Careful What You Say (acoustic) / Laid (acoustic) / Discover / In The Darkness / Wave Hello / Monkey God / Redneck / Love Hard / Eh Mamma / Sometimes / Falling Down / Bone / Down To The Sea / Fall In Love With Me
review by oneofthethree
So two and a half years on from Wembley and Tim Booth takes to the stage with his new band in the rather more intimated mostly-seated environment of the Sussex Arts Centre, a beautiful venue for this first full insight into the new band. Joining Tim on stage are his new band – Lee “Muddy” Baker on guitar, Lisa (Xan or Sid) on keyboards, Robin on bass and sax and Milo on drums.
After a short well-received solo set of his own, Lee joined Tim on stage for the first two acoustic tracks – new song “Words” which was previewed at the acoustic gigs last year and the old James favourite “Laid”. “Words” immediately demonstrates just how far the songs have developed since then, crisp, fresh and delivered with emotion, power and spirit. “Laid” is the only real disappointment of the evening. It’s performed well, but it is pretty indistinguishable from many of the tens of James acoustic versions of the track.
The remainder of the band come on and “Discover” opens the electric section of the set. Straight away it’s clear that there’s an interaction here with the new band that’s similar to that which characterized the real highlights of James live career. Tim’s voice holds centre stage, but the music leaps and jumps around it. “Into Darkness” starts off with a half-spoken, half-sung verse, similar to that on English Beefcake and even gets a reference to the ipod in there for good measure. The song demonstrates for the first time in the set just how well Lee and in particular Lisa’s vocals interact with Tim’s. A possible single, I thought, but there’s better choices to come.
“Wave Hello” features Tim’s first public performance of an instrument, we’re informed, as he takes one of Lisa’s keyboards. About “love to the end of time”, it’s one of the weaker of the new songs, not that it’s a criticism, just a measure of the quality of what’s to come.
“Monkey God” is about the evolution of man and the links between apes, man and God (yes he still features in the lyrics). A frantic beat, some beautiful harmonies from Lisa, a great drum performance from Milo (who Tim apparently met at drama group), this looks a great bet for the first or second single.
“Redneck” drops the pace slightly and is preceded by Tim telling a story about Angelo Badalamenti’s Uncle Tony and his frightening stare. The lyrics are obtuse including an opening that takes Auld Lang Syne, the chorus revolving around a line “I’m just ice-cream, it’s all rama-rama”. But the song is beautiful, pure and dreamy and Tim’s voice is in fine form.
“Love Is Addiction” appears a simple track, but is extremely powerful starting with a haunting keyboard beat and then a crashing chorus centering around Milo’s drums in the chorus. The real highlight of the track is Lisa’s high-pitched vocal section. It’s clear throughout, both in the performance and the banter between songs, that rather than just being Tim Booth and his backing band, this is a collective of musicians in their own right. Both Lee and Lisa have their own material.
“Mama” is a short fast-paced two and a half minute or so songs about a woman that Tim’s battling with and is frenetic but inspired.
Following four brilliant new songs is a keyboard-only version of “Sometimes” that is simply beautiful. Unlike Laid, this is a different take on a James song, I can’t recollect them ever trying this song this way and it works. If there’s any future for James songs in the set, this is how they should be approached, do something different with them because the comparison will always be there if they’re too faithful to the original and it’s a no-win situation, however accomplished the performance.
“Falling Down Again” is a slow track where the emotion just pours out in the vocals and Lee provides backing vocals. A relatively simple song, it hangs on the performance and it’s pulled off with relative ease this time.
Title track of the forthcoming album “Bone” is possibly the strongest of the new tracks, the lyrics focusing on the nature of man and religion including the classic line “One born rich, one born poor, life’s a bitch and I’m her whore” . The musical backing is quite simple, but matches perfectly the sentiment of Tim’s vocals. Robin, the bass player, adds a stunning sax flourish to end of the track coupled with Tim, Lee and Lisa’s harmonies, something that could be expanded across into some of the other tracks as they are experimented with for the live performances.
The final track of the main set is “Down To The Sea” and gets recognized instantly from the Dom Joly performance, but the song’s been taken to new levels since starting with an almost accapella vocal opening and the scope the full band affords it and some more high-pitched accompaniment from Lisa.
The band leave to a raucous reception before returning for a basic plaintive run-through the Booth and the Bad Angel track “Fall In Love With Me”.
So the overall verdict? It may have taken 2 ½ years for Tim to come back, but he’s clearly taken the time to find musicians with whom he can connect and who share his passion and vision for the music and to come up with a body of songs that inspire and bristle with emotion and passion.
The respect between them (including the delightfully shy KK who hides at the back of the venue) and in particular with Lee, who co-wrote some of the tracks, played most of the instruments on and produced the album, is evident from the beginning, the inspiration and energy is back, there are some great songs here and the potential to develop them still further into stunning live performances. The musicians clearly have the talent and the will to improvise and take the songs still further.
This isn’t James, it never will be, and if that’s what you want, you’re probably better staying away, but this is something new and exciting, and if I’m frankly being honest, it had been a while since James, however good the last two albums were, created this level of expectation and hope for the future. I left the Arts Club having witnessed something really special.
Next Saturday can’t come soon enough.
review by Jennifer Cushion
“Fans want my autograph, critics write my epitaph”. * Well who wouldn’t feel daunted by the prospect of writing a review after hearing that lyric? Here’s an attempt;
The two opening tracks, “Words” and “Laid”, are accomplished enough performances.
However, it is only when the rest of the band enter the stage that the full musical development of the songs can be appreciated.
The structure for “Down To The Sea” is a lot more coherent, enabling the vocal melodies to really shine. “Love Is Addiction” showcases Lisa’s vocals perfectly, whilst demonstrating how well they complement Tim’s.
“Redneck” is simply sublime, dealing with a rather apt subject for our time – how easy it is to let friendships slip.
A fragile, wonderful performance of “Sometimes”, with Lisa on keyboard, further demonstrates Lee’s vocal talents (which he earlier revealed with a well-performed set of his own) and the vocal harmony between him and Tim is amazing.
Throughout the set, the drums and saxophone, played by Milo and Robin respectively, further add to the rhythms and structures.
It is evident that all five thrive off each other’s energy, pushing each other to the best of their abilities.
At some point in the set, there is a rather nice experiment with stream of consciousness – they all start talking at the same time, ending with Tim echoing out loud what may be going through the minds of members of the audience “…and now you’re all looking at us, sitting in your seats, hardly daring to move, as that would just be embarrassing”. **
It truly is exciting to listen to the music evolving, and at this rate, I doubt people will be staying still for long.
* Probably from “Into Darkness” if memory serves correctly.
** Probably not correct word for word, but that is the main gist of it.