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James are, as ever, an enigma.
It’s that air of mystery that makes them so fascinating.
They don’t fit in anywhere and that has always been one of their strengths. Even when they started in those misty days of ye olde Manchester they were the Factory Records odd ones out and that’s saying something for a label dealt in hip maverick.
Those early releases still tingle with that folk tinged mystery that was so captivating at the time – no -one really saw them as a top ten band then but they had the knack of writing big songs and in the late eighties when big songs were called for and bands who understood the power of the communal gig they stepped up to the plate. They became the biggest and most consistent band from the late eighties Manchester explosion on the world stage. They still sell out the big shows and have top five albums with music that somehow remains challenging. That’s the crux of the band – they deal in pop but a crafted and intelligent pop with a rare level of intestinal and sensitivity in these gonzoid times.
James are one of those jukebox bands, they could easily do the classic festival smash and grab with the seemingly endless runs of hits that contains hidden gems that you suddenly remember as they kick in. The band have the knack of writing a perfect pop song with the tension and release of classic songwriting. They tease with the verses and explode into those gigantic choruses that are made for festival headline slots like this.
Instead of playing this lazy run through of the hits the band play lots of new songs – further stretching their sound out into all shapes and utilizing the great musicianship that is up on that stage. This is intelligent and crafted music as they never go for the obvious line as the songs, that are built around Jim Glennie’s dive bombing bass, ebb and flow with the percussion and Saul’s well thought out and crafted guitar lines adding atmosphere and subtle twists and turns
The focal point is, of course, Tim Booth and he remains as enigmatic as ever, one part old school – on the edge – Iggy Pop style crowd surfer spending whole songs on top of the slippery crowd protection barriers at the front or diving headlong into the crowd, or standing stock still, crooning the soul of those songs in that beautiful voice before breaking out into one of those dances that seem to consume him like a forest wild fire.
Booth is one of the plethora of Manchester stained frontmen operating by their very own rules. He may live in LA now but he is still part touched culture wise by the city that birthed his career and perhaps even part mounded his outlook that has always been international with that northern tinge from the eighties Manchester school of poetic singers.
Twirling around on the stage, Booth is all lost in a world of music, the primal scream that captivates us all and he presents in a physical form. He stares out at the audience, indie imperious and in total commend like his old mate Morrissey, he twisters his St Vitus dance or smiles benignly totally consumed by the eloping music.
They do play some hits – the rarely aired Sit Down and Come Home send the audience into raptures and my personal favourite, Sometimes, is stretched out to a rousing perfection with 20 000 people singing that end section in that art rock meets football terrace thing the band were always so good at – that taking the artful to the masses that was always Manchester band’s greatest trick.
The band have moved way beyond being a heritage act trading on past glories. They are still moving and morphing and living in the now. This was a powerful and daring performance that still attempts to change the shape of James music and the sheer devotion of the audience was matched by the frontman who was part singer, part lightening rod conductor and part indie shaman.
It shouldn’t really work but James are playing by their own rules.