A few months ago, indie legends James announced their seven date ‘Better Than That’ tour of intimate venues that they haven’t performed in for many years. One venue being Warrington Parr Hall, which hosted a recording of their 1991 gig before the release of their ‘Seven’ album the following year. Since this announcement, the band have released a four track EP of the same name.
Kicking off proceedings by crashing straight into ‘Hank’, the latest of the new tracks packed one hell of a punch as it saw several floor toms brought to the stage for use by Jim Glennie, Andy Diagram, Tim Booth and Saul Davies. Next came ‘Coming Home Part 2’; another new track that tackles the negative aspects of touring, with Tim telling the crowd that he’d just missed his sons 14th birthday. Though only those who had been at the Llaundudno gig the evening before had heard the track, the crowd picked up the chorus and by the end, it felt like an anthem that had been in the set for years. Both tracks received rapturous applause and cheers from the crowd, who were warmed up for their first big sing-along of the night; the upbeat ‘Gone Baby Gone’ from 2014’s ‘La Petite Mort’, showcasing Mark Hunter’s genius keyboard skills and possessing a more jagged feel than the album version. The sing-along’s continued with the poignantly beautiful ‘Moving On’ and ‘Ring The Bells’, before Tim made his first visit to the barrier of the evening during the criminally catchy ‘Better Than That’.
Aside from their new drummer/percussionist Debbie Knox-Hewson, the first big surprise of the night was ‘Scarecrow’ from their debut album ‘Stutter’, played for the first time since 1990 and followed by a stunning rendition of ‘Protect Me’. The slow-paced ‘How Was It For You’ that stayed with the band throughout their gigs last Summer still remained in the set list, contrasting with the next track; ‘Curse Curse’, complete with a crowd surf and Tim politely (and rightly) asking people to stay in the moment rather than thrusting their phones in his face.
The lighting took an intense turn for brooding new track ‘Busted’, with Andy’s soaring trumpet alone proving it to be a track more than worthy of a place on the EP. One of the many things that make James a great live band is how they come together, combining their many talents and ‘Busted’ was the perfect example of this. ‘Five-O’ followed, beginning with a hauntingly beautiful extended violin solo from Saul – Tim is in a constant state of awe when it comes to his band mates and this is evident in his choice to take a seat, watching them intently and losing himself to the music. New song ‘Heads’ is another collaborative effort, offering an explosion of creativity and percussion, as well as a punishing bass line that Jim should be proud of .
To say that it must be difficult for the band to choose a set list each night from their 250 tracks would be a huge understatement, but it’s a skill that they’ve perfected. Though impressed by all of the new tracks, the most memorable for the majority is likely to be ‘Many Faces’, which will soon sit alongside huge crowd pleasers ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Nothing But Love’. Written in response to Trump’s Mexican wall, the track reduced many people to tears and when some of the crowd joined in with the chorus as it repeats towards the end, Tim was visibly overcome with emotion.
‘Born of Frustration’ saw the brave front man scale the speakers and climb up onto the picturesque venues balcony, joined by Andy (who sensibly took the stairs) and when the track was over, there wasn’t any time for the pair to rest before they were back onstage, Andy armed with his tambourine and Tim counting to four before the synth siren intro of ‘Come Home’ filled the air. The band left the stage after ‘Come Home’, leaving the crowd wanting more and when they returned for their encore, all but Tim were kitted out with guitars. Replicating a previous ‘Top of the Pops’ performance, it was particularly odd to see Andy without a trumpet and Dave Baynton-Power in front of his drum kit! ‘Sometimes’ is a track that always receives a phenomenal live reception, but after becoming a staple track in their set list, it was great to not only see it performed in such a different manner, but also to see how much the band enjoyed performing the revived version. Of course, it was the biggest sing-along of the night and the crowd kept it going long after the track was over.
Saul teased the last track of the night with an acoustic guitar, with Tim taking a seat on a flight box between the barrier and stage, softly singing a stripped back rendition of ‘Laid’. Joined by the crowd, the track had almost reached the end when Dave’s chaotically familiar drum intro kicked in and had the whole place dancing to the original version. You never know what you’re going to get when you attend a James gig but you can always be see that they’re going to deliver a sublime set of tracks that cover all areas of their career.
The evenings set-list was…
Coming Home (Pt. 2)
Gone Baby Gone
Ring the Bells
Better Than That
How Was It for You
Born of Frustration
Nothing But Love
Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)