Waltzing Along / Sound / Ring The Bells / Seven / Dream Thrum / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Dust Motes / Space / Interrogation / Five-O / Just Like Fred Astaire / Medieval / Moving On / Whiteboy / Sit Down / Born Of Frustration / Come Home / We’re Going To Miss You / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Laid
Echo And The Bunnymen
review by Tim Allan
Sheffield, 16th April 2013 – a gig that is James in a nut shell. A ballsy set list, more evidence of that tireless desire to keep evolving and challenging themselves, and proof once again of their unfailing ability to shoot themselves in the foot.
They open up with a blistering salvo of Waltzing Along, Sound, Ring the Bells and Seven. Structurally each remains pretty true to its studio version (Sound being the exception), but as with so many James songs, in the live arena they become completely different beasts – more energetic and forceful. Larry has clearly got a lot to do with that and not for the first time I’m struck by just how much he has changed and developed his contribution to these songs over the years. As a long-time wannabe guitarist, it’s intriguing to watch him go about his work.
It’s a euphoric way to kick off, but at the same time I can’t help thinking “there are two hours to fill here……this is going to dip, surely”. And I’m right. Dream Thrum is just too stark a contrast to work and the chatter levels rise audibly. It’s followed by Of Monsters and Heroes and Men – easily one of my top 10 James songs – although somehow I’m disappointed when the choir isn’t there to add the layered vocals that made it so spine-tingling on the orchestra tour. Dust Motes and Space come next and both are done excellently, although being honest neither has ever been a favourite. I also can’t help noticing the effect that four lesser known songs in a row has had on the atmosphere. It’s pretty flat and for the first time in 23 years I find myself seriously questioning their judgement.
Next up is Interrogation, a new one, which from memory has an unconventional structure and musically evokes memories of their more spiky stuff from the mid 80s. Work in progress for sure but encouraging nonetheless. Five-O follows and has been given a new dimension with the violin intro which works really well. It builds and builds and is yet another example of how what you hear on record with James is very rarely on a par with what you are treated to in the live environment.
But by now we’re at six songs with no single and there’s no question that it’s showing in the crowd. For large sections around me it’s become a night out to have a natter with friends whilst some music plays in the background. Fred Astaire is therefore welcomed like an old friend (although personally I would have preferred the stripped back version as opposed to the full band one), but the momentum is halted again by Medieval – ironic given its rhythmic nature – after which is new song Moving On, which I like, but perhaps not as much as some of the forum/Twitter chatter suggests I should. It sounds, dare I say it, a bit like a b-side at this stage, but I’ve learnt not to be too judgemental with this band when it comes to new material, so let’s give it time.
Whiteboy is evidently not recognised by most of the crowd, although for me will always be welcome in any James set. It also marks the end of the ‘difficult’ part of the set and from here on in it’s singles all the way. Six of them in fact, and they’re all celebratory and uplifting. The only blemish is the attempt to orchestrate the audience participation in Sit Down (no, no, no!) but that aside it’s a fitting crescendo.
So in summary, let me just reiterate that I adore this band because of the risks they take, because they’re not a greatest hits machine, because they play album tracks, because they play unfinished new songs and because they do the unexpected. But from looking around the crowd, listening to the unprecedented chatter levels (in my experience at least) and ear-wigging a few punters on the way out, I can’t help thinking that whilst they may have done all the right things tonight, they almost certainly did them in the wrong order.