Venue: SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Date: 5 December 2018
It’s been a busy year for James. Back in May they did a round of smaller venues to introduce the fans to the new album Living in Extraordinary Times, this was followed up by a round of the festival circuit during which the album was released and a damn fine record it is to and one which James are rightly proud of it, as they are of every release. A record that is infused with an anger and fury very few artists reach these days. Tim Booth’s first-hand account of Trump’s America is the focus of many of the new album’s tracks.
Tonight, on the first of four UK arena shows, opener Hank symbolises this rage with its tribal drumming beginning to Booth’s scathing lyrics citing ‘white fascists in the Whitehouse’ to ‘bend your knee and stand your ground’ it’s a powerful start to the show. Never a band to take the easy option another new song Picture of this Place follows Hank and Booth takes his first steps down to the extended stage. Later Booth explained the stage was meant to go further out into the audience but Glasgow’s health and safety vetoed it in case he got devoured although he liked a good devouring. There is then a little mini greatest hits run of Waltzing Along, which sees Booth come down to the barriers for the first of many visits and ending with a crowd surf, Tomorrow gives the crowd a chance to get into full dance mode before an early outing of Sit Down gets the crowd in full voice. Rarely has a song caused such a controversy for a band. Some casual fans complain when it’s not played. Some diehards complain when it is played, so James can’t win either way. But they do what they like anyway and more power to them. Me, I can take it or leave it but when it does get an outing you can’t deny its brilliance and you can’t help but get caught up in its infectious groove and singalong.
Like any band of James’ vintage putting a setlist together with such a wealth of great songs to choose from can’t be easy. Combine that with an excellent new album the task becomes much trickier. Booth did tweet that you should listen to the new album to get the full experience and two new songs follow Sit Down in the shape of the brilliant What’s It All About, my current favourite from the new album, and Heads with its attack on fake news, environmental damage and inequality to a background of insistent drum beats. This drum beat flows neatly into Stutter which is one for the real old fans and has been making a regular appearance the last few years.
Out To Get You takes it all down a notch or two with Saul Davies’s beautiful violin intertwining with Mark Hunter’s melodica. It’s a hard song to pull off in an arena but James do it in style despite the chatter from the audience. It’s also great to see Saul back in the fold after missing a few shows due to vertigo. Just wouldn’t be the same without him.
A stripped back Fred Astaire sees Adrian Oxley bring out the cello and it stays on stage for the x-rated Leviathan that has Andy Diagram’s trumpet breaking through in the back ground. Booth takes a trip down to the barrier once more for a revamped How Was It For You and enjoyed his crowd surf so much he forgot the lyrics but soon recovered. As he returned to the stage the highlight of the evening began. The mesmerising and brilliant Sound. There’s something quite magical about this song as it releases a sort of euphoria into the audience that I wish you could bottle. I don’t know if it’s Jim Glennie’s hypnotic bass, David Baynton-Power’s incessant drumming, Hunter’s persistent keyboards, Diagram’s soaring trumpet or Booth’s imploring lyrics but it combines into one fantastic maelstrom of magnificence. It was quite breathtaking and despite the many times of hearing it live over the years it never quite sounds the same twice.
And if that wasn’t enough, they follow it up with Come Home to close the main set and leave us demanding more. A three song encore was really just one great singalong with last new song Many Faces, the band’s theme song Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) and closing with a raucous Sometimes.
It really doesn’t matter how many times I see them (4th time this year), in what venue or field they play they always seem to deliver and once again demonstrate why you should never expect them to become or even want them to become a heritage act.
Another great James show in the bag.
Hank / Picture of This Place / Waltzing Along / Tomorrow / Sit Down / What’s It All About / Heads / Stutter / Out to Get You / Just Like Fred Astaire / Leviathan / How Was It for You / Sound / Come Home / Encore: Many Faces/Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)/Sometimes (Lester Piggott)