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Live Music Review: James at Royal Concert Hall

13 March 19 words: Becky Timmins
photos: Tom Morley

We got our glad rags on and hot footed down to the Concert Hall for Manchester alt rock icons James…

Sitting down in the stalls of the Royal Concert Hall for a gig is a weird one; frustration at not being able to dance mingles with relief at being able to sit down on a school night. Either way there’s something very glamorous about the set-up tonight, and from underneath the minimal beam of lights, smoke billows across the stage and eight-strong James appear.

Having studied set lists from recent shows, the acoustic opening set comes as no surprise; the charisma of frontman Tim Booth, on the other hand, stops me in my tracks. From what tonight feels like a musical collective, the six songs which make up James’ self-support act are delivered like a jamming session – an assured deconstructed set sprinkled with self-deprecating anecdotes from Booth. On Just Like Fred Astaire, a hopeful and melodic pop ballad, you can feel James warming to this Notts crowd, big time.

Another clever side-effect of this opening device is its stark contrast with what follows – pounding drumming, glaring megaphones and hot red strobe lights ignite the Concert Hall on opener Hank, a raging new track from their 2018 album Living in Extraordinary Times. The latest James offering is an angry and experimental one navigating Brexit and Trump, and really showcases the James formula of reigning songs in, then releasing them with galloping pace.

Despite charming claims from Booth that at his age, lyrics are difficult to remember and high notes hard to hit, the set unfolds with style and unwavering energy. His distinctive voice is colossal and sonorous tonight, and the quality of instrumental talent amongst the band members staggering. Five-O is a particularly classy number, with the metallic twang of guitars, storming electric violin and ballsy brass sounds raising the roof, and lifting everyone to their feet.

The set reaches boiling point when beloved hits Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) and Laid are unveiled, simmering back down for the encore, where there’s a moving communal moment on Many Faces - a powerful call to arms on the state of the world right now.

“You’ve still got it Tim”, someone bellows from the balcony. And with wry smiles and serious swagger, he knows it to be true - he's just led a wild and wonderful performance. They may be almost forty years and fifteen albums in, but there is no fatigue to be seen. In fact, you get the feeling that James are stronger and more salient than ever.

James played the Royal Concert Hall on Tuesday 12 March 2019

Theatre Royal Concert Hall website 

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