Review: James, Manchester Arena

Somebody once told me, when James play the sun shines.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 14th May 2016, 3:13 pm
Updated Saturday, 14th May 2016, 4:15 pm

Meteorologically dubious given the fact they do perform in England...and usually at night, yet even within a darkened and commodious Manchester Arena, at times it does feel like you're outside basking in the glow of a warm summer's evening.

Joy and warmth emanate from James gigs; beaming smiles are only outshone by phones masquerading as 21st Century lighters; it was feel good music in the 90s, it's feel good music now.

Tim Booth, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Ming the Merciless these days, albeit less tyrannical and with better eyebrows, remains as captivating as ever.

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Throwing himself about the stage, it's a boundless energy that should be bottled up and sold alongside high intensity fitness DVDs.

At the age of 56 he, like the band, shows no sign of slowing down. Before 'To My Surprise' he talks about how a foray into the crowd at a recent gig had left him and battered and bruised and asks tonight to be treated 'like a porcelain object, an expensive Ming Vase you don't want to break'.

Moments later, cutting a messianic figure atop the barrier, he falls forward. It's as graceful a crowd surf as you're ever going to see, bringing an intimacy to a setting usually devoid of such closeness. It's a theme apparent throughout the night as well as he takes from the stage at various points to walk through different parts of the arena, stopping and singing with sections of the crowd, soaking up every moment.

For a band who have been performing, on and off, for more than three decades now nostalgia is something that is always going to come with the territory but this packed out arena show is not just a money grabbing trip down memory lane. Far from it. There's no 'Laid' or 'Say Something'. Ten of the tracks performed on the night are taken from their newest album - 'The Girl At The End Of The Word' - an album that came within a whisker of knocking Adele from the top of the charts.

It is a testament to the song-writing strength of Booth that James do not need to rely on their greatest hits, they are still moving forward, refusing to look back.

The uplifting 'Nothing But Love' is already a firm live favourite and 'Moving On' from 2014's 'La Petite Mort' is right up there with anything they have done. Written following the death of Booth's mum, it is a truly beautiful song, soaked in reflective sentiment yet optimistically upbeat. 'Dear John', 'To My Surprise' and the latest album's title track are further highlights.

There is of course room for a few of the old favourites.

Rarely aired 'What For' is given the acoustic treatment as is "She's A Star" while 'Come Home' remains as anthemic as it did in the 90s.

As 'Sometimes' draws to a close the audience, arms aloft, take up the refrain, belting back every single word until the goosebumps finally begin to subside.

'Sit Down', omitted from previous nights of the tour, tonight kicks off the encore. It's a stripped back walk through as Booth, Saul Davies on guitar and Andy Diagram on trumpet make their way from the back of the arena towards the stage carried along by a crowd singing like there's no tomorrow. Once there the whole band joins in. Strangers grab each other and sing. If they had carried on playing until 4am, many would still be there singing themselves to sleep.

They begin to head off stage again but stop, Booth telling a jubilant crowd to just pretend they've been off and come back on. 'Tomorrow' closes; a powerful, rousing finale, befitting a band whose star burns as bright as ever.