James - Bristol Colston Hall
More than twenty years on from riding on the crest of the ‘baggy’ tsunami in a meteoric rise to the fore of public consciousness James are back with a hotly tipped new album and are reacquainting themselves with the nation’s concert halls and theatres. Triumphant comebacks have been somewhat elusive for their Madchester peers but James were always uncomfortable passengers on that particular bandwagon, the Balearic keys of ‘Come Home’ sticking out like a sore thumb tonight, and whereas the Roses and Mondays were content to measure their flares and play the role of media icons, James were always all about the music.
Typically perverse the band elect to enter the stage from the rear of the auditorium, performing their biggest hit like a troupe of wandering minstrels who’ve just happened to chance upon a large crowd. Eventually reaching the front Booth hops the barrier effortlessly, the years of yoga finally paying off, and leads the audience in a chorus of ‘Sit Down’ while Larry is left to struggle over the barrier like a stuck pig; finally, with a push and a shove from the crowd, he’s over and stands in embarrassed triumph arms aloft before joining the rest of the band onstage. With that song dispensed with James are free to cherry pick from 25 years worth of material and an early highlight is the segue from a cobweb shifting gallop through the indie-folk awkwardness of ‘Hymn From a Village’ into an soaring rendition of crowd fave ‘Tomorrow’.
The focus of the tour, however, is the promotion of new album The Night Before and James take the unusual step of proffering up all of the new material in a single splurge which, tonight includes ‘Shine’, the John peel invoking ’10 Below’ and a spectacular set-piece rendition of ‘Porcupine’ which sees Booth deliver the song from atop a giant glitterball which bathes the hall in porcupine quill like shards of light. They may have been away for a few years but James still know how to put on a show which tugs shamelessly at the heartstrings and, perhaps more remarkably, have returned with a clutch of material that stands confidently amongst the best of their back catalogue.
The aforementioned ‘Come Home’ heralds the onset of a journey through that back catalogue, the highlight of which is a thunderous, frenetically tribal rendition of ‘Stutter’ which is dedicated to the ‘400 who were here in 1985’ and climaxes with Booth lost in a fitful limb flailing dervish while Saul furiously thrashes a floor tom to within an inch of destruction. This mania, coupled with the incredible finale of ‘Sound’ which peaks with a seemingly impossible trumpet finale from Andy, leaving him visibly exhausted atop the glitterball, lifts the Bristol crowd to a fever pitch of excitement which eventually spills over into a five minute crowd rendition of ‘Sometimes’. It’s a special moment and Booth seems genuinely astonished as he returns for the encores. remarking Bristol, I don’t remember you being so….sexy. This is, of course, what James is all about. Not for nothing is their website called We Are James and tonight Colston Hall collectively takes on the mantle of James almost literally raising the roof with a monumental communal roar which eclipses anything we’ve heard in football stadia. Make no mistake, this is a crowd response the like of which I’ve not seen in years, the sense of joy and community is almost overwhelming.
Capitalising on the wave of euphoria which seems a million miles away from their low key meandering entrance to the stage James hit the crowd with a closing salvo of hits including ‘Ring the bells’, ‘Say Something’, compete with yet more community singing, and a final rush through ‘Laid’. We’re left, as we should be, hungry for more and the beaming faces drifting out of the building tell their own story. James is back. We Are James.