James play two sold out Portuguese shows at Campo Pequeno bullring in Lisbon and the Pavilhao Rosa Mota in Porto. James complete a successful UK tour taking in two nights in London and then Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, Glasgow and Manchester. Tim Booth relaunches his solo website and gives away a free demo of a track called Buried Alive.
SetlistBorn Of Frustration / Seven / Ring The Bells / Tell Her I Said So / PS / Lookaway / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Jam J / Out To Get You / I Wanna Go Home / Sit Down / Rabbit Hole / Just Like Fred Astaire / Laid / Sound / Stutter / Say Something / Tomorrow / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck : Gold Mother / Sometimes / Rabbit Hole
SupportPigeon Detectives / Frazer King
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Review by takemeanywhere
James and December is like crumble and custard, essential for good living. The rare years when the band don’t play just before Christmas feel like some kind of betrayal, similar to the grinch turning up with his joy stealing tendencies. Tonight’s show is surrounded by challenges, or, more accurately, snow. At least two of the band are struggling with (man) ‘flu and another member’s back is creaking like a rusty gate. The icy conditions also mean that many people will not make it to Manchester tonight and it’s a real shame to see a few empty seats. But, as the old saying goes, the show must go on.
So, what will James treat us to tonight? The hits? The new songs? The rarities? With this band, knowledge of what has been played on previous nights gives scant clue as to what might be aired tonight. Most bands write a setlist at the start of a tour and stick with it rigidly, throughout. James are not most bands and have a mightily impressive sixty songs, rehearsed and ready to plunder. The setlist debate, tedious as it is, will rumble on as long as James play live shows. All arguments become redundant, however, as the opening notes of Born of Frustration fill the cavernous space. This is the song that first saw James labelled as a ‘stadium rock’ band, as if that should be seen as a criticism. Tim Booth chooses to go for a wander amongst the crowd, as is his wont and is replaced front of stage by trumpet player, Andy Diagram.
Seven is the hit that never was, released just two days after James played to thirty thousand people at Alton Towers but bewilderingly failing to make the top forty. Chart positions matter not here, as Booth melts ten thousand hearts with the affirmation that “Love can change anything”. By the time Mark Hunter’s keyboard heavy intro to Ring The Bells kicks in, it is clear that James have the Manchester crowd in their pockets. They could play Showaddywaddy covers for the rest of the night and it would still be deemed a success. They don’t, of course. Guitarist, Larry Gott announces that “Manchester likes this one” and it can only mean one thing, it’s that time again. Come Home usually opens Manchester shows but tonight it marks the end of the first cluster of hits, before the band slow things right down.
P.S. makes a welcome return to the setlist, Booth whispering its gorgeous story over Gott‘s understated slide guitar. Suddenly, there is singing in the arena and it isn’t coming from the stage. It isn’t football style chanting either, but instead the combined vocal talents of the Manchester Consort, a choir of young people, who join the band for a trio of songs from this year’s The Morning After mini-album. They sing their way to the stage before proceeding to add magic dust to Got The Shakes. Prior to playing Tell Her I Said So, Booth reminds us of the occasion when he introduced us all to his mum at this same venue, before going on to explain that she is now ninety years of age and in a nursing home. The lyric reads like a conversation between Booth and his mum and deals with the issue of families having to put loved ones into care. Like many of his recent lyrics, it sees Booth at his most direct and intensely personal best. Lookaway, a song which sees Booth play acoustic guitar to a Manchester crowd for the very first time benefits from the choir’s presence and the outro is simply magnificent. I was in the building and the walls (almost) came crashing down.
A couple of hits are required now and Say Something gets the singalong going again. Just Like Fred Astaire is dedicated to Gott’s father, on the occasion of his eighty-eighth birthday. He is watching his son play live for only the second time ever and beams as the spotlight shines on him. The song itself is pure beauty and a rare, out-and-out love song by the band. With the audience back in Booth’s back pocket, it‘s time to move left again. Jam J was actually a single, being a double a-side, but was ignored for radio play in favour of the flipside (Say Something) and it certainly seems to wrong-foot the crowd. “Come on Jimmy” urges Gott of the bass player, as if any such encouragement is required. I Wanna Go Home is a modern day classic and is greeted as such. “I need to dance” sings Booth and it is clear that the people of Manchester agree.
In the late eighties, during a jamming session, James wrote a song in twenty-minutes before falling about laughing at the simplicity of it all. That song is Sit Down. It became their biggest hit single and their path to the big time but at the same time their nemesis, an albatross, even. They have tried so many ways of playing the song and even not playing it at all, for a spell. Tonight it is stripped down and sublime. The band group together at the front of the stage and playing it in this way dictates that the crowd listen rather than join in. It’s like hearing the song anew and by its conclusion, I am of the opinion that it just could be the best lyric of the last century. Out To Get You is a live favourite and has been a staple in the set since 1992. The song never fails to ignite and Saul Davies’ violin solo is mesmerising. Rabbit Hole is another song lifted from The Morning After, Booth bravely keeping it in the set, despite struggling to hit the high notes during the sound check. Whatever ‘flu remedy he has taken before the gig ensures that it is alright on the night. Far better than alright, in fact.
A trio of mega-hits threatens to lift the roof off the arena. She’s A Star and Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) delight, whilst Sound throbs and pulsates. Typically, James end the main set with Stutter, a song written over a quarter of a century ago. A studio recording of this song has never been released and yet it fits into the live set like a glove. Dave Baynton-Power’s tribal drumming perfectly complements Glennie’s rumbling bassline as the song spirals inexorably into orbit. The band leave to a rapturous ovation and people start to debate what is still to come. All hits, surely? Oh no.
