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james - The SSE Hydro, Glasgow 5.10.2018

Bloody football!! Not the usual words you’d expect at the start of a gig review, I grant you, but for tonight those words are apt. Having set off in what I thought was plenty of time to catch The Charlatans and james at the Hydro, I find myself in a queue of traffic, just off the M8. With only 30 minutes to go before The Charlatans take the stage. Bugger. It seems that a blue team are hosting a red team and fans of both teams have all decided to occupy the same stretch of motorway at the same time. Luckily Helga (my utterly ruthless and efficient Sat Nav) guides me away from the melee and into a multi storey in which I can abandon the car and get a taxi to the show. And so it is that, 40 minutes later, I find myself settling into my seat next to Pippa and Elisa who have popped upstairs and grabbed some unclaimed seats until james come on.

Although it was mainly james that was the attraction, I was really looking forward to seeing The Charlatans. They are one of those bands who hold a link to the past for me; whenever I hear the keyboard stabs of “Weirdo” for instance, I’m taken back to those heady days of Lee Thompson doing the breakfast show on Xfm, when record companies had cool names like Beggars Banquet, rather than the corporate bollocks of today. So I’ve missed around 20 minutes or so of The Charlatans’ set, but luckily I’m there in time for what should be an absolute highlight…”The Only One I Know”. Except it isn’t. It’s not flat but…muted. And that’s weird because come to think of it, the rest of the set feels muted too. I don’t know if the expanse of stage doesn’t suit the band but there’s not a great deal of use of it. It’s just not that good...maybe it’s because I was late and so missed the anticipation and because of this I’m not enjoying it but I get the impression they’re not firing on all cylinders, which is a bit disappointing. Then their set finishes, Pippa and Elisa take their leave and head down to the floor area with the avowed intention of throwing shapes.

james stride onto the stage and open with “Hank”, then follow with “Picture Of This Place” and “Waltzing Along”, a bit of standing on the barriers and stage diving from Tim, and then I just tune into what turns out to be one of the best shows I have seen for a long time. There’s a heady mix of old and new – stunning versions of “Out To Get You” and “Just Like Fred Astaire”, “Tomorrow” flies by in it’s gorgeousness and a frankly epic rendition of “Leviathon”. Of course, “Sit Down” is there and I can’t help feeling that it’s an example the confidence, and depth of quality, james have that it’s thrown in the mix and not saved for the encore, as perhaps other bands would be tempted to do. The set finishes with “Sounds” and “Come Home” both sounding amazing, especially with the accompaniment of thousands of Glaswegian voices. The encore is simply spell binding – the beautiful “Many Faces” made even more beautiful by the crowd singing along, “Getting Away With It” and, finally, “Sometimes” in all it’s joyousness.

As I make my way outside, past the mist shrouded beauty of the Finnieston Crane, I pause for a little reflection (well, you need to do something while you’re waiting for a taxi!) This is the first arena show I’ve been to in a while…quite often I come away from them feeling a little disappointed, because of the size and the fact that the sound can be hit and miss in these types of venue. But this doesn’t feel like the usual arena show. Yes the Hydro makes a difference (I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a bad seat in the place) but mostly it’s down to james and in particular Tim. I always thought that Tim Booth would be a good live frontman but the reality is, he’s born to it. He commands the stage as he walks, shimmies and grooves across it, down the ego ramp to the mini stage in front of the audience…there is no doubt that he has the audience in the palm of his hands. The last person I saw who could do this (and make it look this effortless) was Michael Stipe. And there is (bizarrely in a place with a capacity of over 10,000, and the fact that I’m sat a few hundred metres from the stage) an intimacy about the show to the point where it sometimes doesn’t feel like we’re in an arena. I’ve only ever felt that kind of band/audience connection once before in an arena (U2 in Arnhem) and it feels magical.

If you get the chance to see james live, I whole-heartedly suggest you grab it with as many appendages as you can.

Oh, if you’re wondering, the blue team lost.

Review - Chris Watson

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