Live Review: James – First Direct Arena, Leeds 23.11.14

Sunday night saw James arrive in Leeds for the last gig of their 11 date tour. There was a definite buzz in the air. A James gig is always special, but for some reason tonight felt that bit more so. As they took to the stage this was confirmed by guitarist/violinist, Saul “This is our end of tour party.” We were all invited and it was fun and games right from the off.

Arenas can be vast soulless venues, where the acts perform on a stage in front of a somewhat detached crowd who act as mere spectators. This is not the case in Leeds tonight. For starters the First Direct Arena has been built as a dedicated music venue, as opposed to an oversized sports hall, added to that,  Tim Booth and his cohorts are used to the environment and have a penchant for making everyone feel a part of the show. Barely three songs in and Booth makes his first foray into the crowd.

As everyone sings along to ‘Say Something’, Tim can’t help himself. He climbs down from the stage and strolls up and down the front of the crowd holding peoples hand, looking deep into their eye’s in a genuinely endearing way until he finds his spot, climbs atop the barrier, sings a few lines and then drops into the arms of his fans to, as he puts it, “go swimming” for the first time this evening.

It’s a wonderful moment. Returning to the stage unscathed, Booth recalls previous occasion where the same actions left him feeling as if he had undergone a colonoscopy (!), and urges everyone to remember they are now dealing with “a man of age.”

From there on in the band sets about guiding us through a mixture of old favourites, songs from the latest album and, towards the end of the set, at least one surprise. “This is our one and only true love song” proclaims Tim, as they lunge into ‘Fred Astaire’, which sees Saul join him in song to close out the number.

From there it’s love to lust with ‘Curse, Curse’ a song about “nights in the Malmaisson, listening to the couple next door making love…wanting to change rooms…or join in” Not that they needed much encouragement, but it succeeds in firing up the energy in the mosh pit. It’s an energy that soon becomes supercharged as ‘Curse, Curse’ becomes ‘Laid’.

From above the floor is a sea of activity; behind us the balconies are alive. It is as if everyone is on their feet singing and dancing along. This is a live performance reaching its peak, and it is a peak that James sustain throughout.

Up front Booth alternates between prowling the stage and dancing like a supercharged marionette on elasticated thread. Around him the band are faultless, at times squaring up to him as if in some form of artistic challenge, musician verses muse with only one winner; us, the people watching.

Taking things down a notch or two comes via ‘Lullaby’, followed by heartfelt rendition of ‘All I’m Saying’ which Tim dedicates to the passing of a close friend.

The lights, (which, by the way, are wonderful throughout), change, becoming more frenetic and the beat goes up tempo. ‘Born of Frustration’ with its distinctive howling whoops, and trumpet, sees Booth once again leave the stage and join his flock. Another bout of ‘swimming’, more singing perched aloft by fans and more of that looking into wanton eyes.

It would have been easy, and the crowd would have loved them none the less, if they had stuck to a trusted formula; couple of songs from the new album, interspersed with the well-known and well loved, especially with it been the last gig of the tour. But why rest on your laurels? ‘Go to the Bank’ may be familiar to those who own ‘Whiplash’, but it’s never before been played live, not even during the current tour.

This is a first time, special treat for the Leeds crowd. And what a treat it is. It’s slightly coarse and rugged, and in the current surroundings has a devilish irony to it. It’s a well calculated risk, goes down well and bleeds beautifully into a raucous ‘Jam J’ complete with Tim jigging around with a display a suppleness that belies his earlier statement about been ‘a man of age’.

In a show so full of moments it’s hard to pick a stand out, but Saul’s violin solo during ‘PS’ is surely a hot contender. It is beautiful highlight, which has the crowd transfixed. Yet another contender for show stopper follows shortly after. Apologetically Tim claims, “I never wanted to be the person who had to pick the players for a football team…” but needs must, and after asking who wants to dance, descends the steps and picks 12 members of the audience to join him on stage for ‘Gone Baby Gone’. Tim’s moves are never in question and as he takes turns in dancing with each and every one of them. It’s a mixed bunch – one gentleman’s rather over exuberant bouncing attracts a member of the stage crew who asks him to calm it down, whilst at the other extreme a young woman shows she is as equally as lithesome as Booth, as they lose themselves in each other for a brief moment.

The main set closes with ‘Come Home’, at 25 years old; it’s the oldest song of the set and a fitting end to the main performance.

An encore was more than inevitable, and the band returns with ‘Out to Get You’. As it closes Tim and Andy disappear from the stage. As ‘Sound’ kicks in Tim reappears in the balconies treating the people furthest from the stage to a touch of what those at the front had experienced earlier. As all eyes follow him along the balconies, between the chairs and over the railings, he is soon joined by Andy and his trumpet to serenade us all.

With everyone back down on terra firma, ‘Interrogation’ features an inspiring solo from Larry’s guitar. The peak we spoke about earlier has definitely been maintained, if not indeed built upon, as we come to the closing number.

Tim berates the fact that there is a curfew in place which prohibits them from performing much after the final song, but proclaims “There is nothing to stop you from singing as long as you like.” As the opening bars of ‘Sometimes’ fill the air the crowd take over. To be honest it is one of the most tuneful audience sing-alongs I’ve ever witnessed and the band are happy to stand back and soak it all up, eye witnesses in the front row swearing blind that Booth had a distinct tear in his eye at the beauty of it all. It’s been a special night. The final song, on the final show of the tour ends to almost euphoric applause.

Much loved by their fans and, even after all these years, still humbled by the adoration they receive. Confident enough to present new material – tonight’s set included 7 songs from this year’s album ‘La Petite Mort’– brave enough to play lesser known album tracks for the first time, as well as knowing which of their hits will drive the crowd on, James continue to prove that they are one of the best live acts around. Long may they continue.

View from the Pit Gallery:- just click on any pic to enter gallery and see pics full size.

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