Review by Ali L., photos by Laura Patterson
Was I the only one singing “Sit Down………….FERGIE”?
There is a rumour, urban myth if you like; that the growth in reunion tours has meant that for certain gigs venues cut their capacity. The thinking is that it’s easier to cram in a few extra skinny 20 somethings than to have a venue full to bursting with fuller figured gentlemen. If the unappealingly drunken mix of Eric Pickles and Lenny Godber standing next to me with his shirt off was anything to go by, James at the O2 was one of those reduced capacity concerts.
The O2 is on the outskirts of what Birmingham describes as it’s Chinese Quarter. The Pagoda on the traffic island makes a handy reference point. The O2 itself is an old school stalls and balcony affair. If the band sounded quiet and a bit murky, it’s possibly because we stood under the balcony.
James’ setlist was a fairly honest skip through their biggest and brightest hits from the Goldmother album onwards. You couldn’t complain about any of the songs they played but as an ageing indie kid, I would like to have heard more of their pre-celebrity stuff. ‘Johnny Yen’ was a welcome encore but missing out other songs from that era felt like a glaring omission. Live, James sound as slick and smooth as they do on record. It’s not a night for rough edges or fluffed drum beats. They manage to update the slick glassy sound of Patti Smith’s ‘Wave’, or Robert Quine’s guitar work with Lou Reed. Collectively, James are all talented musicians but Tim and Larry are the mainstay of the group. They seem to have worn much better than many of their fans. At times they bob and weave together like a pair of white chocolate malteasers, anticipating the other’s moves. It is obvious that it’s this relationship which drives the band and sustains their creativity.
The slow, quiet version of ‘Lose Control’ which started the set didn’t really grab the attention of many of the crowd, or at least those standing around me. I struggled to hear over the conversations going on around me. Things didn’t really get going until three songs into the set when they pulled out ‘How Was It For You?’ The night ebbed and flowed from the epic to the intimate, picking songs off their biggest albums and some new songs. Oddly enough, their biggest hits ‘Sit Down’ and ‘Come Home’ stood out as dated compared to the slick sound of the later albums. The keyboard part of ‘Come Home’ still sounds like an icecream van, and ‘Sit Down’ sounds worryingly like a novelty song compared to their later material. ‘Sit Down’ isn’t even the biggest sing along track; that honour goes to ‘Star’, and ‘Say Something’, which finishes the main set.
Their encores really hit overdrive, starting with the excellent ‘Johnny Yen’ and ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’. They closed the night with ‘Laid’, starting slowly as an almost country and western song before speeding up to the song we all know. It’s a great end to the gig.
I have to confess to not being a huge fan of James. I was struggling to name many of their songs on the way to the gig. I spent the night thinking “Oh yes I remember this one……I’d forgotten this one…….Jesus yes this one too” I could sing most of the songs and enjoyed it much more than I expected. Their hooks and tunes are obviously more memorable than the song titles. That’s not really a bad thing. Is it?
See more of Laura’s photos here;