Dream Thrum / Walk Like You / Move Down South / Catapult / To My Surprise / Alvin / Curse Curse / Come Home / Sometimes / The Shining / Girl At The End Of The World / She’s A Star / Just Like Fred Astaire / Surfer’s Song / Tomorrow / Sound / Attention / Bitch / Moving On / Nothing But Love / Say Something
The Slow Readers Club
As James’ Girl At The End Of The World tour enters its third and final week, the band made a long-awaited return to Hull and the resplendent surroundings of City Hall after a nearly quarter of a century absence. The Slow Readers Club supported.
It’s great to have The Slow Readers Club back on the tour after they weren’t on the bill at Leeds. Whilst Jack Savoretti might have sold a million copies of his last album, they are the ones that have won the hearts and minds of James fans on this tour like no support band I can recall since the eighties when the likes of Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays and New Fast Automatic Daffodils were in tow.
It doesn’t take much listening to them to realise why that is. Their ten-song set of powerful electronic anthems hits the mark each and every time with a diversity and range that’s impressive for a signed band, let alone an unsigned one. With three of the standout tracks from their debut self-titled album (Sirens, One More Minute and Feet On Fire) being given extra life and fire with this line-up and seven from last year’s Album Of The Year Cavalcade, there isn’t a weak spot in the forty-minute set.
The five singles from that album are all present and correct as well as the more contemplative but no less impactful Days Like This Will Break Your Heart and the bold album and set closer Know The Day Will Come. The sound in City Hall is almost perfect so every little nuance in the music can be heard clearly – the intricate patterns that the effervescent Jim Ryan weaves on his bass and Kurtis Starkie on his guitar and the clarity and dexterity of David Whitworth’s drums.
It’s a revelation how much they’ve blossomed in these rarefied surroundings. Aaron’s stage presence has developed in two short weeks to the point that we wonder how he’ll manage when the stages get smaller again at their headline shows – although the recently announced November Ritz show might mean it’s not a problem he might have to face. At one point he tells us they’re having the “best time of our lives” on the tour and it shows. They’re also winning over a new army of fans as the prolonged applause when he tells us they’re just an unsigned band from Manchester and also at their end of their set testifies.
The Slow Readers Club played Start Again, Sirens, One More Minute, Days Like This Will Break Your Heart, Don’t Mind, Feet On Fire, I Saw A Ghost, Forever In Your Debt, Plant The Seed and Know The Day Will Come
A Monday night in Hull City Hall is quite a different experience for both band and audience than arenas in Manchester and Leeds at the weekend. Firstly, it’s far more sedate, those with alcohol or other substances in them stand out more (although a girl constantly shouting “Get your fucking knob out” to Tim would probably stand out anywhere) and there isn’t the outpouring of pent-up energy and emotion at the end of a working week that the release valve of the big shows gives the crowd.
It’s with that in mind that Tim tells us they’re going to start slow and build. They’ve already done that on this tour with Out To Get You and Top Of The World, but tonight they choose to start with Dream Thrum. We’ve already mentioned the quality of the sound in the venue, which is the best of the tour so far of the dates we’ve attended, and that allows the understated beauty of this song to shine through and its subtlety to be appreciated as Saul brings the song to its conclusion bathed in blue light focused on his violin.
Walk Like You, the opening track from La Petite Mort follows and doesn’t feel at all like them easing us in as its breakdown section is something truly special with Andy Diagram taking centre stage with trumpet as Tim, as he does often tonight, roaming the stage seeking connection with his band mates as a lift and spur to himself to help take us to higher plains. Move Down South is the first of nine songs from Girl At The End Of The World (Dear John is dropped due to technical issues with Dave’s drumkit) and it still feels like they’re searching for an additional spark to really set this one alight. Catapult has no such issues though, its tumultuous journey assisted by Tim disappearing off stage and reappearing up on the balcony, making his way round the front row of seats connecting with the audience up there before surveying the scene below him and grabbing a girl’s camera phone and pretending to throw it off the balcony.
It wouldn’t be a James gig without a false start to a song and tonight it’s To My Surprise once Tim has made it back downstairs. It’s the price of a band taking risks, not playing the same set every night and trying to do something different with songs that stay in the set from night to night. Tim takes the opportunity to remind us that the tour is called the Girl At The End Of The World tour for those who haven’t immersed themselves in the number 2 album they’re promoting and also to request that people treat him with care if he ventures out amongst us. He only makes it to the barrier at this point, but as he stands perched on it surveying us, To My Surprise confirms to us that it’s one of the songs that has blossomed most of the album tracks when translated to the live environment. Alvin has had a similar transformation though – its French lyrics taking on an even more playful tone live and the more expansive approach taken to the music makes it one of the highlights of the set.
