Born Of Frustration / Waltzing Along / Seven / Waterfall / Ring The Bells / Medieval / Johnny Yen / Out To Get You / Oh My Heart / Sound / Just Like Fred Astaire / Dust Motes / Jam J / Come Home / Sometimes / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Laid
It’s James’ last gig of the summer, and, if the reviews are to be believed, they’ve got to go some to match their headlining performance at Kendal last weekend. The Stockton Weekender is a great little festival, nestled partly on a main road, partly on a grass area, next to the Tees in the town centre. It has the rather clever idea of having two stages next to each other with bands alternating. The rest of the line up is quite interesting, particularly local heroes Cattle and Cane and soon-to-be-huge Jake Bugg.
James take to the stage around 8.20 and it’s clear that they mean business from the start. Despite Tim’s tease about playing a mellow set, they start with a trio of singles Born Of Frustration, Waltzing Along and Seven that the Tuborg-enhanced crowd lap-up. Even Waltzing Along, not my favourite James song by any stretch, feels right, but that’s probably due to how much Tuborg I’d been enhanced by. The sound where we’re stood is a million miles away from last week’s poor show at Margate and you feel the band want to end their 2012 gig run on a bang.
It’s not just the singles that steal the show though. Ring The Bells is flanked by Waterfall at the front and Medieval at the back, two songs with over 20 years between them, but which feel as essential a part of James’ canon of work as the singles. And they sound magnificent too, Andy’s opening trumpet salvo on Waterfall being sung later in the evening along Stockton High Street. Noone else joined in, but it’ll catch on one day. Johnny Yen gets its usual rapturous response and Tim namechecks Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin.
Out To Get You calms the mood down slightly, although Tim reprimanding security does little to alleviate some of the more boisterous areas of the moshpit. It’s followed by another song off Hey Ma, Oh My Heart, which sees thousands of people arms raised in unison. That’s James beauty – songs about loneliness and paranoia, songs about needing to have your heart broken for it to be opened to something better , songs sung by a man who doesn’t look or live like his audience all brought together by six other guys in a way that engenders celebration. There’s not a song tonight that doesn’t work.
Sound is as dark and broody as ever, Tim’s calling on both his mother and father’s spirits, whilst the cacophony of sound goes on around him. It’s brought back down by a truly gorgeous acoustic Just Like Fred Astaire, which pierces through the dark, heavy atmosphere. Dust Motes, dedicated to the Daisy Chain group, is equally as beautiful, and it’s surreal to hear hundreds of people singing “if you die” full pelt as the song takes off.
Demonstrating yet another side, Jam J starts with Larry vocally encouraging Jim to let loose. People not familiar with it probably don’t know what to make of the stuttering stop-start bassline that dominates the song.
It’s more familiar territory to close the evening. Come Home is as sprawling, rampant and all over the place as it’s ever been. Sometimes has Tim on the barrier and everyone singing along to the chorus, and it feels like you can see his soul as he takes in the scene in front of him. Getting Away With It is now a regular set ender and fits the role perfectly.
There’s no encore ritual as time’s running short, but Tim jokingly says that the crowd need to pretend they’ve gone off, applaud whilst the band come back on modestly and very English. He then offers the crowd a choice of the last song, between Sit Down and Laid. The choice of latter prompts Tim to tell us that “he likes us motherfuckers” and that it’s a very cool choice for an English audience. Laid is as utterly bonkers as ever, squeezing the last ounces of energy out of the crowd. And then it’s over.
It’s telling tonight that every single album, except The Night Before, has at least one track aired from it. Whether that’s conscious or not, it stakes James claim, as we reach 30 years since that spindly, unique three-track debut on Factory, to be lauded by the music industry and press for their longevity and brilliance in the same way many lesser bands are fawned over. Obviously, it won’t happen, but with a new album hopefully on the way, and despite the great shows of the last few months they need a new album, the future still looks bright for James.