2018 was a busy one to say the least for Indie Legends James; after both releasing and touring their ‘Better Than That’EP in May, the band released their fifteenth album ‘Living In Extraordinary Times’ in August. Though they went on to embark on a December tour with The Charlatans, their current tour is the first official ‘Living In Extraordinary Times’ tour. Never a band to take the easy route, they’re supporting themselves throughout the tour and delivering both an acoustic and electric set! We caught the band’s return to the picturesque Royal Albert Hall on Saturday night.
If you’ve seen James before then you’ll know how special their sets are, so what a treat it was to witness two in one night! Vocalist Tim Booth, bassist Jim Glennie and multi-instrumentalist Saul Davies kicked off the acoustic set with ‘Just Like Fred Astaire’, stood on a platform in front of the barrier. The three were then joined by the rest of the band for the eerie ‘Hello’, before attempting to play ‘Living In Extraordinary Times’ B side ‘Backwards Glances’ – self confessing to be “memory deficient” and too blind to read the lyrics that were handed to him, Booth asked for some to be printed out in a larger font and they switched the track’s place in the set with ‘Coming Home (Pt.2)’. The acoustic set served as an excellent opportunity for the band to play lesser heard tracks and what came next was a triple whammy of surprises; a stripped back rendition of the usually raucous ‘Destiny Calling’, the intense ‘Pressure’s On’ and ‘All I’m Saying’. When introducing ‘All I’m Saying’, Booth shared the back story of the track with the audience – written about the death of a close friend that he didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to, the audience fell silent in respect as the band took us all on a highly emotional journey that reduced many to tears.
“How were the support band? I heard that they were shit” asked Booth when the band returned to the stage, keen to contrast the stripped back nature of their first set by diving straight into the electronically inclined ‘What’s It All About’ and lyrically brave ‘Living In Extraordinary Times’ (“fuck you, I wanna fuck you”) – the latter offering a moment of pure euphoria as the audience sang along with their arms up in unison, before it came to its intriguingly abrupt stop. James are the Kings (and Queen) of crafting strong set lists – something that was apparent from the crowd’s lively reaction to just solely drummer David Baynton-Power’s beat to the next track, ‘Waltzing Along’, which had the standing area jumping and ensured that nobody was in their seats for the remainder of the evening!
The frenzied ‘Picture of this Place’ followed, with Booth prowling across the platform in front of the barrier for its entirety, joined by trumpeter Andy Diagram. Aside from his overall trumpet wizardry, one of the great things about Diagram is that his radio mic enables him to roam around freely and interact with the crowd. When it comes to interactions, it’s also a dream to watch the entire band interact with each other – during the acoustic set, they joked about Booth’s deteriorating eyesight and reacted in the same manner when there were a couple of false starts before ‘Moving On’. James are far from a polished band but it’s all part of their charm – they don’t take themselves too seriously and nothing beats the excitement of not knowing what they’re going to do next.
Each band member is of equal importance and when they all come together to combine their talents on the slow burners ‘Moving Car’ and ‘Five-O’, it’s truly spectacular. Nicknamed “the reluctant violinist” by the rest of the band, Davies steals the limelight during ‘Five-O’ in particular with his electric violin, maintaining his status as being one of the most fascinating musicians to watch up close and personal. ‘Attention’ is another live favourite that demonstrates their collaborative efforts – this time focusing on keyboardist Mark Hunter as he provides a piano ballad style beginning, followed by an exhilarating synth breakdown.
At one point, a floor tom was brought onto the stage for Davies, who added to the hectic percussion of the pulsating ‘Heads’, before we went on a journey back to the eighties as the band crashed into ‘Stutter’ – a live favourite, despite being unreleased in studio form.The melancholic ‘How Hard The Day’ followed, demonstrating that fifteen albums down, James are as able as ever to write a song for every emotion/occasion. When it came to surprises, the band didn’t stop at ‘Stutter’ and the set list also boasted the extended version of ‘Say Something’– complete with Booth visiting the seats – as well as ‘Laid’ and the anthemic ‘Come Home’. A slight hiccup at the start of ‘Laid’ provided the crowd with the chance to sing the first verse at the top of their lungs, before it was restarted by Baynton-Power’s instantly recognisable drumbeat, followed by incomparable vocals from Booth that soared until the very end. Though Diagram wasn’t involved in the recording of ‘Laid’, the addition of his trumpet in integral to the track when it’s performed live and based on the awestricken look that Booth gave him, it’s easy to see that he thinks so too.
In the absence of ‘Sometimes’, ‘Many Faces’ more than sufficed as the host of a joyous sing-along that continued long after the band had stopped playing! The sublime ‘Sound’ ended the night, with Booth demonstrating the bands love for and appreciation of their fans; inviting a lucky few to dance onstage. Diagram on the other hand was making his way offstage, reappearing on the stairs at the back of the venue, much to the pleasure of those seated around him!
From acting as their own support act, to touring set lists that vary nightly and lean heavily on both their oldest and newest material, not every band could pull off what James do, but not every band are James! When Booth wrote the lyrics “come back when we’re getting old” for ‘Destiny Calling’, we imagine that he had no idea just how at the top of their game the band would be in 2019.