The curveballs ain’t done with yet. Dust Motes is the final song of the night to be lifted from the recent mini-album and is a gorgeous way to start an encore. The choir return for a frenetic Sometimes and when the crowd take on the closing refrain, unprompted, it‘s party time. For Gold Mother the band and choir are joined onstage by a tribe of dancers, picked from the audience. The young singers take the ‘silence, shut up’ section of the song to new heights, which is quite a feat to achieve. At this same venue, back in 1999, James played beyond the curfew and were fined for the privilege. Clearly, the coffers are not as full eleven years on and with a minute remaining, it seems that they will have to leave the stage. Helpfully, a man emerges from the side of stage, similar to the shopkeeper appearing in Mr Benn, and allows for one more song. Of course, that song is Laid and arms start to flail all around the arena, as the curtain comes down, not just on the night but on a hugely successful year for James.
It is perhaps a little clichéd to declare the night as a triumph over adversity, although that would not be a dishonest summary. I prefer to reflect on a band at the absolute peak of their powers, playing a perfect mix of old and new. The Manchester night is freezing cold but the hearts of those present are warmed sufficiently by the joyous majesty of what they have witnessed to melt away all thoughts of the hazardous journey to come, if not the snow itself. Best live band on the planet? Very probably. Best night out you could possibly have in the month of December? You betcha.
Review by OneOfTheThree.com
There’s not much you can say about this show. It could have been cancelled for a number of reasons – Tim’s illness which was affecting him to the point he blacked out backstage before the gig, Larry’s back, the snow which meant that a lot of people didn’t make the show because of the transport chaos (those that missed it, I feel your pain, having missed the 1990 G-Mex gig) but it’s almost as if the circumstances make this something extra special, another victory over adversity that James have taken on so many times in their career.
Opening the show are the rather wonderful local band Frazer King, hand-picked by Jim Glennie. They strut the stage as if they own it, the singer attempts to go down into the crowd in the middle of one song and can’t get back up. They’re worth checking out. The Pigeon Detectives follow and then it’s time for the main event. The venue has now thankfully filled out quite well, dispelling fears of a half-empty weather-affected crowd.
From the start the atmosphere is electric, Andy prowling the stage and coming to the podium at the front, his trumpet acting more like a call to arms or prayer rather than part of a song. Tim gets down onto the barrier and, uncharacteristically for the enormodromes, the sound is brilliant too. Seven and Ring The Bells mean there’s no let up in pace. The lighting is made for this venue, wonderful reds, blues and yellows merging together and there’s some clever effects on the big screens as well.
“Manchester likes this one” Larry says before the familiar opening bars of Come Home ring out. By necessity, some of the more obscure songs that would test Tim’s voice to its limits, aren’t played tonight, but the show is more about celebration, the coming home, that noone seems to care too much. PS is beautiful, edgy, piercing and dripping with emotion.
That said about the setlist, we do get five-eighths of The Morning After tonight and it demonstrates that it’s the stronger of the two mini-albums. Got The Shakes sees the Manchester Consort Choir join James on stage walking on whilst singing the backing to the song. They add something to the song that was missing when it was played in Leicester, but their real impact is seen on the next two songs Tell Her I Said So and Lookaway, adding even more to the two highlights from the newer material on this tour. The latter has some stunning interplay on the vocals between Tim and the choir.
Say Something gets the crowd going wild and Saul out at the front of the stage with his violin, before Larry dedicates Just Like Fred Astaire to his Dad, who is watching James for the second time, and for his Mum, even though she had died fifteen years earlier. It’s a very poignant moment and the song is a dedication of pure love.
Jam J has been a big highlight on this tour, a very welcome resurrection. The whole arena is lit up by the strobe effects as Jim’s bass leads the band through the excitement and fire of the song. Things are slowed down briefly for the opening of I Wanna Go Home, before it explodes into life at the end. Sit Down, as ever, has the whole place up, singing, clapping and the song that could be the biggest cliche of the night (and the tour) is turned into something quite magnificent, yet wonderfully simple. It’s emotional and Out To Get You just takes it further and allows Saul again to show off his improvisational prowess on the violin, which is still chronically underused on their recorded work. Rabbit Hole is simply exquisite. It’s a brave song to take to a venue of this size as it’s quite fragile, but it pierces the air and the crowd watch on in awe, especially as Tim battles his throat demons to deliver it.
She’s A Star, often one of the songs delivered straight without much chance to improvise, is perfect for the occasion and leads into the singalong of Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), before an as-ever stunning, but different, version of Sound. The coup-de-grace, one of the oldest songs they’ve written, Stutter finishes the main set with a series of musical collisions, flashes and rolls of light.
Coming back on, the band, ever one to take some risks, starts the encore with Dust Motes, probably dropped from the set on previous nights to protect Tim’s voice from his illness. It resonates around the arena and is a beautiful beautiful song. Sometimes sees the choir come back on and take over the refrain before it’s left to the audience to finish the song off. And then we get Gold Mother, which is total chaos with the choir coming down from the back to sing a song they don’t really know amongst the dancers. It’s a shame the security at the arena are such dicks – yellow coats obviously turn you into some sort of humourless personality-free android. It then seems we are going to be denied the final song by the thought police that thinks 11pm is late enough to send everyone home to bed, but sense takes control and the band rip through an equally chaotic version of Laid, with the crowd still on stage.
A wonderful wonderful emotive night. Manchester gigs are sometimes a bit of a let-down because of the weight of expectations, the homecoming feel, some elements of the crowd. Last night was the best I’ve seen them in Manchester, even over some of the early gigs, the 89 and 97 Apollo gigs – words can’t describe how good they were. It was a very special, extremely emotional night and a fitting way to end a magnificent tour, in which the band fought illness, injury and the elements.
