With recent Girl at The End of the World album almost knocking Adele from no.1 (which is as goods it gets), James’ days of t-shirts outselling the music are a distant joke. James are the unlikely survivors. Drugs and sects have dogged them like a Manc Fleetwood Mac, and singer Tim Booth appears more shamanic than ever, but clearly understands that the best place for such leanings is in a rock band rather than IT recruitment.
Booth crowd surfing an aging crowd three songs in (and a new one at that) might define optimism, but it’s declaration of intent. James always were egalitarian – one of us – and somehow never quite as cool as their contemporaries. By this point we’ve already had the gestalt therapy of To My Surprise, a song sung in French, and multi-instrumentalist Saul Davies whipping the longest violin cable in rock amongst a wall of sound the Verve always pursued. Tim Booth channels James; he’s mesmerising, like a dervish on shore leave. What was he thinking with a solo career?
Of course the stream-of-consciousness lyrics frequently topple into their own self-importance, but this is a man unceasingly appearing like the man who lost himself and found the desert.
Ironically, they are strongest when it’s not all about Booth. Andy Diagram’s stabbing trumpet used as part lead and part rhythm is astounding, and they’d be screwed without it. Sometimes stakes its claim as their finest song. The echoes of teenage romance still running deep to its core. It’s an encore only seven songs in. The crowd runs with its transcendence, as ‘Sometimes, when I look in your eyes I can see your soul’ fills the room, before Booth gently escalates matters to ‘…I can touch your soul’.
The elongated intro to Bitch has plenty to live up to, so thankfully it sounds like an old friend, probably because it could be New Order, as Booth continues dancing like electricity in a monsoon. With the crowd now mostly parents, Come Home adopts a new tenderness, like it’s no longer surrender but simply a safe haven. The band are also brave enough not to play their albatross of Sit Down, and it goes unmissed, unlike Laid, which is.
She’s a Star has never been the song it thinks it is, as the band reduces in number for an acoustic huddle centre-stage. It’s basically a discounted U2’s One. Booth may have taken Bono’s stacked heels too far, but there is similarity. Booth is a Bono that actually had lost himself in the Joshua tree national park as opposed to private-jetting home.
Interrogation struts, while Dear John mines the unlikely industrial pop of Take That’s Progress. This is no bad thing. Robbie is sitting somewhere kicking himself for not writing it. It’s followed by a loudhailer showdown, like a psychedelic rowing race, before the massive Sound arrives, which somehow knows it had Brian Eno involved. This marks Andy Diagram’s turn to enter the crowd, trumping Booth with both a UV glowing trumpet and a white shirt bigger than a flag, but his grin suggests it’s all surrendering, not surrender .
An unexpected highlight is closer Attention – with an almost EDM break-down of synth washes recalling the chill out rooms of student digs – before it swells with echoing reverb like the rock apocalypse the KLF always threatened with their unreleased Black Room album.
After Booth’s customary Papal walk about in the crowd for the plaintive Say Something, we’re left with the slide guitar and redemptive REM shades of Moving on, from 2004’s Petit Mort. It’s clear the band’s highs are now dealt through music not dealers, and the song ends things with its gentle confrontation of death. Its bruised defiance of ‘Leave a little light on for me’ perfectly sums up the place James hold in the hearts of its fans.