James – Girl at the End of the World Tour, May 2016
I was lucky enough to attend three of the James shows to support their fantastic new album Girl At The End Of The World and instead of writing an individual review of each one I wanted to combine the experiences to reflect the different type of shows they were.
When the tour dates were initially announced my eyes were immediately drawn to the shows in London. Rather than one big venue they had decided on 2 smaller shows and Brixton Academy. With Brixton being one of my favourite venues and James one of my favourite bands it really was a no brainer. The added incentive was that they were playing the much smaller Forum the night before. They were also due to play Shepherds Bush Empire a couple of nights before that but that one day break made it impossible for me to do all 3 (the Shepherds Bush show was subsequently moved to the Forum).
Going by the Le Petit Mort tour I expected they would be playing a large chunk of the new album so I wanted to see it in a venue where the majority of fans would be diehards and who would give the new album a chance. I expected that as soon as it hit the bigger venues like the Hydro in Glasgow there was a strong possibility that the new stuff would struggle to make an impact with a crowd who would have more people there for the ‘hits’. My fears were partially unfounded. Over the three gigs there were clearly a lot of people who had bought and immersed themselves in the new album with plenty of people singing along to the new stuff.
I have to say that all the shows were fantastic and all had their moments but night 1 of my London shows was probably the best I’ve ever seen James and up there with the best gigs I’ve been to. Everything just seemed to come together to produce an experience only live music can give. Band on top form, great sound, great visuals, an appreciative crowd in a perfect venue. Having seen previous set lists I knew almost all of the new album would get an airing and any worries about how the crowd would react to so many new songs were soon dismissed.
The Forum holds approx 2,300 people and it felt like it was full of James fanatics and they were well up for the new stuff. It did start a little tentatively with Bitch the first of five new songs to be played as the opening to the show but halfway through 2nd song To My Surprise there was a noticeable change in the crowd who just stepped up a gear and I knew then it was going to be a special night. There’s not many 30 year old bands who would hit their audience with five new songs to open with and one of them in French and get the reaction James did. Songs from the new album just sound fantastic live and clearly the band have enjoyed moulding them into different beasts live, with Attention being a case in point, it has changed dramatically from the album version and on each of the three times I saw them they were still playing about with it. Whatever they are doing to the songs it does indeed work and in total 11 of the12 tracks from the album were played over the 2 hours.
The ‘hits’ weren’t forgotten about with Ring the Bells and Sometimes coming together early on in the set, others are done with a different slant. She’s a Star sees Adrian sitting down playing cello with Saul, Jim and Tim huddled next to him. It’s a feature of the shows that Tim wants to connect with the audience and he does a bit of crowd surfing during Catapult. There are the deep cuts with English Beefcake and What For making an appearance. There was a distinct murmur of recognition through the crowd as people began to recognise What For during the acoustic interlude. I believe this was its first appearance since 1999. We got Honest Joe from Wah Wah which came across brilliant live. My favourite James song Sound followed and tonight’s version was quite extraordinary with a middle section that seemed to go on forever. It was as if the band were letting the crowd dictate the song. Tim Booth just stood stage front and stared at the crowd as the band behind him created an incredible maelstrom of sound that culminated in Andy Diagram complete with luminous shirt and luminous trumpet playing down at the crowd barrier. It really was incredible stuff.
For an encore we had Tim and Adrian starting Say Something up on the balcony and the two of them making their way down to the stage before finishing the night off with Moving On, Nothing But Love and Tomorrow which had the crowd going what can only be described as ‘mental’. It was a stunning gig and for once the band did a whole gig without fecking anything up. There is a first for everything.
I thought it would be almost impossible for night 2 at Brixton to reach the same heights and so it proved but it was still a great show. Where I was standing the new songs didn’t get anywhere near the reaction of the first night but the older songs were greeted which deafening roars. Particularly on Born of Frustration and Sometimes that came side by side. Tim climbed the speakers to survey his audience as they jumped about and sang along at the top of their voices. Sometimes on the last tour the band actively encouraged the audience to sing back the chorus but last night and on reading other reviews the fact they were playing the song mid set had seen this element of the song dropped but not at Brixton, as the song came to an end the crowd picked up the words and sang the words back to the band who slowly picked up the song again. A real band and audience connecting moment.
Surfers Song the only song from the new album not to be played the previous night made an appearance and one of my favourites off the album. So over the two nights I got to hear the whole album live. It also gave Tim, as the song title suggests, an opportunity to crowd surf which he did and hardly missed a line as he was passed around the audience. He did say at the end that he wouldn’t be doing that in Glasgow as last time they wanted bits of him. These forays into the crowd really notched the show up as the crowd reacted to the effort the band were putting in. The whole band really are on fire at the moment and appear to be enjoying the shows to a level I’ve never witnessed before.
