James / Sept. 25, 2008 / Chicago (Vic Theatre)
James was frankly too successful to ever consider unsung, but at least from a U.S. perspective the Manchester act never fully got its due. It wasn't until the group's sixth album, "Laid," that James aJames was frankly too successful to ever consider unsung, but at least from a U.S. perspective the Manchester act never fully got its due. It wasn't until the group's sixth album, "Laid," that James achieved any real popularity in the States, and even then one suspects it was only the naughty novelty of the two-minute title track that finally did the trick. Indeed, James's subsequent four albums failed to repeat the feat, and by the time the band more or less broke up in 2002, one might have assumed those fair-weather American fans had forgotten the band and moved on.
Yet the reconvened James were treated as returning heroes at Chicago's sold-out Vic Theatre, where a set composed almost entirely of songs from "Laid" and the new "Hey Ma" proved the band every bit the crowd-pleaser that packs arenas back home, and, in an ideal world, would do the same over here. Like few others, James deals almost exclusively in anthems, with even its quietest and most introspective songs building into euphoric emotional explosions. Listening to the band play one thrilling track after the next proved equally elating and exhausting (albeit in a good way).
While not as young as they once were, the members of James certainly seemed reinvigorated and energized enough to justify the reunion. Singer Tim Booth, impressively comfortable hovering near the top of his vocal range, was nearly shaman-like in his stage presence, dancing like a fool as need be, acting as cheerleader and even performing the whole of "Say Something" from within the crowd. But equal credit went to multi-instrumentalist Saul Davies, a sprightly foil to Booth, as well as returning trumpeter Andy Diagram, who had departed the band prior to "Laid" and performed this night resplendent in a red dress and sunglasses.
"Laid" tracks such as "Out To Get You," "Five-O," "Lullaby" and "Dream Thrum" were appropriately captivating, while the show closer "Sometimes" was downright exultant, ending in a transcendent mass crowd sing-a-long. While perhaps not as familiar, songs such as "Waterfall," "Bubbles," "Whiteboy," and "Oh My Heart" from "Hey Ma" were equally effective, with "Upside" featuring a lengthy dramatic pause during which Booth tried (in vain) to reduce the crowd to absolute silence. (He came close, but for a couple inevitable cries of "Go Cubs!")
As for the rest of the set, it's remarkable how much the band was forced to leave out to fit its two-hour time slot. Sure, there were hits like "She's a Star," "Ring the Bells" and "Sit Down," even the more obscure "Top of the World" or "Getting Away With It." But where was "Born of Frustration" or the gorgeous "Waltzing Along?" Where was "Tomorrow" or anything from the underrated "Millionaires?" The list goes on. Perhaps having reconnected with the lost tribe that is their American fan base, the band'll immediately start planning another jaunt to make up for these omissions.
Here is James' set list:
"She's a Star"
"Oh My Heart"
"Ring the Bells"
"I Want To Go Home"
"Out To Get You"
"Top of the World"
"Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)"