James – Scala February 2016

Scala

James – Scala, London Feb 18th 2016

There are very few bands who have been around for 20 years or more who I would look forward to hearing ten tracks from their new album in concert.  In fact off the top of my head it’s probably only James and U2 and of the two it has been the former’s recent output which has been of a much higher quality.  Since James returned in 2007 they have released four albums and in my opinion they’ve all been excellent with the last release, La Petite Mort, top of the pile and easily sits alongside my favourite James albums Seven and Laid.

So you can imagine my delight when my wife surprised me with an early birthday present of a ticket to an intimate album preview show in London for their new album Girl At The End of the World.  For once I was lost for words.  I love seeing bands in small venues when they usually play arena type shows and the fact it was James made this extra special.  A grown man of my age really shouldn’t get as excited as I did about a gig but I was like a kid at Xmas.

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Everything fell into place perfectly.  My hotel was next door to the venue and I was five mins from Kings Cross train station.  The Scala has a capacity of around 1,000 people and seemed and ideal venue for this type of show.  It reminded me of a smaller scale Academy without the upstairs seating area but keeping the side balcony.

There was no support with James due to be on at 8 but it was nearer 8.15 before the band took to the stage with Tim Booth welcoming us to the James ‘cock up’ show.  So it was somewhat fitting that 30 secs into first new song ‘Bitch’ it all fell apart and they had to start again and it wasn’t the last time this would happen.  James always live on the edge of things falling apart on stage although they usually hold it together but it’s always funny to see them feck it up and then watch them try and find out whose fault it was.  I know off stage they aren’t exactly the best of mates but when they get on stage together something quite extraordinary happens.  Everyone has a vital role to play in the band and watching them play the new songs with such energy and excitement really translated to the crowd who listened intently to the new songs and gave their heartfelt and warm approval after each one.  Some were better than others but on first exposure to the new songs I didn’t hear any filler.

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They made the crowd work though as they started off with five new songs only one of which had been heard before, To My Surprise, a song that on first few listens I wasn’t overly impressed with but live it’s a different proposition.  Tim introduced 3rd song as Move Down South before Saul piped up telling him it was actually Catapult much to the crowd’s amusement.  The first of the tracks from the back catalogue was sixth song Top of the World and gave the crowd a chance to exercise their vocal chords before it was back into a run of three new songs,  one of which, Surfer’s Song, was my favourite of the newbies.  A typical James song that builds and builds before crashing into a swirling mix that James are so good at creating.

Then as is James’s want they throw in a deep cut with Senorita from the Pleased to Meet You album before we get the crowd in full voice during Waltzing Along and Say Something with some great interplay between Saul’s violin and Andy’s trumpet as the song comes to a close.  The band just sounded brilliant all night.  Despite the band now increased to an 8 piece live the sound was perfect all night.  Sometimes Saul’s violin or the trumpet can get a bit lost but not tonight.

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Last album La Petite Mort is represented by Interrogation (and later by Moving On in the encore) before the main set closes with Attention another song destined to be a live James favourite.

As mentioned Moving On is the first song in the encore and it still sounds as magnificent and moving as it did on first few listens.  New single Nothing But Love is the last song on the printed setlist and James can now add mandolin to their instrument repertoire.  A really catchy song that the crowd quickly pick up and are soon singing along with Booth on the chorus.  The band leave the stage to rapturous applause and this continues until the band return to play Just Like Fred Astaire which seemed the perfect way to end the proceedings but the crowd reaction was such that Booth walked round the band preparing them for one more song which turned out to be a second rendition of Nothing But Love  and is clearly a song the band are very proud of.  Saul commented that they would ‘probably f**k it up this time’ and in another prophetic statement that’s exactly what they proceeded to do.  A nice way to book mark the beginning and end of the set by having to restart both songs.  It’s part of the James charm that the fans buy into and usually provides real moments of humour and almost energises the band to step it up to make up for the mistakes.

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Then sadly it really was over and I was among a select group of fans who along with those in Manchester the night before were treated to the majority of Girl At The End of the World before its release in March.  I felt kind of privileged to be in such an exclusive club.  On first listen to all but 2 songs the new album sounds like it will be a another cracker and it’s not often my album of the year has been selected before the album has been released but it will take something really special to shift it from top spot if tonight was anything to go by.

Setlist

setlist

Bitch, To My Surprise, Catapult, Move Down South, Dear John, Top Of The World, Feet Of Clay, Girl At The End Of The World, Surfer’s Song, Senorita, Waltzing Along, Say Something, Interrogation, Moving On, Nothing But Love, Just Like Fred Astaire and Nothing But Love.

Videos Filmed by Gigs (KrisLW)

New Songs

Older songs

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Week 6: Stereophonics

Word cover  Performance cover

Word Gets Around/Performance & Cocktails

Ok, I know I’m cheating a bit but it’s my blog, my rules and I really couldn’t split these two.  There might be a few other bands this happens to along the way.

