James at the Electric Ballroom

May 29, 2014

James – Electric Ballroom 28th May 2014

The floor is sticky to the point of gig-going cliche and the tight space is packed to the rafters with a noisy, expectant throng. The venue is the Electric Ballroom – yes, that iconic figure that continues to sit stubbornly as a right-of-band-passage on the bustling high street of Camden in north London.

The reason that we are here is to see this one institution play host to another. For those who might be blissfully unaware, indie titans James are back with their first new album in 4 years (La Petite Mort -reviewed here).

Expectation is high. It is a telling testimony to the band’s enduring popularity that when this album launch show at the 1,000 capacity venue went on sale back in April, the scramble for tickets sold the gig out quicker than most could type ‘seetickets.com’ into their search bar (other ticket sites are available).

Arriving onstage at 9:15pm, the band shuffle into position with purpose. Emerging last is frontman Tim Booth. Donning a red woolly hat, he announces,’Welcome to our intimate warm up gig… where we show you that we haven’t fully learnt our new songs yet’. Then the delicate piano of new album opener Walk Like You begins. By the end of the song, Booth has transformed from the stationary, pensive, hat-wearing band leader at centre stage, to a man flailing and gyrating in spasms of dance; hat removed and lost in the moment. Aside from the impressive cohesion with which the band musters a pulsing crescendo, it is undeniable that Booth’s pipes remain in great nick.

Following this dash of the new is the unmistakable acoustic strum ofLaid,provided by Larry Gott. Immediately, a roar of recognition erupts and pint glasses sway with an intoxicated abandon. The band bask in this dose of the tried and tested. Even after 21 years, this song has lost none of its ribald charm and powerful musical punch.

Throughout the night, James show time and time again why they are held so dear by so many. An hour and a half in their company is full of proof – they don’t just have a catalogue packed with anthems but they are also capable of wonderful diversity. There are tunes of complex, layered and delicate shades nestled in amongst fast, jangly indie-pop nuggets and raving dance-centric rabble-rousers.

Of the new songs,Quicken the Deadswings,All I’m Sayingstuns (as an intro Booth states that this ‘is about the death of a dear friend’, before concluding that he has yet to make it all the way through the song), Curse Curseengenders the involuntary, and voluntary, dance of the majority of punters present and Interrogationsits as an instantly memorable song of style and substance.

Of the old material,Tomorrowis a reminder of the band’s knack for beautiful, propulsive songs married with meaningful lyrics. Come Homerevels in its Madchester/Happy Mondays groove andSometimesis embraced by the crowd with raucous passion. Even as the songs ends, the crowd chant, ‘Sometimes, I look in your eyes and I can see your soul’ in a fervent manner that usually accompanies Blur’s performances of Tender and the ‘Oh my baby’ refrain. The band are stopped in their tracks. A false start to the following song (the new singleMoving On),momentarily prevents the band from capitalising on this giddy bonhomie, with Booth noting, ‘…in typical James style, defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory’. Once the run-through continues as per its intention, it feels like the perfect conclusion.

The band return for the encore and eventually unleash a freneticGetting Away With It (All Messed Up)and the whole of the Electric Ballroom is lost once more in a joyous unison. The song also represents the first (and only) chance of the night for the band to truly stretch out, and to hear the instruments interlocking with one another in such a deep groove that was a wonder to behold.

If there are any criticisms to levy, then it lies with the unavoidable fact that an audience listening to songs that they are unfamiliar with in and amongst beloved favourites is obviously going to suffer from dissonance in terms of the level of the responses. That was very true here, but what you had overall was a wonderful advert for alternative British music from one of its most reliably consistent exponents. The new very much held its own and more. Catch them live on this round of touring if you can.

The new album, La Petite Mort,is released on Monday, 2nd June 2014.

James are playing many festivals across Europe this summer and head out on a UK tour in November. For more details, go to wearejames.com.

Written by Greg Wetherall (@gregwetherall)

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