SetlistBorn Of Frustration / Seven / Ring The Bells / Tell Her I Said So / PS / Lookaway / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Jam J / Out To Get You / I Wanna Go Home / Sit Down / Rabbit Hole / Just Like Fred Astaire / Laid / Sound / Stutter / Say Something / Tomorrow / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck : Just Like Fred Astaire / Rabbit Hole / Lookaway / Destiny Calling
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Sometimes James deliver against the odds. Not content with having a lead guitarist with a serious back injury, Glasgow sees James with a singer with a throat infection / cold that makes the soundcheck difficult as certain songs aren’t going to work despite audience requests. It feels like a bad sign when they play James-by-numbers-not-actually-that-different Destiny Calling in the soundcheck and you almost expect a greatest hits set that could be explainable in the circumstances. But that’s not James. They come out with the most unusual looking set of hits, new, old, hits, favourites, new that you could think of, and it works.
The trio of Seven singles kicks off the set and gets the expectant Glasgow crowd going. It gives the space then for some indulgence, but people continue to clap along and respond to Tell Her I Said So, before relaxing for PS and for Lookaway, although the latter is really a killer single in the wrong era, although the big screen camera focus on Tim’s guitar playing is a bit unfair. The set then moves from hit to obscure track to album track that everyone knows and loves to more recent track that everyone’s getting to know and love and it’s all brilliant. The Glasgow crowd, of which I’m not normally so complimentary, is superb, attentive, excited, up for it. Sit Down is the trump card in the set, you can see the audience rise as one to sing along but then sit back and admire as the band play the joker of something that’s unexpected and isn’t just a run of the mill hit on the way down to the encore. Rabbit Hole is simply beautiful. Just Like Fred Astaire sees Tim and Saul standing on the monitors, before Laid kicks in and sends the crowd wild and then we’re into an extended fresh-sounding version of Sound and the catalysmic coming together that is Stutter.
The encore starts with the James-by-numbers of Say Something, but tonight it feels right, not contrived. Tomorrow is loud and brash and quite wonderful, before Sometimes, with an ending that noone seems to know how to do finishes off the set.
The best show of the tour so far, a great appreciative audience and a brilliant performance despite the illnesses, or maybe because of. James thrive from that adversity and tonight was an example.
Let’s just hope on home turf tomorrow they follow this through, give the crowd something that represents their Mancunian roots of the late eighties and early nineties (What For, Hymn From A Village, What’s The World) rather than the hit-fodder of the mid to late nineties – we can see you Destiny Calling, which showed in the soundcheck to be a bit of a one-trick pony or similar later singles.. A show as good as Glasgow that says thank you Manchester would just top off the best set of shows since the reunion.
SetlistDust Motes / PS / Five-O / Tell Her I Said So / Born Of Frustration / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Ring The Bells / Got The Shakes / Lookaway / Jam J / Tomorrow / I Wanna Go Home / Sit Down / Out To Get You / Laid / Sound / Stutter / She's A Star / Say Something / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck : Five-O / Lookaway / Got The Shakes / Just Like Fred Astaire / Bring A Gun
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De Montfort Hall is like a throwback to the concert halls of old, before the time of the O2 Academy, the HMV this and the Insert Major Brand that. The staff could be your grandparents and are as courteous and polite and helpful as the monosyllabic robots of the academies are unhelpful. There’s a bizarre quirk that the bars close during the James gig except for one and you can only take water into the arena no alcohol.
James haven’t been to Leicester since the Whiplash tour in 1997. That night, Tim apologised to me from the stage for not changing the setlist very much and it being a hits laden set. Thirteen years later, you cannot throw the same accusation at the band. They go in brave for an audience that might not, in the majority, have seen much of James in that period. The beauty of the first four songs is tempered a little bit by the general lack of reaction to them, only Tell Her I Said So starting to induce some hand clapping. It’s a real shame because the performance hasn’t dropped from the other nights of the tour, you just get the sense that the setlist similar to the one in Leeds might have been better suited to this crowd.
It does get going with a trio of singles – Born Of Frustration sees Tim make his customary trip out to the crowd to be held up as he stands on the barrier. Looking around there’s movement in the centre and the back of the balcony is up standing and dancing whilst the front remain solemn and seated, as if there was a serious piece of Ibsen or Moliere going down on stage. It’s a very curious environment and different to the exuberance of Leeds and Birmingham and Brixton. Ring The Bells is a highlight, it feels refreshed, although there’s nothing obviously new to it.
It’s followed by two new songs – contrasting in their success. One of the beauties of James is that they’re never afraid to try new things, risk a song that doesn’t quite feel right to get the adrenalin going and see it where it gets taken. Got The Shakes didn’t really work in the soundcheck and to be honest, it didn’t work that well in the gig either, it doesn’t have the flow and fluidity that drive through the James live experience. Dave is taken away from his drums to play the standalone drum Saul uses on Stutter and a tambourine with his drumstick so the visuals are a bit messy as well especially when Saul and Jim crowd round Tim’s mic. The crowd are asked to sing along to the end section. However, Lookaway works wonderfully. Saul takes the piss out of Tim who plays acoustic guitar for the first time in public, and there’s a wonderful vocal interaction, that seems to be increasing to the fore across this tour, between Tim and Andy.
Jam J is another highlight. The crystal clear sound and lighting complement the song perfectly, before Tomorrow kicks life into the front rows and the place starts to heat up a bit. I Wanna Go Home maintains the pace despite it’s unfamiliarity to some of the crowd, before the band congregate stage front for the communal singing of Sit Down, which is a home run all the way. Out To Get You doesn’t reach the heights of the night before, but that’s probably asking a bit too much for it to be as damn good as Leeds every night.