Thinking back it would have been around mid 97 Stereophonics came into view with me.  Singles, Local Boy in the Photograph and More Life in a Tramps Vest had worried the lower end of the charts.  I’m sure it was 3rd single A Thousand Trees where I fully became aware of them.  Kelly Jones gravelly voice and the fact they were a guitar band like Oasis immediately got my attention.  When Word Gets Around came out in August 1997 it sucked me right in and for a few years I was a massive fan.

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I first saw them at the Garage in January 98, then later in that year at Motherwell Concert Hall before they started to climb the ladder of success.  Although it was clear they would end up playing the big arenas I felt they were always best in smaller venues and over the years I’ve caught them at the Barrowlands three times, the Usher Hall and the horrible Corn Exchange.  I saw them 2 nights running at the SECC and also at Wembley Arena on the ‘You Gotta Go There to Come Back’ tour but I found the arena shows were all a bit dull and was probably the beginning of the end for me as an ongoing fan.  The sacking of Stuart Cable as drummer in 2003 also took a lot of the fun out of the band although Cable probably deserved to be ousted as his rock n roll lifestyle and making some disparaging comments about the band didn’t really give them much choice.  Sadly Cable died in 2010 after a night of binge drinking and choking on his own vomit.

Stuart Cable Dies...Stuart Cable of Stereophonics and Killing For Company Burberry Workers Concert in Rhonnda, Wales - March 24, 2007 . Rhondda, Wales Great Britain March 24, 2007 Photo by Jules Annan/WireImage.com To license this image (13341243), contact WireImage.com

We finally officially split after a solo show by Kelly Jones in 2007 in support of his solo album ‘Only the Names have Changed’.  A sold out show at the Fruitmarket seemed like a good time to re-engage with Jones and hear some classic Stereophonics songs done in a slightly different way.  It turned out to be one of the worst concerts I’ve ever been to and I still don’t know how the wife and I stuck it out to the end.  The album was reportedly recorded in 36 hours and every track title was a girls name.  I don’t think we’d had a chance to hear the album before going to the gig but the whole thing was terrible.  He played every song from the album and I think we got Dakota as an encore.   To be honest we’d lost the will to live by the end of the main set.  I tried listening to the album again when writing this blog to see if it really was as bad as I remember and got as far as track 4.  The contrast between that album and the two featured albums really was like night and day.

The Phonics were the first band signed to the newly created V2 label that had been founded by Richard Branson.  Word Gets Around had three singles released prior to the albums release in August 1997 and one after the album release.  One of the things the Phonics did that I always liked was the addition of unreleased songs and live tracks as ‘b-sides’ which is something Oasis did brilliantly with one of their best songs Acquiesce unbelievably a feckin b side.  The art of the b-side is now sadly long gone.  Stereophonics Acquiesce was Carrot Cake & Wine from the Thousand Trees single a brilliant song that started to appear in their live set such was its popularity with the fans.

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Performance and Cocktails followed in March 1999 and produced five singles. It also gave them their first number 1 album.  I’ve also got a special affection for Performance as it arrived at a time in my life where it was all a bit of a mess and it helped me get through a tough time along with another few albums.  Never underestimate the power of music.

The feature of these first two albums was the social commentary of Jones lyrics who told the stories of the characters who  lived in a small Welsh town, in this case Cwmamam, where the band all grew up.  From Thousand Trees a story about a school teacher being caught with a pupil, to Local Boy in the Photograph about a boy killed by a train on the local railway track.  Songs about suicide, drinking, fighting, divorce.  It’s laugh a minute stuff.  The stories although based on his town seemed to strike a chord with their audience and I guess similar types of stories were happening in everyone’s town and city.  Jones had a unique way of telling a story and sometimes his song writing received criticism  but I liked the way he told a sad story.  This combined with some energetic  rock guitar made them a potent force and they just seemed to arrive on the music scene at the perfect time.  It wasn’t long before arenas were calling and for me that was what ruined the band like so many others.  Success took away the very thing that made them interesting.   They started writing about trips to San Francisco and lost the small town charm.  Where they had been gritty and unpolished they were suddenly shiny and new and lost a lot of what I initially liked them for  It’s understandable as success ruins a lot of bands in a musical sense.  They’re removed form the environment they were writing about and led to their success to a much more sterile and cosseted one and that can change a lot of bands or blunt their edge.

Didn’t seem to stop their success though and they are still regulars on the arena circuit and festivals.  I was almost tempted to go and see them at the Usher Hall last year but couldn’t quite bring myself to buy tickets.  Checking the setlist they did 7 songs from these two albums.  In 2010 they did a couple of shows in London where they played both these albums in full to promote the expanded releases and I do wish I could have afforded to go to those.  Maybe they’ll do some 20th anniversary shows in 2017, at the Barrowlands preferably.

Reading back I’ve really come across as quite negative about the band but I think it’s more the frustration of a band being lost to the big time and all it brings and ruins.  These two albums still get a regular outing and still sound as fresh as they day they were released.

Word Gets Around

Performance and Cocktails

See you on week 7.

