Review by Andy Houghton for MPM
A chilly autumn evening did little to dampen the enthusiasm of concertgoers for the first official gig on James’ UK and Ireland Arena tour, which kicked off in Leeds on Thursday 25 November.
An intimate warm-up concert at KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton two days earlier had, by all accounts, gone extremely well, and so expectations were running high as the close-to-capacity crowd flooded into the First Direct Arena.
Support was provided by Happy Mondays, a band whose longevity never fails to astonish – it’s hard to imagine that these two bands last toured together way back in 1988.
As always, Shaun Ryder tended to hover in the shadows, barely visible beneath his cap, and so fronting duties fell chiefly on Rowetta and Bez. As they thundered through a setlist of fan favourites, Rowetta’s voice was on great form and Bez yielded his maracas with unrelenting energy.
It was a lot of fun, and a great nostalgia trip for those of us who’ve followed the band since the outset.
Shortly after 9pm James took to the stage and launched their set with ‘Zero’, the opening track from their recent album ‘All The Colours Of You’.
At first sight it might seem like a buzzkill to choose as your opening number – the central message is “we’re all going to die” – but it’s that reality which reinforces the need to enjoy the present, which is exactly what the audience did. ‘Isabella’, also from the new album, followed, and then we jumped back almost a quarter century with ‘She’s A Star’.
Indeed, the setlist mixed and matched tracks from all of James’ extensive catalogue, with the older numbers revitalised by the band.
As the gig progressed, my appreciation grew for all that this band have achieved over their existence, and how they continue to reinvent and renew themselves. I was also struck by how effectively this large band – they now have nine members – have gelled together to form a cohesive whole.
Watching their interactions throughout the evening suggests how much they enjoy performing together, and this in turn comes through in the vitality of their music.
By the time we reach the encores, the audience is buzzing. ‘Wherever It Takes Us’ is followed by classics ‘Sit Down’ and ‘Laid’, which just had to be part of the bill. Even in the absence of Tim’s stage-diving – Covid has put paid to that for now – the band felt deeply engaged with the crowd, and the event was thrilling. Live music doesn’t come much better than this.
3.She’s A Star
4.Born Of Frustration
6.All The Colours Of You
12.Hymn From A Village
14.Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
16.Wherever It Takes Us
Remaining dates in the tour are:
Fri 26 November BIRMINGHAM Utilita Arena
Sun 28 November CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena
Tue 30 November GLASGOW SSE Hydro
Wed 01 December DUBLIN 3 Arena
Fri 03 December MANCHESTER Arena
Sat 04 December LONDON Wembley Arena
Photography by Andy Houghton for MPM