Laid is crazy, Tim comes down to the barrier and then there’s Sound, ending with Andy on the balcony, surrounded by people sat down, a weird vibe. Stutter finishes off a main set that is as contrary and as ballsy as they’ve played for a long time because it would have been easier to take the hits out for Leicester route due to the length of time since they played here.
They do realise this and Saul offers the audience a choice of something they’ve never heard or She’s A Star for the first encore track. The crowd want She’s A Star and get that followed by Say Something, and Sometimes, and there’s a feeling this finally wins over the rest of the crowd, although the singalong of Sometimes doesn’t really kick in and the band bring the song back up, which allows for some wild improvisation as it hurtles to its conclusion.
So, all in all, a bit of an odd one. Nothing wrong with the performance at all and the sound and lights were superb as ever, but something didn’t quite gel tonight for a number of reasons. Let’s hope however that the band don’t see this as a failure of their more experimental sets and revert to the hits sets for the big arenas. The likes of Dust Motes, Tell Her I Said So, Stutter, Jam J, Rabbit Hole and Lookaway deserve that wider audience and you could live without a couple of the hits to give them the room to be shown off.
SetlistLost A Friend / Seven / Come Home / Ring The Bells / Dust Motes / Rabbit Hole / Tell Her I Said So / It's Hot / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Tomorrow / Jam J / P.S. / Out To Get You / I Wanna Go Home / Runaground / Stutter / Sound / Laid / Sit Down / Sometimes / Top Of The World
VIP Soundcheck : Lost A Friend / Lookaway / Five-O / Just Like Fred Astaire
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Leeds gigs haven’t always been my favourite – there’s always been an element of the unwelcoming in the environment, driven mainly by the monotone “we are leeds” chants of the terraces, but not tonight. There’s a buzz of anticipation as Frazer King finish their short but excellent support slot – “a sort of good Twang” someone near me was overheard telling their friend.
Rather than dive straight into the slow new songs, the set opens with four faster songs – Lost A Friend continuing its welcome resurrection into the set, before a trio of singles Seven, Come Home and Ring The Bells. The real beauty of the recent James set lists is that they’ve rediscovered that you don’t have to play all the hits every night to please people, so Seven and Come Home come in tonight and Born Of Frustration and Say Something don’t, and everyone still leaves happy. It leaves space for the new, the old, the unusual and then the usual cavalry at the end of the set, and it works perfectly, something for absolutely everyone except the soulless and most myopic of fans. Seven has Tim down on the barrier early in the set, Come Home displays the ragged edges that make it the song that it is, whilst Ring The Bells, surprisingly, feels the more tired of the three – maybe time for one of those workovers that James excel in with the bigger more regular hits. Not that it’s bad or anything, just familiar.
They then go into four songs from the mini albums this year. The sound issues Dust Motes had in Portugal seem to have been resolved and it now sounds beautiful as it tiptoes along until bursting into life and light and then ending with Tim putting a stunning quivering effect onto his voice. It melts into Rabbit Hole, which, despite its frailty is beautiful, there’s elements of Wild Beasts in the outro section, but it also shows Tim’s voice at its most dreamy and delicate and the musical backing to it meets it perfectly.
Tim explains that the new songs are being played together to get them out of the way for those not familiar with them which is doing them a massive injustice. They are as much a part of the essence of James as the more well-known about them. This reformation was about rekindling the James spirit – new material, reinterpretation of the past, challenging themselves and the crowds – and the new songs have a rightful place in this journey. He then introduces Tell Her I Said So as a song cowritten by his mum and it incites hand-clapping to the beat and a singalong at the end, before Tim explains he sang it to his mum during the day when he visited her and she quipped that “it wasn’t as catchy as Sit Down”. A hard task-master is Mrs Booth. It’s Hot seems to grow new wings and life every night and is turning into a beast of a song.
Back to a couple of hits as Getting Away With It generates a singalong as Tomorrow widens the moshpit out further, ending with a very curious new outro. Jam J doesn’t quite hit the heights of previous nights, the mix doesn’t quite work and the bass drowns the rest of the band a little. The lights are simply stunning though, forming an integral part of the whole experience. PS almost has Larry’s slide guitar and Saul’s violin duelling for position.
Then the highlight. Tim countered, or agreed, I can’t work out which, with my assessment that Out To Get You feels like it could sometimes be rested from the set, except that it explodes at the end into something new or wonderful every night. Tonight, Saul Davies, not the most willing violinist in the world, simply makes the whole place his own with an incredible solo that words cannot do justice to. You just need to look at Tim, Larry and Jim watching him, as engrossed by it as the rest of us. It seems like the solo is never going to end, and to be honest, we could have watched him all night. Never has the song sounded more vibrant, more alive, more and more superlatives.
I Wanna Go Home takes up the challenge of following it, one of those James songs with a new life in the live environment, a showcase for what the seven can do given a big soundsystem and the freedom to improvise. Runaground is brought back and fits the mood wonderfully, before Stutter is pulled forward from the end of the set, but loses nothing. Saul, driven by adrenalin, hammers the hell of the drums and then Larry’s guitar and then Larry’s hand.
Sound and Laid close the main set. The former ends with Andy on the front of the balcony, transfixing the crowd whilst the rest of the band plough new improvised furrows on stage. Laid, again mercifully separated from Sometimes, is wild, Tim ending up almost in the crowd again.
The atmosphere is red-hot as they come back out for the encore so the band sit down at the front of the stage and play a beautiful yearning almost acoustic version of Sit Down, which has the 2000 crowd singing back every word. It’s like a communion, as if the band has expanded several hundred fold just for the one song. Sometimes, despite the crowd picking up the refrain and chanting it back to the band, can’t quite compete with it.