Tim explains Curse Curse is about being a hotel room and hearing the couple next door making love and the natural jealous male reaction of turning on the football on the TV. When Tim describes it as “almost a hit” before they play Come Home and Sometimes to follow it, it feels like it was just born at the wrong time as it has that same forceful impact on these ears as those two. Naturally the familiarity of the crowd with them means the response is more delirious and the static crowd around us start to move a bit. Sometimes once again has the audience taking the song away from the band and making it their own – but what’s most refreshing is that it’s being done at a different point each night dependent on where we are, a sign of spontaneity and freshness that has revitalised the song.
The Shining is also given its first airing on the tour. Whilst probably not as much a rarity as Saul suggests, it’s a very welcome reminder of the massively underrated Pleased To Meet You album that was released as the band was disintegrating at the turn of the century. The stunning acoustics of City Hall are the perfect environment for it too, uplifting and allowing the rich detail of the song to be heard properly. The title track from Girl has a similar uplifting effect on us, now they’ve nailed it with a beautiful slide guitar opening from Adrian (who is really blossoming in his role as the tour progresses) and the power as the chorus kicks in after a slight delay.
There’s technical problems with Dave’s bass drum that causes a rethink. Tim thinks it’s his drum stool that’s the problem and jokes about the power of Dave’s drumming going all the way through his haemorrhoids to the stool and whether there’s a music shop open in Hull at 9 o’clock at night. We lose Dear John as a result as they huddle centre stage for acoustic versions of She’s A Star and Just Like Fred Astaire. Tim’s almost drowned out on both songs, clearly crowd favourites in this part of the world even in this wonderful stripped-down form that reinvents particularly Fred.
Surfer’s Song has been one of the revelations of the tour and a game changer in the set and tonight is probably the best example of that. Tim comes down to the barrier, ponders it and then launches himself across us and he’s raised on a sea of arms all the way back to the mixing desk, turned round and dispatched back to the stage, not missing a word in the process. As he sails past us facing up towards the sky it’s an intense moment of connection where band and audience become one.
Tomorrow starts off slow with Tim eyeball to eyeball with Saul who slowly ratchets up the tempo of the song through the first verse until it reaches the chorus where it explodes into life with Andy’s trumpet once again playing a central role. As it reaches its octane-fuelled conclusion, Tim’s at the other side of the stage encouraging Adrian whilst Ron and Andy weave circular patterns with their tambourines.
There’s no Honest Joe tonight, but Sound more than makes up for that, a song that they manage to continually find new twists on as they improvise when the song hits the breakdown, there’s flashes of gorgeous violin from Saul that the sound quality allows us to hear, there’s even a mini drum solo at one point as the other instruments drop and Andy ends the song leaning over the balcony upstairs sending shards of trumpet across the hall. Before it Saul tells us that this was one of the first places he and Adrian played music together as teenagers in Hull and that it means a lot to him to come back here and do the same thirty four years later.
Attention is no less powerful in its impact. The band are rightly proud of this and it’s refusing to be budged from its position at the end of the set – it starts all brooding and menacing before dropping away to almost nothing then rebuilding. Tonight’s light set-up for it is very dark, almost in darkness at some points with white rotating lights shattering the black and adds much to the impact it has as well.
The encore tellingly is three songs from the past two albums rather than the obvious rush to the greatest hits to prop up the set. Bitch is struck up by the band before Tim makes his entrance dressed in one of the band’s striking BI-T-CH takes on the classic JA-M-ES shirt and loses himself in the swirling cacophony of sound. Moving On and Nothing But Love are songs that in another time and place would be nestled alongside some of the big-hitters that people are calling out for in vain and deserve their places at the end of the set. Both are uplifting in contrasting ways. As Tim stands high on the monitor, arm raised as the chorus of Moving On kicks in and Hull responds in kind, it feels like we’re all joined together as one celebrating those that are no longer with us, whilst Nothing But Love celebrates those that are by our side.
There’s still time for a second encore and in democratic fashion Tim asks us if we want Sit Down or Say Something. The audience’s vote is clear, although there’s a few disgruntled advocates to the contrary, ourselves included, that they want to hear Say Something. As the song finishes with Tim down amongst us on the barrier, the audience bring it back up and it finishes with the band and audience together as one sharing the moment.
Whilst Hull might have lacked the adrenalin highs of the weekend, it was probably the best performance of the tour so far and definitely the best sounding of the shows that we’ve been to in an environment that allows detail in the band’s music to be heard fully. It would have been very easy to simply replicate the weekend’s set list but to the band’s eternal credit they’re not resting on their laurels and want to challenge us as well as themselves and, after the crowd took a while to get going, they did exactly that.