Lose Control / Waltzing Along / How Was It For You / Sound / Interrogation / Five-O / Say Something / Sit Down / Top Of The World / English Beefcake / She’s A Star / Moving On / We’re Going To Miss You / Born Of Frustration / Come Home / Sometimes / Johnny Yen / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Laid
Echo And The Bunnymen
The penultimate show of the tour and you have to wonder how James will surprise us tonight. After eight hot shows on the run, it’s a challenge to keep it fresh and exciting, both for band and audience, but as you know James are no ordinary band.
They start with a trumpet and guitar led version of Lose Control, making its first appearance of the tour proper. Stripped back and shorn of its keyboard underpinnings, it’s the perfect start, the crowd singing along to a dark tale of love and despair. Waltzing Along is as vibrant and fresh as it’s ever sounded before, the rockier treatment lifting it out of that “James by numbers” accusation that you could possibly level at some of those 97/8 singles. How Was It For You starts with that calling card riff that announced James to the world of the pop charts and finishes with Tim bellyflopping onto the audience after singing most of the song on the barrier. Birmingham has surrendered faster than their football teams on a Saturday afternoon.
Sound is dark, moody, brooding and threatening. Tim prowls the stage like a demented banshee, challenging his bandmates to do something out of character. Interrogation is showing signs of developing into something that can have that impact on the set, Tim going into a trance-like dance half way through as the instruments drop before the end section which you could imagine being put to a dubstep background and still making perfect sense. There’s not enough superlatives to describe just how good that violin then violin/trumpet opening to Five-O is for a ten-date tour, nor for Larry’s guitar work in the main body of the song.
Say Something is another song that makes its first appearance of the tour proper and it’s the one disappointment. It’s a great singalong single, but either it doesn’t have the structure that allows them to do something too different with it or it’s suffered from familiarity or overplay. The crowd love it, but it feels like it needs to be rested or reborn.
Sit Down is as wild and crazy as it’s been every night. The crowd at one point are singing two different parts of the song, which is quite bizarre but actually sums up everything this tour is about – never the same, always changing, never predictable. Top Of The World, thrown in mid-set is a case in point. After the excitement of Sit Down, there’s a lot of chatter as the song starts, but by the time Saul picks up his violin and plays the most incredible solo, noone’s talking. Tim stops them going into the next song to tell the audience that this is why he loves the band so much, not knowing who’s going to improvise what next and that anyone can take control of a song and take the others with them. This was the 200th time I’ve seen them and he summarised exactly what makes this band so great in a couple of sentences.
English Beefcake and She’s A Star are challenging songs for Tim’s voice, which is slightly croaky after two weeks of two hours a night, but you don’t notice him missing any of the high notes of each of the songs. Beefcake, like Five-O before it, demolishes the myth that James are a band with one massive hit single and a back-up canon of not quite so singalong singles and not a lot else. They can afford to leave songs like Ring The Bells and Tomorrow out of the set and they not be missed by all those, except the idiot who the other night determined the gig was worth only two stars because they didn’t play his favourite song.
Moving On is the ultimate proof that James are not a heritage band, as is the current vogue phrase, they’re making exciting new music that stands comparison with the whole of their back catalogue. You know in another world it’d be a massive hit, in the current environment it’ll hopefully reawaken people to James in a way the radio singles off Hey Ma and the mini albums, great as they are, never quite managed.
The end section sees James get their big guns out. We’re Going To Miss You is dedicated to a gentleman in the audience who wrote to Tim about how the song was a spell against his cancer. Born Of Frustration turns the heat up in the venue even further as total strangers unite in yodelling the opening section. Come Home is as wild as ever, lurching, prancing from section to section. Sometimes seals the deal, but as it stops there’s no singalong, there’s no attempt by the band to start one, but as they leave the stage the crowd do start to sing the refrain back and continue to do so whilst the band do what they do backstage and when they come back on, they pick up where they left and improvise an end section. What had become so predictable with that song since 2008 became something different, and again different from what had happened elsewhere on the tour.
As Johnny Yen starts up, the young couple that had pushed their through to stand next to me (obviously there was a gap, they didn’t push just to stand next to me) sing along to every word of a song that was written before both of them were born and that noone would ever have told them was cool. I’d noted before Getting Away With It has been struggled to have that same vibrant effect as it usually has and tonight it’s slightly flatter too. This isn’t a criticism of the song though, just how much everything around it has been raised. Laid to finish proves this, there’s the first two verses played slowly with Larry’s acoustic leading, the audience singing back every word before all hell is let loose and we get the whole song at breakneck speed.
It’s hard to compare these gigs to each other, but this was up there with Newcastle as my favourite of the tour so far. Onto Manchester tonight and the hometown gigs are always a conundrum given the size of the venue and the expectations of that number of people.