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James - First Direct Arena, Leeds 08.06.2024



This wasn’t my first time seeing James, so I already knew what a great live band they are, but I was really looking forward to seeing this gig as I had the pleasure of reviewing the new album, 'Yummy', for this site recently and was really impressed with it.

It’s not often a band who have been going as long as James have (sorry to the band for pointing that out!) continue releasing new music which is as good as 'Yummy' is, it feels like James are currently experiencing a renaissance.

They are a band who shortly after they had their initial indie hits such as 'Sit Down' started to push the boundaries of their music and introduce new instruments, new sounds and a new style to their music. I think its fair to say that there is no other band that sounds quite like James. You hear a song and it’s not just Tim’s vocals you recognise but also the sound.

At times it’s like they’ve reinvigorated Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, at others like they’ve created their own special Manchester version but whatever is it they do they’ve been consistently good at it for a very long time now (sorry for the time reference again!).

So how was the gig itself? The First Direct Arena is a great venue, I’ve seen many bands there over the years from Springsteen unofficially opening it to some of the greatest names in music. It’s a purpose built venue and you can feel it. Getting in and getting around it feels very easy. The staff are all efficient and mostly friendly (one guy was a bit over the top with his instructions) and the acoustics are great.

The support act, Razorlight, were festival headliners themselves in their heyday. After a period of inactivity, they are back again, I was lucky enough to see them play the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh supported by Affleck’s Palace recently where it was obvious that whatever it was that caused them to go silent is no longer an issue. They entertained the crowd and got a few singalongs going during their support set. They have a number of 90’s indie classics in their repertoire and utilised them to the full. Starting out with 'In The Morning' which instantly got the crowd on board they were clearly enjoying themselves and wanted the crowd to have a good time as well. No matter what you think of their lead singer Johnny Borrell you can’t deny he is a great frontman (I know he divides opinion in some quarters, but I thought this was an excellent performance).

They debuted some new music which didn’t instantly grab me, but I will give it a listen to see if it’s a grower. They played 10 songs in total finishing with the triple whammy of 'Before I Fall To Pieces', S'omewhere Else' and 'America'. I don’t know about others, but I enjoyed their set as did the crowd round about me.

There was only a brief gap before James sauntered casually on to the stage, there was no big fanfare as they don’t need one. One minute they weren’t there, the next they were. As usual they make their own rules on what to do on stage, violin, check, trumpet, check, two drummers, check, acapella singing, check.

Tim Booth is a consummate frontman, possibly one of the best front men we have in the UK these days. What makes him so good and so compelling is he is totally his own man. He’s not trying to be someone else. He’s being 100% himself. His vocals are as good as they’ve ever been, his interaction with the crowd tremendous, his obvious enjoyment of the company of the rest of the band and his sheer joy at what he does shines through.

The initial section of the show relied heavily on the new album 'Yummy', it was great to see many of the crowd, with a few exceptions, clearly knew the new album and were loving the new songs. There are a number of songs on the album that feel like they’re becoming live staples already. As I said above this is a great new album and the band clearly enjoy playing the new stuff but, as Tim admitted, they are still getting some of it right. He was clearly pleased that they got one song that hadn’t been going completely well right for the first time.

Quite often with a bands new material, when they have been as prolific and successful at writing great songs as James have, it feels like it is something the audience endures to get to the classics. Aside from a few people who clearly hadn’t bothered to listen to the new album (who Tim suggested hadn’t done their homework and I agree with them, James are not a touring greatest hits act) most of the crowd really engaged with the new album.

Those just there for the hits, and there were some, were rewarded with a plethora of classis, 'Getting Away With It', 'Come Home', 'Sometimes' and for the encore both 'Laid' and, a song they don’t play that often, 'Sit Down'. 'Sit Down' was paused due to an emergency in the crowd, a sign of how aware Tim is of his audience.

At no point did the pace drop, at no point did the singalongs stop, at no point did the mass dancing stop, this was truly an impressive show put on by a band who are at the top of their game. I woke up hoarse this morning having sung along to nearly every song. If you get the chance, and can get tickets, go see James, they are one of the best British live acts there are!

But the other thing you should do is go listen to 'Yummy', stream it, buy it, enjoy it, this is a band who are still relevant, still writing great music and still connecting with their audience in a way that many of their contemporaries from the nineties can only dream of. James are the real deal, cherish and enjoy them! If there are any festivals out there that have lost a headliner or are already starting to plan for next year, perhaps they have a 20th anniversary coming up, you could do a lot worse than get James!

Photos -

Review - Iain McClay


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