Gig Review: James in Liverpool, Sheffield and Blackpool, April 2008

James Live in Sheffield, April 2008So, in case you hadn’t noticed, I have a soft spot for James. It goes back to about 1992 when I saw them live for the first time and they were the most amazing thing I’d ever seen on a stage. Back then, in the U.S., when every band was starting to sound like Nirvana or trying to sound like R.E.M., James were incredibly strange and as such, very very cool. The love affair has continued for 16 years, I’d like to say unabated, but I can’t, because Millionaires and Pleased to Meet You were so damned awful. As a result, despite last year’s triumphant gigs and the return of not only Larry Gott on guitar, but also Andy Diagram on trumpet, I still wasn’t expecting much from Hey Ma, the new album. Nonetheless I bought it, and tickets to three shows, and made plans with two of my American friends who were flying over for a week for some of the gigs.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the new album is actually pretty good! Ok, it’s not Strip Mine and it’s certainly not Laid (nothing is ever going to top Laid), but they struggled for a while, trying to write hit singles (and failing) and trying to sound different and instead they sounded forced, and boring. Brian Eno seemed to make their last two albums sound muddy, dreary and old. With a new producer, and back to a threesome for the songwriting (that classic Booth/Gott/Glennie threesome that wrote all the best songs) they do sound reinvigorated. The album sounds playful, it sounds primal again and energetic, and although some of Tim’s lyrics are pretty cringeworthy and most of the subject matter has been done before on older James tracks, this album sounds like it was made by a band who are enjoying making music – not a band trying to write hit singles. As a result they’ve produced a few more classic James indie anthems in the form of “Waterfall,” “Whiteboy” and “Hey Ma” it would seem, quite by accident. Go James.

So with my two American companions, I was really looking forward to seeing the band at Liverpool University on 12th April, Sheffield Academy on 14th April and Blackpool Empress Ballroom on 22nd April. First, however, we had to endure MySpace spammers My Federation who dress like the Libertines and sound like a bluesy Zutons covers band. Needless to say they are ear-splittingly awful. They made it worse by being cocky and “tricking” the crowd into applauding them by constantly asking if everyone was excited about James. They weren’t fooling anybody. Sad when you have to beg for applause. Probably the same way they had to beg for fans – although it seemed to work on the girl who was practically having carnal relations with my friend’s leg while screaming and jumping up and down during their set. Frankly, after the “we’re not spammers so please be our friend, we’re fans of James too” messages they were sending on MySpace months ago, they’d have had to be pretty special to get anything but ridicule from me (if you have to apologise for the spammy message, then you shouldn’t be sending it, cause it’s spam). Sounding like a pale imitation of a band for which I have nothing but derision and nausea was never going to do.

James live in Liverpool, April 2008James, however, had a treat up their sleeve, especially in Liverpool. Peter Kay came out to introduce them and ended up leading the crowd in a singalong of “Lullaby,” before helping us cajole them into adding it to the set. (If I were more cynical I would assume he’d asked a few days in advance, giving them time to rehearse it during soundcheck earlier, but we’ll just say they’re that good they managed a perfect version at the last minute no rehearsal necessary.) The crowd went mad, my American friends asked me who he was.

Liverpool in particular was special as the crowd were just rowdy enough without being violent and the combination of old songs and new was just about right. Favourites throughout the tour were “Bubbles,” “Tomorrow,” “Sound,” “Waterfall” and “Whiteboy.” During the final song, “Sometimes,” the crowd kept singing the refrain “Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes I swear I can see your soul,” for about five minutes, prompting the band to pick their instruments back up, spend a couple of minutes finding the beat, and finishing it off themselves. We were really taken aback as it all seemed so spontaneous. That was until Tuesday in Sheffield when Tim encouraged the crowd to do it again, and then again in Blackpool. Having said that, it was only Liverpool where the band felt inspired to start playing again.

