James @The Royal Concert Hall 12/03/2019
Touring their 15th album ‘Living in Extraordinary Times’, indie veterans James brought their show to Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall. On the face of it, an all seater venue seemed a strange choice for the concert, and also one that perhaps reflected a crowd in which I felt like one of the youngest in the room, but it played into the first part of the gig perfectly.
Instead of a traditional warm up act, James opted to open with an acoustic set instead, a sign of a band confident of their audience. Despite a rocky start with some technical issues, the band clearly had the crowd on side from the start, with frontman Tim Booth and guitarist Saul Davies expertly laughing off the issues, jokily introducing themselves as ‘Songs About Death’. What followed next was half an hour of sheer beauty, a series of improvised heartfelt performances which gripped the audience from the start. Highlights of the acoustic set included “Just Like Fred Astaire” described by the band as ‘a song we know many of you have walked down the aisle to’, and the closing song “All I’m Saying” about Booth’s friend who had committed suicide, leaving barely a single dry eye in the room. If opening for yourselves is a risky choice, it was definitely a risk worth taking for James, leaving us all in anticipation for the main set.
Half an hour later, they emerged again to begin the main set, not before quipping that the warm up act were ‘a bit shit’. Unlike many other bands of their age, James are far from a heritage act, producing a set focused on their latest album ‘Living in Extraordinary Times’, in which modern America and post truth democracy is a key theme. Opening with “Hank”, a song lamenting all that’s wrong in America, it becomes clear from the start this is a band worth listening to now, not one living off of past singles.
There seemed a danger of an awkwardly seated gig, but any fears of this were erased a few songs in, with one of their classics “Ring the Bells” getting the crowd on their feet all at once, as if a spell had been cast on the audience. Even being a fan of James isn’t enough to know all the songs they’d play, as Tim described, they play from a catalogue of 15 albums, often making their mind up on what songs to play based on the crowd. “I Defeat”, originally a duet with Sinead O’Connor was a perfect example of this, not many bands have the power to play a 20-year-old B-side and pull it off, but James did it effortlessly.
Tim Booth is one of the only artists in the UK to be insured for stage diving, and it’s perfectly clear why, using “Extraordinary Times” and “Heads” to walk amongst the adoring audience, and of course make good use of his insurance, being passed around the crowd who were more than happy to oblige. Not wanting to stop there, Tim did what I can only imagine would give his insurers a heart attack, as well as many of those in the room too squeamish to watch, climbing up the speakers to the balcony seats, walking along the ledge as they performed “Maria”.
After a bit of help from the stewards to get down, the classics started to come out. While the crowd was clearly in touch with their music throughout, classics such as “Getting Away With It” brought the energy to another level, before closing with an extended version of “Laid”, leaving barely a still person in the room.
The encore brought an uplifting end to the night, leaving the crowd bellowing the chorus to “Many Faces” back to the band as if it was an old classic, not a song from the latest album. It captured what makes James a band worth seeing when they next come back to Nottingham, a band unafraid of evolution, producing relevant and cutting-edge music even after 15 albums, and a refreshingly authentic gig experience in an age where too many bands rinse and repeat the same set, you will not regret seeing them.