There’s still a bit of time before curfew so they come back out, and in awkward typical James fashion, eschew playing a hit, for the eerie haunting wonder of Top Of The World, Tim even asking that people don’t clap along. Rather than killing the atmosphere, it feels like the slow comedown, the big arms around the crowd hug to soothe them on the way home.
Best gig of the tour so far.
SetlistDust Motes / P.S. / Born Of Frustration / It's Hot / Tell Her I Said So / Runaground / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Just Like Fred Astaire / Lost A Friend / Sit Down / Don't Wait That Long / Rabbit Hole / Jam J / God Only Knows / Johnny Yen / Ring The Bells / Sound / Stutter / Out To Get You / Sometimes / Laid
VIP Soundcheck : Lost A Friend / Runaground / Just Like Fred Astaire / God Only Knows / What For
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Apologies for the brevity of this review, but this is down to the nature of the wonderful new O2 Academy in Birmingham, clearly designed by someone who’d never been to a gig before – twice as wide as it is deep and with a balcony that overhung more than half of the floor space, giving restricted views to most of the stalls, exacerbated by the fact that although the gig was a couple of hundred short of capacity, there was no way you were getting a decent vantage point without barging in if you got into the venue twenty minutes after doors. Add to that the crush and gridlock around the back bar and the area around the gents and the merchandise desk and you’d be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t supposed to be a brand new redesigned building.
It’s against the odds that James triumph in this place. I can’t comment on the lights or much about what Jim, Saul or Dave did, because it was pretty impossible to see them. The sound, despite the bass issues with the low ceiling under the balcony was excellent though – the sound engineer had worked wonders between the soundcheck and the gig to get the set sounding as powerful and clear as it did.
The set itself threw in more curveballs from the London dates. Still starting with Dust Motes and then adding PS, the opening got a lot more respect and a lot less chatter than the Brixton show, possibly because of the gig being on a Sunday rather than a Friday, but the Birmingham crowd was very knowledgeable and stood and listened to the songs that they didn’t know, and danced and sang along to the ones they knew. The new songs got a strong reception and whilst not inducing as much dancing in the stalls as the older material, they still had pockets of arms waving and pogoing and the first successful UK audience participation on Tell Her I Said So.
Throwing in Born Of Frustration third certainly helped with getting the crowd going and It’s Hot gets stronger on every performance and takes on a life more vibrant than the Night Before version. Runaground gets a very warm reception as does Getting Away With It and an edgy rawer version of Fred Astaire than we’ve heard before. Despite success in the soundcheck, Tim sings Lost A Friend from lyrics sheet. Originally planned as a single back in 1997, it’s been lost from the James set ever since which is a real shame.
Sit Down again has the whole of the band at the front of the stage, with Mark and Dave stood behind the others who are seated. The whole place sings along. Don’t Wait That Long, despite some issues with the bass due to the low roof, is beautiful as is Rabbit Hole. The serenity is broken by two full on aural assaults – Jam J and God Only Knows – which sound and look incredible. Johnny Yen is rapturously received as is Ring The Bells, which creates a massive moshpit. Tim almost ends up on the balcony during Johnny Yen.
Sound takes on a new form, with an almost acoustic refrain, another twist on a song that takes new twists when it looks like it could get repetitive and the band always seem to pull something out that works. Stutter is again a brave set closer due to its unfamilarity, but not because of its musical and visual power.
The encore is a trio of songs from Laid that have everyone singing along – from the intimate paranoia of Out To Get You, to the celebratory chorus of Sometimes and finishing with an extended trumpet-driven romp through Laid itself.
All in all, an excellent gig, great sound and a very brave interesting setlist with an audience willing to listen and then go wild for the more familiar material. It’s a pity the venue is so awful that if you weren’t in the centre section, it was difficult to witness all of it.
SetlistDust Motes / Dream Thrum / P.S. / Tell Her I Said So / It's Hot / Born Of Frustration / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Johnny Yen / Rabbit Hole / Bubbles / Bring A Gun / Jam J / Don't Wait That Long / Out To Get You / Sit Down / Ring The Bells / Laid / Stutter / I Wanna Go Home / Sound / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck : Bubbles / Bring A Gun / Lookaway / Don't Wait That Long
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The soundcheck starts, as yesterday, without Larry, who is still very clearly suffering from a slipped disc and the associated treatments he’s had for it. The remaining six play Bubbles first before playing Bring A Gun for the first time in the UK for almost twenty years. Following a Q+A session talking about the band’s favourite songs, pasta carbonara and again places James haven’t played for years, Tim picks up an acoustic guitar and the band play Lookaway. There’s a lot of good humoured ribbing when Tim struggles to take the guitar off at the end of the song. They finish with some more questions and Don’t Wait That Long from Seven.
There’s much more of an expectant atmosphere in the all-standing sold-out Academy than last night at Hammersmith. Tim explains to the crowd the reason for Larry being seated and tries to get us to encourage him to stay seated. The band take the brave move of starting with a series of slower numbers as the previous night. Whilst musically it works, Tim himself notes at the end of PS that there’s a lot of talking going on in the crowd. This is more a Friday night “hits out for the lads” crowd than the previous night and you sense a bit of impatience for the big singalong anthems.
Dust Motes and PS sound beautiful, but I’m still not convinced by Dream Thrum in the set. It’s not my favourite song and whilst it works in the context of where it is on the Laid album, I don’t think it quite works in the live gig. Tell Her I Said So and It’s Hot, despite being unfamiliar to many in the crowd, get them moving a little bit more, but it’s when Born Of Frustration kicks in and Tim jumps on the barrier and then ends up in the crowd at the side that the place really explodes into life. Larry at this point is behaving himself and staying seated, with Tim and Andy going up and playing or singing to him at various points of the set.
