Now your grips too strong….

Tim Booth at Preston Guild Hall earlier in the year.

I always look forward to James gigs in Manchester with a sense of excitement and foreboding. You imagine the band always wants to put on a show for their “hometown” but with it usually being at the MEN and at Christmas I worry about the crowd. All kegged up with Christmas cheer and just wanting to hear Sit Down. Maybe I worry too much and on last night’s performance, I probably do.

I missed Frazer King sadly, but had the misfortune to catch most of the Pigeon Detectives set. That is time I won’t be getting back.

At 8.50, the houselights went down and James took to the stage. It took a bit of time for them to get started, but soon enough Born of Frustration boomed from the speakers, for once the MEN sound seemed to be clear and reach all parts. Andy’s trumpet took centre stage, Tim decided to miss out the howling, probably due to the flu he has been suffering, but that didn’t stop him taking the first walkabout of the night up towards Block 114 (I know the block number as that is where I was sat.) Seven and Ring the Bells soon followed, the latter a song that I wouldn’t worry if I never heard the band play again, familiarity certainly breeding some contempt here, but on this occasion, it was lively and for once, I enjoyed hearing it.

Larry introduced the next song as one Manchester always loves and this was proven with the punching of the air from many of the crowd as Mark started up Come Home. It was ragged, it was messy, and it was pure James. This was the point of the gig where the banc decided to slow it down, starting with a beautiful PS and moving onto Got the Shakes, with David playing a drum at the front of the stage, and the backing vocals provided by the Manchester Consort Choir. As a song in a large arena it shouldn’t have worked, but with the heavy beat and choir providing superb backing vocals, it worked perfectly, and proved James can still take risks and pull them off. Tell Her I said So followed, again with the choir and it was great to see the vast majority of the crowd sticking with the band, and the amount of people round me singing the “Here’s to a long life” refrain suggested there are plenty of James record buyers out there. Lookaway followed with Tim on guitar. There were times when the sound didn’t quite reach out to all in the arena and the choir seemed to drown out Tim at times, but the close of the song was epic and typically James pulled the song back from the brink. James by numbers Say Something followed and I personally think that the band should retire this now, or do something radical to it, as it in my view is just the band going through the motions, but from the reaction to it from the crowd, I am probably in a minority. Just Like Fred Astaire was wonderful, Larry dedicating it to his dad in the crowd. A great song on record, it takes on a life of its own live, Marks keyboards sounding superb, a song they should play more often. Jam J saw Jim come into his own with the bass taking over, Tim singing into a distortion mike. It was bedraggled, it was messy, the lighting was superb and the song likewise. Shame more of the crowd didn’t really seem to pick up on it and put in the effort the band were doing. I wanna go Home, a song I loved from the first time I heard it at HMV on the release day of Hey Ma followed and soared and dipped and was as wonderful as it always is, Saul playing the violin as if his life depended on it (more of that later.) Sit Down was stripped down, played by the band all sat down on the stage. It had people running in from the bars and it worked, ensuring the first mass sing-along of the night. Out to Get you followed, a song I will never tire of hearing but just as you think it is going to fade out and end, Saul plays the most majestic violin solo, getting “into the zone” and ensuring a superb ending to the song. The band just stands aside and watches him play, as do most of the crowd, mesmerised. Rabbit Hole was, as it is on record, simply stunning.

The gig ends with She’s a Star, Getting away with it, Sound, with a superb middle part which sees Tim stood centre whist the band seem to totally improvise the song and Stutter, again messy and ragged and totally wonderful.

It wouldn’t be a James gig without a total risk and tonight it comes at the start of the encore. Tim asked the crowd for silence, and acknowledged the risk of playing Dust Motes especially “at this time of night.” Sadly, the silence didn’t arrive and the chatter from the back of the arena was very audible, which is a shame as the song is wonderful and thus it was this evening. You can’t help but feel that the ones not paying attention missed out on hearing something superb. Sometimes followed, with the choir back on stage. I prefer the slow starting version that the band had started to play over the past couple of years, but that is made up for by the mass sing-along by the whole arena. The choir were clearly enjoying themselves, as they had to be shut up by Tim so the crowd could take over. Goldmother followed, complete with Tim invited stage dancers, though the thuggery of some of the MEN “security” staff shouldn’t be ignored. From my seat in block 114, I could see the man handling of some crowd members, who just wanted to get on stage to dance with their heroes. I hope that some of James staff saw what went on and have a word with the MEN about some of their workers. As for the song, it went on and on, it was ram shackled and it was great. Saul started up the first couple of chords to Laid, before being told there was no time due to the 11pm curfew. The crowd booed, they wanted more, someone raced on stage to say “one more” and it brought a fine end to a superb show.

A special mention must be made of the lighting, which suited the gig perfectly and some of the images projected onto the big screen, with the split television screens a particularly innovative idea.

So against adversity James pulled it off yet again. Illness and injury seemed to jinx this tour, but on evidence of the MEN show, there is plenty of life in the old dogs yet.

Tim Booth at Preston Guild Hall earlier in the year.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Brilliant write up made me feel that I was there~ XXX


  2. You made it sound like a great concert, as for the MEN I hate the place
    I saw James Taylor there a long time ago and vowed never to return, it was only Crosby Stills and Nash that tempted me back, another disapointment not in the band but in the venue. I can’t imagine going there again unless FC play there of course.


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