Week 5: Aerosmith

Album cover

Permanent Vacation

Aerosmith, for me, are one of THE great American rock bands.  A band sometimes disparagingly described as a poor man’s Rolling Stones. Always seemed like lazy music journalism to me as apart from both singers having big mouths, in more ways than one, and occasional divergence into the blues there isn’t really a comparison to be made regarding the music.  Aerosmith have always been a hard rock band.  I guess their vibe comes from the same roots but the manifestations are somewhat different.

A brief potted history of the band.  Five guys from Boston made some classic rock music in the 70s including songs such as Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way, Mama Kin, Dream On and released timeless albums such as Toys In The Attic and Rocks.  The 70s Aerosmith crashed and burned in an acrimonious drug fuelled fireball and it looked like they were another band who had succumbed to the temptation of rock n roll excess and had just burned out when they were one of the biggest bands in the world.

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All through the 70s the line up remained remarkably stable with singer Steve Tyler, guitarists, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, Bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer.  Tyler and Perry were commonly referred to as the Toxic Twins and did their best to live the rock n roll lifestyle but it was the drug addiction and internal conflict that saw both Perry and Whitford leave the band at the height of its powers in the late 70s and early 80s.  They attempted to carry on without them and released one album before Perry and Whitford returned in 84.  It wasn’t the big success they hoped for and drug issues continued to plague the band particularly Tyler who had a few shows where he was so out of it he fell over on stage and just couldn’t get up.  They released an album called Done With Mirrors which failed to cause much of a stir and it looked like the band was done as a big league player.  Eventually Tyler entered drug rehab in 86 after an ‘intervention’ from band members and family, it was also the year that Aerosmith appeared on Run DMC’s cover of Walk This Way and Aerosmith were suddenly introduced to a whole new audience.  It was also the time of MTV dominating the music scene.  Other members of the band also cleaned their act up and got together to record Permanent Vacation in 87 which really was a make or break album for them.

I should slightly digress here and tell you where I came into the Aerosmith story.  In 1980 record company CBS had an extraordinary amount of rock acts on their roster and they released what amounted to a sampler double album called Killer Watts with a really dodgy cover of a pylon and some speaker stacks.  Amongst the acts on the album were Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, Journey and Molly Hatchet.  Aerosmith were also represented twice, with the band having No Surprize from their Night In The Ruts album and the brilliant Let The Music Do The Talking from the Joe Perry Project the band the guitarist formed after leaving Aerosmith. He wasn’t on the Night In the Ruts album.  Of the two the Joe Perry Project was the outstanding track and was the reason I started to check out Aerosmith’s back catalogue.  Helpfully CBS released a Greatest Hits album that year which kind of sealed the deal.  Who couldn’t fail to fall in love with the bass intro to Sweet Emotion and Tyler’s vocal brilliance in Dream On.

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Fast forward back to 1987 and the band drafted in professional songwriters for the first time in an attempt to get the band back to its previous heights.  With Desmond Child, who had penned hits for Kiss, Bon Jovi, Poison along with Jim Vallance who worked with  Bryan Adams on his first 5 albums they collaborated across most of the tracks on the album.   Their efforts helped Aerosmith re-invent themselves for a new generation and produced one of my favourite Aerosmith albums.  Sadly I think it was probably the last great Aerosmith album but what an album.  The band are absolutely on the money throughout this release.  As mentioned earlier MTV started to dominate music on TV and Aerosmith just caught the wave at the perfect time with videos for Dude Looks Like A Lady and Angel on regular rotation.  This is how bands broke into the big time in the States during this time by getting regular air time on MTV.

The album is chock full of rock classics.  Tyler’s voice sounds fantastic, Perry delivers some of his best ever guitar work.  In fact the whole band deliver on this one.  Being clean clearly worked on this album although rumours of the band being totally drug free my have been premature going by recent biographies.  There is also a fair smattering of brass across this record and it really enhances some of the songs like Rag Doll.  Hangman’s Jury starts with the sound of crickets, and what you can imagine is a creaking rocking chair sitting on an old porch before Tyler’s perfect harmonica cuts in.  It’s a great song and probably my favourite on an album full of great songs.  There is a real rock n roll swagger about this album.  They’ve even got time to throw in a Beatles cover and an instrumental.

Most will remember this album for Dude Looks Like A Lady and the power ballad Angel.  I like the odd power ballad (What It Takes on follow up album Pump is great) but sadly the success of Angel seemed to set a template for future releases and Aerosmith become known for the gushy, sugar sweet crap like, Cryin’, Crazy, Amazing, Pink and the absolutely awful I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.   They’ve had the odd rock moment, as well but not enough of them for me considering how great a rock band they can be.  They’ve gone a bit rock by numbers and can easily churn out the kind of stuff they have been for the last 15/20 years.  You always hope they might still have that another great hard rock album in them but I think that time has sadly passed.   I guess given their predilection for copious amounts of drugs it’s a medical miracle they are all still here and still touring.  I’ve caught them twice on their travels and would like to see them one more time before the call it a day or one of them just keels over.

Play loud and proud.

See you on week 6.