One of the most noticeable things about the band on stage this time was the presence of Andy Diagram. He was everywhere, and played a number of different instruments and was constantly dancing and smiling. I’d missed him that much and I didn’t even notice. His trumpet really ups the energy of the songs and watching his interaction with Tim and Larry in particular reminds me of that primal force they used to be on stage which affected me so much all those years ago. Things have changed a lot since then though – Mark Hunter, who used to practically hide behind his keyboards, came down to Andy’s microphone with his melodica during “Out to Get You” which was both surprising and really great to see. Saul playing the drums during two songs was great too.

Tim Booth of James at Sheffield Academy, April 2008Sheffield as a gig was notable for the opening track “Destiny Calling” which should have been consigned to the dustbin years ago. The young girl next to me went mental – and it seemed to be the only song she recognised all night. Being jumped on by Tim when he sprung off the stage during “Come Home” was a rather unexpected, erm, pleasure. Driving over Snake Pass in a hailstorm to get there was less enjoyable. The new Sheffield Academy venue is really good and I look forward to seeing more gigs there.

And then there was Blackpool…I almost didn’t bother as it was on a Tuesday, and I think perhaps I should have left it. The band themselves were flawless, from what I could see (which was not much), but the crowd was as rough and unpleasant a James crowd as I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve experienced some very rough James crowds). I had a woman try to beat me to death with her handbag and then scream at me for shoving her because I kept pushing it away from me. I had a bloke scream at me for waving at a friend and threaten to “make” me move back because I had no right to cause the crowd to move about merely by waving. I also got punched in the back several times by a man with his 10-year-old daughter in the 3rd row because it was okay for him to mosh into people and injure those around him, but apparently people shoving forward who couldn’t see there was a small child in the mosh pit should have somehow telepathically known better. I’m still wondering what sort of fucktard brings a child who was over a head smaller than me – and I’m usually the smallest person in the room most places I go – into the middle of the mosh pit at a gig for a band whose mosh pits are among the most wild and violent I’ve ever experienced and expects the crowd to just behave themselves.

In any case, I’d say overall it was a triumphant return to form for a band I’d pretty much written off as long-since having been creatively spent. By Blackpool the new songs were being sung back by the crowd like old favourites and the band were beginning to really tease out their nuances in the live setting. I enjoyed it so much I’ve bought tickets for four nights in December. I realise this seems a bit excessive, but every music fan has one of those bands and James are mine, and as crazy as it sounds to everybody who knows about this strange obsession of mine, I’ve learned to accept that.

James – Waterfall

James – Bubbles

Photos courtesy of Gregory Pauswinski

11 Responses to “Gig Review: James in Liverpool, Sheffield and Blackpool, April 2008”

  • Scott Says:

    Hi Gregory , I pretty much agree with everything you said although I didnt experience any “violence” myself at the blackpool gig although I do accept at james gigs you get the odd idiot who take things a little too far, I thought it was an excellent show on the whole and I’ve never doubted their ability to create mayhem at a concert even without “Sit Down”, “How was it for you”, “Johnny Yen” & of course “Laid”. Not many bands could drop such classic live songs and still get that kind of reception!, to change the subject slightly my band “{ed. – snip, nope, not getting through moderation}” are about to release our first CD shortly and the above website so if you fancy reviewing the songs feel free it would be interesting to hear your opinion , anyhow keep up the good work and I hope your trip to England was an enjoyable one.

    regards
    Scott

  • Scott Says:

    ps that wasnt a spam !!!!

  • Scott Says:

    Hi me again please go to {snip} to hear our first ep and let me know what you think ? cheers
    Scott

  • Justhipper Says:

    Actually, Scott, that couldn’t be more spammy if you tried. Once was enough, but three is quite unacceptable.

    The correct way to approach somebody is to email them and politely ask for a review, it is not to post comment spam in order to splatter your URL across their blog. Carry on doing it and we’ll carry on deleting the links.

    Oh, we haven’t visited your website and we have no intention of doing so now.

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