james - Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge 11.03.2019
I turned up to the Corn Exchange alone as Paul, who normally makes my reviews look good with his great images was unable to make this gig. We decided to go ahead with the review as james are known for putting on a good show and their new album 'Living In Extraordinary Times' is critically acclaimed. There was however a mix up, and only the photo pass was on the guest list. It was explained that after 3 songs I would have to leave, which although the norm, hence our webzine's name, I explained that this would result in a very short review. It is not as if I could get a ticket from the box office, as like most of james' shows on this tour, this night was sold out. Becky, who was in charge appeared and realised the issue. Within a few minutes I found myself in the VIP area of this great venue. So this review is really brought to you from the brilliant Becky.
The venue soon filled up, as james support their main show with an acoustic set. When they took to the stage, Tim Booth, dressed in blue bell bottoms, a white linen shirt and a long brown hooded coat, looking like a funky Jedi master, aped support acts by thanking james for this opportunity. Saul Davies, with his usual wit observed that support bands always say 'This is our new song' and that to most in the audience 'Well they’re all fucking new aren’t they?'. They played a stripped back 7 song acoustic set. I guess they thought they did not have to warm up the crowd, as their electric set would more than achieve that. james opened with 'Pressure's On', from their sixth album, 'Wah Wah'. It was immediately obvious by the way that the band interacted and the sound and light, that this was going to be a polished show. Playing acoustic seems to make things more personal and allows the audience to connect. Before they played 'Coming Home (Pt.2)', the first song in the set from their new album, Tim said that the song was for all those that work away, obviously as part of a touring band the lyrics are from personal experience. Crowd favourite 'Just Like Fred Astaire', lifted the mood before the last 2 songs both from 'La Petite Mort'. Tim warned the crowd 'Now don’t get too happy. This one is about living with death. You only have a little time so fucking use it. Rejoice a life of happiness.' Tim explained that he wrote 'Quicken The Dead' after death of his Mother and a friend. The set closed with 'All I'm Saying'. Tim announced that this was the last song from the 'morose support band' and that is was written about a friend called Raven who had passed away. The stage was dark, with subtle lights cutting through the smoke, which contributed to the personal nature of the performance. Everyone stood still with a respectful aire as the set concluded. It had been a set full of emotion, that was beautifully delivered. There is nowhere to hide when playing acoustic and james excelled in demonstrating their craft. If they had been a support act, though, they may have been sacked though because they subdued the crowd. They obviously knew they would smash the full electric set!
To kick start the crowd, four, floor Tom Tom drums were brought out. The band came out to an enthusiastic crowd, Tim now in a black velvet jacket, looked very suave. Lights shone into the crowd as james kicked off with 'Hank' from their latest album. This was rousing stuff as the song is like a mini political rally against the Trump administration. The band spent most of the time silhouetted by the powerful back lights. Moroseness had been banished. 'What's it All About?' and 'Heads' also from the new album followed, equally powerful songs with Tim Booth contorting and grooving like hypnotic cobra. After the first three songs, Saul had one of his usual interactions with the crowd by noting that 'After every song you clap and then are silent. Are you taking a period of reflection'. There was then an exchange where Tim and Saul wondered if the were any psychologists in the audience. Come on this is Cambridge, what do you think? james launched into another crowd pleaser 'Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)'. Saul's distinctive guitar riff got the crowd clapping with hands in air and more movement from the front to the back. At one stage Tim made eye contact with people in the front row and made a real connection. It is fair to say that this absolute wall of sound got the blood flowing. The momentum continued with 'Tomorrow' where the light show went into overdrive and we were only at song 5 in the setlist! The next 2 offerings were new ones, the first one 'How Hard The Day' is on the album but 'Moving Car' only made the deluxe version of the album as a demo. As this mesmerising song was building Tim stopped the band to ask a member staff to stop handing out water during it, as it was off putting. He then became a water bearer himself dishing out bottles to the front row. Before they started it again Tim explained that it was about 'When you are young you believe everything is possible. When you are old you believe in nothing' he also noted that 'The support band should have played it!' It was a beautiful hypnotic song with sublime guitar riffs and haunting keys. It is testament to how good 'Living In Extraordinary Times' is, if this song did not make the cut. It was one of the standouts in the set for me. When the band finished playing it, a cry came out from the crowd to 'Play It Again!'.
james are renowned for mixing things up a bit and unlike most bands do not play the same setlist twice, which is nightmare for reviewers like me. You never know what you will get, apart from it will be a great night. 'Five-0' was played which showcased Saul's violin playing so well. At the end Tim beseeched the crowd 'He doesn't like playing violin .... will you tell him?'. He then confirmed that james like to be different and want Cambridge to be different from London, and really do like to be in the moment. So the setlist is very fluid. He said that voting had not worked too well recently, however a vote did take place between 'Stutter' and 'Sit Down', although close, 'Sit Down' won the day. The performance of this favourite brought he house down. Tim then described how Aristotle, believed in a lottery decision making process, rather than voting. Seeing some of the blank faces he conceded that he might have stereotyped a Cambridge audience and apologised. Maybe we were not as learned as he thought! If there was any doubt that james mix things up they followed 'Sit Down' with 'I Defeat' which was the B-Side to 'Just Like Fred Astaire' and had only been played live 3 times previously. Again this is a beautiful song and the fact that it was a B-Side is testament to the strength of james' back catalogue. The final stretch of the set started with another two tracks from the new album with 'Picture OF This Place' and then the sublime 'Leviathan'. This was an epic performance of the track which meandered hypnotically assisted with the lights on full on strobe mode. A real stand out performance that was a joy to experience. Saul picked up his acoustic guitar and without a word strummed the opening riffs of 'Laid' sending the crowd into a frenzy. Again this was a full on live version of this song. The set came to an end with 'Attention', Tim again, grooving in his trademark ethereal way.
When james took to the stage for the encore Tim said 'This is dedicated to anyone who has lost someone recently' before the band played 'Moving On'. If we were thinking that the support band had come on again james dispelled those thoughts when Tim told us that the next song was 'Dedicated to Trump and the wall he is trying to build and the rise of nationalism', Saul reflected that 'We could also dedicate it to Liam Fox...…….... Fucker' What followed was profound and moving. james played a brilliant version of the exquisite 'Many Faces' from 'Living In Extraordinary Times' as the song came to an end Tim Booth lowered himself into the assembled masses and found an audience member, stood in front of them, looked them in the eyes and sung the lyric 'There's only one human race. Many faces, everybody belongs here.' He would then move to another fan and do the same thing. Without fail the words were simultaneously sung back to him, by the fan, as the rest of us gently sung the lyrics. I lost count of the number of times he did this. When he got back on the stage the band had stopped playing. We continued singing the lyric over and over again. I can honestly say that I have never seen such a comprehensive and personal connection between the artist and fans. It was deeply moving. But every show has to end with a bang, so the closing song was the funky 'Come Home'. On a Monday night that is what I did very late but with a massive smile on my face.
The setlist had been well put together, with a lot of songs from 'Living In Extraordinary Times' but with a mix from many of their other albums. There were crowd pleasers and rarities and that is what makes a james gig so exciting, the sheer unpredictability of the band. What is never in question, though, is that a james gig will be an experience. The lighting and sound were spot on, if you pardon the pun. james are a band of extremely talented musicians who are as tight as a drum skin lead by a charismatic frontman. The thing that really sets them apart is the connection they have with the crowd. So it is no surprise that they will be headlining Cool Britannia at Knebworth in August.
Review - Tony Creek