Spotlight on frontman Tim Booth, very much aliveMiles Ricketts

No band I have ever seen has come across so irritatingly endearing as James. As a crowd we were alternately berated and celebrated, sometimes in the same breath. This may have had something to do with James being an inherently emotional group. Often stylistically undefinable across their career, through Madchester highs, madcap Brian Eno diversions, and an engrossing rebirth a decade ago, the current sustaining the music of James is feeling. Tim Booth seemed almost on the verge of tears for the entire evening, whether this was a response to summoning up a distressing loss or gazing in wonder at a communal singalong.

“Booth, now 59, surely has one of the most impressively consistent voices in rock”

First appearing unceremoniously to ‘support themselves’ with an acoustic set, the mood is at once rather dour. Booth, dragging himself around in something resembling a Death Eater’s dressing gown, ruminates on missing loved ones, including both his family at home and those passed on. While an undoubtedly stark way to begin, the sound-scaping that James engage in feels like necessary therapy. Several of the seven figures that surround Booth in the darkness alternate ceaselessly between an array of guitars, violins, cellos, trumpets, and drums, making it clear that James are using this segment to experiment with diverse tones rather than redundantly ‘strip it down’.

Booth himself, now 59, surely has one of the most impressively consistent voices in rock. This is a man that a few years ago Morrissey greeted with the indelible words, “Oh, are you still alive?” Yes Moz, very much alive. Free of his dressing gown, Booth prowls, sways and raves his way through the ‘electric’ set.

“Such an attitude could potentially come across as immensely self-important. Yet it’s quite clear that this band really cares”

I can never rid myself of the voice of some relative moaning about how an artist’s job is to entertain. Shut up and play the hits, etc. This was probably not a night for them. Eternal anthem ‘Sit Down’ was only rushed off in response to a crowd vote, while American hit ‘Laid’ and even evening closer ‘Come Home’ were granted energetic yet reasonably abrupt renditions. At the encore’s arrival, Booth lamented that we weren’t aware of the newer material they were airing, supposedly since some of the crowd applauded in a quiet lacuna during ‘Leviathan’ from last year’s Living in Extraordinary Times.

Such an attitude could potentially come across as immensely self-important. Yet it’s quite clear that this band really cares. Raging against a variety of the world’s ills, even the ominous moment when Booth wandered like a prophet through the crowd, guiding them through a hypnotic chant of, “There’s only one human race, many faces, everybody belongs here,” was surprisingly moving. For exhibiting such passion in crafting elaborate new music this far into their career, James prove their dedication. The soaring take-off during the chorus of aforementioned ‘Leviathan’ belongs to a serious hit single.


Mountain View

The live transformation of John Grant

Still, something doesn’t quite gel when many of the songs from Living in Extraordinary Times mention Trump’s America, at least from the perspective of the Cambridge crowd having to nod in appreciation at Mancunians warning about the “white American dream.” James seemingly have no qualms with preaching (look up Booth’s baffling appearance as Judas in 2006 TV special Manchester Passion), which reaches its peculiar apex with a hasty fist in the air, followed by the immortal shout of, “Fuck Liam Fox!

Having elicited U2 comparisons for years, the unexpected bonus of Bono-esque political prescription is not as off-putting as it sounds. To see a group of musicians put their heart into their work and then relish the challenge of winning over a (slightly subdued) crowd represents the wondrous unpredictability of live music. James profess to have an unrestrictedly flexible setlist that feeds off the character of the night, and as such you are not always going to hear your favourite. Sure, ‘Say Something’ wouldn’t have gone amiss, but that is itself missing the point. This band feeds off emotional union, and tonight they earned something resembling true connection.

Details about James' 2019 tour dates can be found here

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