band get in the city and tonight proved that the rather subdued atmosphere of the previous night was a one-off.
Off to the world’s greatest city for two nights, starting Monday.