Tonight we did get a feck up as Catapult completely disintegrated as Tim was on the barrier singing and about to surf once more when he completely lost the song. It’s an endearing quality that the band can still make these errors and is all part of the live James experience.
There was also a funny moment when coming back for the 2nd encore and Tim was looking at Saul expecting him to start and Saul was saying it’s not me. Tim thought they were doing Tomorrow and then Mark came in with the familiar intro to Come Home which really had the place bouncing and almost brought it up to the level of the previous night. It was then followed by Tomorrow to end another great show and I was disappointed that I now had to wait another 12 days until the show rolled into Glasgow.
So to the Glasgow gig. Glasgow can be both infuriating and mind blowing when it comes to gigs. Sometimes on the same night. With so many new songs being played combined with such a big venue I had my doubts as to how good this show could be. Overall I thought the band were fantastic with the crowd on the whole being much better than I had expected. I think being a Thursday night cut down on the number of drunks but there was still the occasional arsehole who intentionally or not tried to upset those around them. I did feel security were a bit over zealous in throwing out a group of young lads (at least they did usher them out of the crowd so I’m assuming they were going to chuck them out) who were jumping about down the front. I think if you want to stand at the front you have to accept that some people will want to jump around etc. it comes with the territory. I was watching these guys and they were jumping about while holding onto each other which did make them a bit of a crowd issue as they barged into folk but I think a quiet word and asking them to calm down would have been sufficient. They were just enjoying the music and not being aggressive or trying to pick any fights and I didn’t see anything wrong with that.
Typical James though. They get a bit of a lairy crowd and decide to start with the slow builder of Out to Get You and as the song progressed a few of the talkers even began to shut up and listen. And of course some didn’t but I’ve started to tune out the talkers and just accepting that people will just be ignorant and there is very little I can do about it and try not to let it ruin the show. Not as easy as it sounds sadly.
Catapult saw Tim come down to the front and as he sang the line ‘I can’t fly but I can catapult’ he launched himself into the crowd. He had said he wasn’t going to surf at Glasgow again but clearly thought it was worth another go after the crowd got a bit too friendly the last time. He survived intact although it was his one and only surf of the night. Although the crowd were maybe not as into the new stuff they did in the main at least listen but it was the double header of Ring the Bells and Sometimes that saw the crowd spring into life. Especially on Sometimes where the song was heading to its close and something went wrong with Dave Baynton-Power’s drums and the song looked like it was about to fall apart but the crowd picked it up and kept it going beyond its normal conclusion. A real crowd and band effort. And as is James’s want they followed the rabble rousers with another slow number in the shape of the beautiful PS. The acoustic songs tonight were She’s a Star and, for the first time for me on this tour, Just Like Fred Astaire which was stunning.
According to the setlist Honest Joe was supposed to be next but Tim called an audible and we launched into Come Home that had the crowd in raptures and then came one of those infuriating moments. Tim again came down to the barrier for Surfers Song and as he was reaching the line ‘Look in to my eyes’ a girl up on someone’s shoulder appeared right beside him and it looked like perfect timing as he started to sing the line to her and then she turned around and tried to take a selfie and Tim just looked away in disgust. It could have been a real moment but was sadly completely lost. We then slid into another brilliant version of Sound. The swirling sound was mesmerising as the band pushed the song to its limits and beyond while the crowd moved to its infectious groove. It is a spectacular live piece of music and the shows over the last few years it feels as if it’s different every time they play it. I almost felt sorry for Attention having to follow it but it more than held its own.
For the encore I had a feeling we would see Tim and Adrian out in the crowd. The first refrains of Sit Down were heard as they appeared up on the first tier and Tim walked through the crowd stopping for the occasional dance before they made their way back to the stage where the band had appeared and were picking up the end of the song. Sit Down has caused a fair amount of controversy on the last few tours mainly because of its absence. I can take it or leave it to be honest but when it appears unexpectedly it still sounds great live. The show was completed by Moving On, Nothing But Love and Say Something and another fantastic night in the company of James was sadly over.
That is now 5 times I’ve seen the band this year, 6 if you include a 3 song in-store appearance, and they have just been brilliant every time. The Forum show was the best of the lot but the others weren’t far behind. If the rumoured Barrowlands show does indeed become reality then I’ll have been spoilt beyond belief this year.
I’ve said it before but James are a very special band and we are lucky to have them to entertain us.