Johnny Yen gets loud applause and has benefited from being out of the set for a while as it now sounds fresh. Taking a risk again, the set is slowed down for Rabbit Hole and Bubbles, the latter exploding into a wall of sound that has everyone dancing. Bring A Gun is dedicated to the students and sounds as strident a protest song now as it was in the days of James Anderton and the GMP. Jam J is wild, Jim’s lead bass line echoing through the hall as the strobes kick in, Tim dances like a man possessed and the crowd either dancing or standing in awe at what they’re experiencing.
Don’t Wait That Long brings the mood back down slightly as the throbbing bassline kicks in and then Larry, still in obvious pain despite the numbing effects of the epidural and wine plays a beautiful solo, before Out To Get You, as ever, brings the side out of big “hard” men who sing along to every word.
Sit Down is next and the band make their way to the front of the stage and sit down on the monitors. There’s been a lot written about this song, but stripped down, played like this, it feels like James have changed into a 5.007 piece, rather than a 7 piece. Take away the radio play, the constant rotations on Hits FM, it being probably the only James song your colleagues know (until they hear the others of course) and it is simply possibly the greatest piece of communion music and lyrics ever written – if this version doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, you probably don’t have any.
From then on it, it’s chaos. Ring The Bells and Laid have the crowd jumping, swaying, dancing as one. A bare-chested guy is invited on stage by Tim for a dance-off during Laid. The piece de resistance is Stutter, unreleased in studio format, released live as a b-side and on an album that fetches £100 on cd and one of the first songs they ever wrote. It is of course now indistinguishable from the early demos, but it’s James at their rawest, most powerful.
The encore starts with I Wanna Go Home and it doesn’t feel out of place amongst the hits around it. There’s a sea of hands clapping along until the break point in the song when everyone starts dancing again. Sound is as wild and wonderful as ever, Andy ending up in the crowd in the middle of the stalls and Larry is now up on his feet, disobeying doctor’s orders. Sometimes finishes the night and ends up with Tim being carried horizontally face down over the front rows as the rest of the crowd sing along the refrain.
And that was it. A great gig, but it would be interesting to see how the more casual James fans viewed it. The start required a lot of patience for those less familiar with the non-hits in the back catalogue and new material and you sense Tim felt that with his comment about the talking. It’s a brave move to take on a crowd with so many unexpected songs they might not know, but that’s far more of a gig experience than simply rechurning Waltzing Along or Destiny Calling, which we’ve all heard a million times before. It’s a real shame Larry’s injury is restricting him physically because of the visual impact he has roaming the stage. As good as the two London shows have been, I have the feeling that somewhere on this tour, the balance is going to get hit just right and they are going to produce a set and a show that shatters all expectations, a mix of old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, loud and quiet.
SetlistDust Motes / PS / Five-O / Tell Her I Said So / It's Hot / Born Of Frustration / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Tomorrow / Rabbit Hole / I Wanna Go Home / Runaground / Jam J / Johnny Yen / Sit Down / Out To Get You / Laid / Say Something / Ring The Bells / Stutter / Sound / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck : Just Like Fred Astaire / Runaground / Rabbit Hole / Whiteboy / What For
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Let me start with the VIP soundcheck. It’s a new experience for me and it works really well. The band are on good form, despite the absence of Larry, who is at hospital having treatment on his back, having things “stuffed in my mouth, in my arse and up my spine” to paraphrase him at the start of the show. The six-piece start with Just Like Fred Astaire, as they try and work out a set they could do should Larry not make it. Runaground, which hasn’t been played since the Best Of tours in 1998 is next as the band want to introduce it into the sets on this tour. Rabbit Hole also gets a first UK airing after a couple of plays on the US tour. Whiteboy is a bit messy, but the band have already done their three allotted songs by this point. They finish, with an audience request that the band take up and play despite Tim initially saying there was no chance they could play it – What For is led by Andy’s trumpet in the absence of Larry’s lead guitar and sounds fresh and vibrant – definitely a case for adding this to the setlist at some point on the tour.
Back to the main set. I miss the Pigeon Detectives as I’m outside flyering for Tim’s new website (free download of a new song, album next year, be nice to the flyerers please), although they seem to have gone down well with the people around me. James make to the stage at a couple of minutes to nine (early!!) and Larry is with them, although he is very clearly a bit uncomfortable and drinking Mark’s wine might help him through the show, but probably won’t do his back much good.
The opening of the set is more subdued than normal due to the seats and a setlist deliberately aimed at starting by demonstrating James’ more mellow side. Apart from the two ignorant couples in the first row of the second set of stalls on Larry’s side who don’t shut up the whole gig (you know who you four are, or maybe not given you just carried on throughout), the crowd listen and appreciate the beauty in Dust Motes as well as the two Laid favourites PS and Five-O. As much as those two songs form the centrepiece of the Laid album, live they demonstrate the breadth of musical talent in the band, Larry’s slide, Saul’s violin and Jim’s subtle bass, held together by Mark and Dave. Tell Her I Said So livens the pace slightly and sees Tim go out into the seats to try and get the audience to sing the refrain of “here’s to long life”. It’s Hot is where the pace starts to kick up and it’s refreshing to see how many people know the new material and don’t see it as an excuse to go off to the bar.
Inevitably though it’s the trio of Born Of Frustration, Getting Away With It and Tomorrow that get the audience up on their feet and from now on in there’s not much sitting down done in the stalls. Tim ends up in the crowd again for Born Of Frustration, with people dancing around him. The on stage set up is quite simple, but the lighting is quite beautiful the whole night, adding to the music rather than distracting from it, and the sound, unusually for the Apollo, is crystal clear.
Rabbit Hole brings the pace back down a little bit, but it is a beautiful song and it’s given the respect it deserves as does I Wanna Go Home, which Tim says they just can’t drop from the set. The audience clap along as the song builds. Tim seems to hold the note near the end of the song for longer every time they play it. Runaground is introduced as a song that they haven’t played for 15 years (maths not a strong point!) and a song that Larry has never played. The band joke that they have all sorts of setlist twists planned for Larry as he missed Wednesday’s main rehearsal.
Jam J is brutal. Jim leads with the bass, the strobes kick in almost blinding the crowd with their intensity, Tim prowls the stage like a man possessed. Huge cheers greet the return of the seminal favourite Johnny Yen, which shows no sign of ageing just yet. The band, except Mark, make their way to the front of the stage and sit down on the monitors for a poignant, slowed down, almost acoustic run through of Sit Down which has the whole crowd singing back to them. Again, they bring something new to playing this song and it works brilliantly as it is reborn and now makes perfect sense amongst the lesser know more experimental moments in the set. Out To Get You continues to teeter on the edge of needing a rest from the set, but once again it’s rescued by the improvised end section, which never sounds the same twice. It’s telling that what was described as a “throwaway b-side” that got reworked should provide the focus for so much outpouring of emotion from old men in the crowd.
Thankfully separated from Sometimes, Laid prompts a mass stage invasion and is as mental as ever, you can’t see most of the band for people on stage. It’s followed by Say Something and Ring The Bells and now the seats are a hindrance as everyone wants to dance. Even Larry, who seems to have forgotten his back problems temporarily. To close the set Tim says they plan to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but that is doing Stutter a massive massive injustice. It’s not got the pop immediacy of some of the hits that precede it, but it is James all over. It’s almost as old as the band itself and it has aged equally as well.
The band come back and strike up into Sound once technical problems with Mark’s PC are resolved (which gives Tim another chance to air the Mac / PC debate). Again, it twists and turns in new ways and ends up with Andy in the crowd and Tim on the floor. Sometimes closes the set with a singalong of the chorus, unprompted, which is when it works its best.
So, in summary, it’s a stunning opening to the tour. The fears about a seated venue are generally unfounded unless you’re unfortunate enough to be sat near people who have little interest in the gig, which seemed to be very few. The band are on their best form since the reformation, probably driven by the rapport and intensity of the US tour where they flipped sets around and threw songs in they hadn’t played for years. Relationships seem strong within the band, they have a lighting man who understands the music and a front of house who is getting the sound spot on. Tim’s voice is the strongest I can remember it, both on record and live and there’s a gel that is holding them all together. Assuming Larry’s back holds out, this could be a very special tour.
SetlistSit Down / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Seven / Tomorrow / Crazy / She's A Star / Stutter / Dust Motes / Tell Her I Said So / Born Of Frustration / Jam J / I Wanna Go Home / Out To Get You / Ten Below / Say Something / Ring The Bells / Sound / Come Home / Sometimes / Laid
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After the grandeur of the Campo Pequeno in Lisbon, the prospect of a pavilion in the Palacio do Cristal is a very tempting one – yet the expected glamour and history behind the name is in reality a domed arena normally used for sport which appears devoid of any heating – Tim jokingly holds up a fan heater and tells the crowd this is all they have to keep warm. During the show this doesn’t prove a problem as the venue is absolutely rammed – even down the sides where we choose to stand there is no room for any dancing that doesn’t involve solely up and down movement.
Coming on nearly half an hour late, Andy’s trumpet call and then Larry’s acoustic guitar signal Tim’s entrance, accompanying Andy in the seats above the main standing arena. Immediately head turn, arms are raised and several thousand Portuguese and a few visitors from overseas are joined in one singing along. Not being thrown out at the end of the set, the song has gained a new lease of life and, of course, it wins the crowd over from the start. Back on stage with the rest of the band, Getting Away With It seals the deal. Despite the acoustics of the venue being pretty damn awful and the bass being turned up a little too much, James battle their way through – not that the crowd that is going wild care about the sound that much. Seven sees Tim make his first venture down to the front of the crowd.
Tomorrow starts off with the intro of Ring The Bells being played and then stops, this happens again later on as well as there’s good natured banter on stage about the setlist. Crazy keeps the pace going in the set even though it’s less familiar to the crowd whilst She’s A Star, preceded by Saul talking to the crowd in Portuguese translating Tim’s words for him, has Tim off the stage at the left hand side.
Tim starts to introduce Dust Motes, before Larry corrects him that one of the first songs they ever wrote is next. Whilst the sound in the venue is awful, it works for the lighting as the grey roof seems to reflect light around the dome as Stutter again demonstrates James’ ability to take an old song and reinvent it in a way that none of their contemporaries would even consider.
Dust Motes doesn’t suffer as badly last night from sound issues, but there’s still a feeling that Tim’s vocals aren’t loud enough compared to the guitar. Whilst not so familiar to the crowd there’s still plenty of arms raised and the mad man who’s spent most of the gig on his poor friend’s shoulders clearly is still having a great time. Tell Her I Said So, with an extended outro, works well in the set, despite not much success again in getting someone in the front row to sing along the “here’s to long life line”.
Born Of Frustration, as befits one of the songs that broke James in Portugal, gets possibly the most raucous reception of the evening, Tim toying with the audience at the start. Jam J, which ends in Tim telling the crowd that it was dedicated to those who thought James were just about pop songs, has every bit the energy of Stutter, Jim and Larry leading the way and an extended outro lighting up the building with strobes – very powerful.
I Wanna Go Home and Out To Get You bring the mood down slightly, although they both give the band chance to shine and demonstrate they are not just about the raw power that drove the first half of the set. The acoustics don’t hinder them either on these two songs although Ten Below suffers badly, particularly in the end section where the bass drowns out Tim’s singing through the megaphone.
On the home straight and James seal the main set with three of their best known songs – Say Something has Tim singing on the barrier, whilst Ring The Bells demonstrates James flat out rocking. Sound finishes with Andy back on the balcony, almost hanging over into the crowd, whirling his trumpet around. It’s easy to forget sometimes how much he adds to James, but the piercing trumpet and the visuals he often provides are as critical to the James sound as anyone else.
Coming back out, the backing tape to Come Home fails to work, allowing Tim to reprise the Mac / PC debate which went on at a few US shows. Showing that they are not reliant on the backing tapes, the band improvise, Andy playing trumpet through Tim’s mic and Larry turning up the guitar, making the song sound as it did back in 1989 before Flood got his mitts on it.
Sometimes also benefits from a different start due to the tape issues and works equally well. As the crowd singalong, the song is brought back up at the end, bringing it to a more natural end than crashing into Laid. This allows Tim to ask people up on stage to dance on the condition they don’t bring cameras and phones with them and the gig ends with a heaving mass of bodies and arms with the stage full of people dancing.
Whilst not as enjoyable or as polished as the Lisbon performance the night before, the energy of the crowd and the power of the music made the show special for those that had waited nearly a decade for James to do their own show in the city. It’s a pity that the venue didn’t quite work and didn’t have the intimacy of the bullring the previous night.
SetlistSit Down / Ring The Bells / Seven / Whiteboy / Born Of Frustration / PS / Tell Her I Said So / It's Hot / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / She's A Star / Jam J / I Wanna Go Home / Dust Motes / Stutter / Crazy / Say Something / Sound / Out To Get You / Sometimes / Laid
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Campo Pequeno is a bull-ring – it’s a visually stunning building both from the outside and once you’re inside, it’s almost ideal for a concert. High-sided seating area, flat round floor space so noone is too far away from the stage. The sound is also stunning for a venue that holds many thousand people. Couple that with a excited fervent Portuguese crowd witnessing their first full James gig in the capital since the reformation and you have the stage set for a brilliant evening.
The gig starts, without a support band, with Andy playing a trumpet call out in the seats at the top of the building. Larry walks on stage and starts to play the opening chords to Sit Down, whilst Tim appears in the seats at the back and sings walking down the steps, being greeted with adulation by the surprised crowd. Not that James would need much to have this crowd eating out of the palms of their hands, it wins them over – everyone appears to be singing along.
The rest of the band join the stage for Ring The Bells, which starts the centre of the crowd dancing and they don’t stop until the last bars of Laid. Seven sees Tim venture down to the barrier, whilst Whiteboy is a bit messy in places, but that adds to the song rather than taking anything away from it. Tim takes the opportunity before Born of Frustration to welcome vegetarians to the bullring, hoping that the night will be more about love than blood and that it will cleanse bad events that have happened there before. The song itself is wild, the crowd with various degrees of success hollering along with Tim. P.S calms the mood slightly and is highlighted with Larry’s slide and Saul’s violin.
Saul addresses the crowd in Portuguese before Tim requests that the crowd respect the new songs they’re about to play which may be unfamiliar because of the lack of promotion from the Portuguese record company. He needn’t have worried – the crowd that know them sing along, the rest listen and watch. Tell Her I Said So translates well to the live environment and Tim goes back down to the barrier to try and engage the crowd in the “here’s to long life” ending. It’s Hot comes alive compared to the album version.
Getting Away With It and She’s A Star come next and Tim explains to the crowd that they want to come back to the cities in Portugal more and play their own gigs rather than festivals; the crowd cheer as one. The set tonight is aimed at satisfying those that haven’t seen James for a long time and haven’t heard the hits for awhile, whilst throwing in an odd curveball and the new material.
Jam J sees the venue lit up in strobe lighting as the song builds to its climax with Jim’s bass directing the song and Larry hammering away on his guitar. It goes from the mad frenetic to the slower opening bars of I Wanna Go Home, before that too explodes into life. Dust Motes is the one disappointment of the night – not sure why, but it doesn’t sound quite right, Tim’s vocals appear to be drowned out by Larry’s guitar. It’s a blip though as Stutter is as wild as ever, leaving many of the crowd simply staring at the triple-drum assault going on on stage – it ends with Saul using Larry’s guitar as a drum. Crazy sounds for all the world like the hit single that never was, before the set closes with Say Something, with Tim again coming down to the crowd, mounting the barrier to connect with the crowd who hold him up.
Sound has new life breathed into it. Whenever it feels like it might be getting a bit old and tired, the band find something new to add into it. Andy ends the main section of the song up in the seats again, before Larry brings the song back in, although it’s almost unrecognisible as Sound; Tim ends up on the floor of the stage. The band leave to an amazing reception, looking round the venue, as I had all night, seeing such a reaction almost brings a tear to the eye. As with the Greek gigs last summer, the crowd in Portugal add something special to the James experience that is sometimes missing from the UK gigs.
As Laid was the album that really made James’ name in Portugal, it’s fitting that the encore features three songs from that album. The end of Sometimes sees the whole crowd singing along, whilst most of the front row make their way over the barriers onto the stage. The flood of people continue during the opening bars of Laid, which is as wild as ever. Noone wants to leave when the show finishes and it’s not hard to understand why. There’s something special about watching James play in Portugal – I’d recommend it to anyone.
Track-listings appear on music sites for The Gathering Sound boxset – however, due to manufacturing issues, the release is put back until 2011 at the earliest. James announce that they will offer the VIP package that had been so successful in the US on their upcoming UK tour.