Thursday 11 May 2023

James - Manchester Apollo - 10th May 2023

James played the second night of the hometown Manchester leg of their tour with the Orca 22 orchestra and Manchester Inspirational Voices Gospel Choir on Wednesday night. A radically rejigged setlist  had the crowd dancing in the aisles by the end of the night.

With the orchestra on stage Tim wanders on and looks back then tells us everyone was behind him and with faux irritation tells us how shit it is that it’s the Manchester hometown show and it’s gone wrong. He picks up Joe’s baton and starts to conduct, saying it can’t be too difficult and whilst dancing tells is it’s easy like a self-driving Tesla. Joe appears and grumpily takes it off him, Tim walks off and says “he’s no better than me” as Bolero turns into Sit Down. Normally this would bring the house down, or prompt a stage invasion as happened at their first show here in 1989, but the audience are a little reticent even drawing a playful “so-so” hand sign from Tim when he holds the mic for them to sing the chorus. 

The roar at the end tells its own story. At moments tonight in the first three-quarters of the show the audience remain respectfully seated and don’t drown out Tim and the band, listening attentively. The response at the end of the songs show though that the connections that they strive for have most certainly been made.

Tim tells us that they're changing the set each night to give the audience a different experience, and each of the eleven we've attended before has had a different mood and vibe and reaction for that reason. Top Of The World hadn't appeared for six shows and then only towards the end or at the very end of the set. It's second up tonight and you can hear a pin drop in the moments where the instruments fall silent and Dust Motes has a similar response, the set bathed in white light and the emotion in Tim's voice crystal clear, every little intonation audible making the emotional impact of the desperate lyrics hit home harder. 

Lookaway is another song that's spent more time out of the set so far than in, but it's a glorious example of how Joe's arrangements can lift a song and make it feel transcendental. As it reaches its conclusion and the instruments drop out, Tim, Chloe, Andy and the choir continue to sing a capella. Tim comments that "I love the sound of our voices". He has a point, it's one of the most special moments of the tour so far.

The Shining sees him change the lyric about finding a lover to finding a wife. In the VIP soundcheck earlier he answered a question about changing lyrics to fit the mood and his head space and this is another example. Space has been a late addition to the setlists, but now feels immovable, from night to night you sense little subtle changes and the build to where Tim and Wayne from the choir's voices come together lifts the song out of its skin.

Tim looks down at his setlist for what's next and tells us that because they change it around, they don't remember what's coming and they look down and go "oh shit" when it's a challenging song. We're Going To Miss You had been omitted for the first time the night before, and is back with a vengeance. Taking a song out seems to make it come back fresher, like they've thought about how to make it different, and it invigorates it. Again as it reaches its natural end, Tim encourages them to go back round the song's mantra "there's a mirror with your name on, singing we're going to miss you when you're gone" with the music dropped out, the choir and orchestra standing and joining in a thirty nine person a capella chant. The audience join in but remain seated, soaking in the magic.

Ten Below has the orchestra on their feet again, the song about Tim's childhood experiences at boarding school seeing him lose himself in dance, first with the orchestra and then between Dave and Debbie's drums - the powerful combination of the two and the brass section giving it a euphoric cathartic feel, something that so many get from this band's lyrics and the music that accompanies them. 

The first half sees them finish with three singles. Seven starts with the stage bathed in glorious white light that amplifies the soaring entree into the chorus as Tim jumps down off the stage and into the aisles before dancing across the front row and back on stage. Say Something is stripped down further in the verses, harp and violins front and centre in the mix which makes the chorus feel even more uplifting and consuming, four thousand people finding their voice. Nothing But Love sees all eight of the choir down at the front, dressed in black, the slight sound problems of the previous night cleared so you can hear the detail in the music, in this case the glockenspiel, as we're sent into the interval on a celebratory high.

The orchestra make their way back onto stage followed by the band and choir minus one. Soon all is revealed as the opening bars of Magic Bus strike up and a light shines up on to the balcony to reveal Tim. He climbs on a chair and then onto the balcony edge itself, no doubt creating a few anxious palpitations below before heading back leaving Chloe and the choir to sing before rejoining at the end. 

As on the most recent shows he tells us they're relaxing their request not to take pictures or film for Love Make A Fool, a song that gets better with each listen, from the vibrant clapping of the orchestra and choir at the start to the way the song darts around, never coming back to the same point in a way many of James' best songs have done over the years. It bodes well for their next album that they're in the process of recording if they could sacrifice this for the orchestral record.

Tim jokes to us that some will be asking "where's my fucking indie band gone?" at this performance that's far removed from the traditional live James experience. Medieval comes from way back in the mid-eighties where James were one of the archetypal indie bands (with their tendency to improvise very much at the fore), but on this tour it shuns its roots and turns into a huge anthemic soaring beast of a song. Tim dancing on the orchestra riser urging them on, before everyone on stage, including Joe, turn round and chant "we are sound, we are sound, we are sound" repeatedly, the orchestra front row waving their bows in the air. 

Moving On was a late addition to the setlist and it's hard to imagine a set without it on this tour (although The Lake was missing too, which we only realised hours later in the cold light of morning) although it's marred a little by one man clapping (if you pardon the pun) badly out of time to Tim and Chloe facing each other holding a hand bathed in white light.

The next two songs are two of the lesser played ones of the thirty-six they've played on the tour so far, but are real highlights of not just tonight but the whole tour. Of Monsters And Heroes sparks and fizzles, building slowly in pace, Tim's storytelling reciting the poetic lyrics with his hand movements acting like a recall to really make it feel like the man referenced in the song is the one singing.  Riders is introduced as being about a most powerful dream when Tim was on a suicide slide having been diagnosed with a chronic liver disease at twenty one. The story is set against flaming red lights which make it feel even more intense and hard-hitting, the drama in the tale of pulling the demon out of his body forcefully. At the end Tim asks if we've got the jist given they're celebrating forty years of the band so they've gone for deeper cuts rather than the obvious.

Alaskan Pipeline is one such deep cut, the final track on the final album Pleased To Meet You before James split in 2001. It's even more sparse here, despite the numbers on stage, and when Wayne from the choir takes over at the end and sings harmonies, Tim stands behind him and simply lets himself be drawn in to the music, standing still then dancing slowly.

She's A Star, despite being the lead single from the orchestral album Be Opened By The Wonderful, hasn't been played much on the tour and it takes a few seconds until Tim starts to sing for many to recognise it (something that happens a lot during the course of the night). Jim's sat down, not playing on this one but soaking in the beauty of it like the paying audience in front of him. 

The coupling of All The Colours Of You and Many Faces is pulled forward tonight from the end of the set, but it's no less impactful. The multi-colour lights that accompany All The Colours Of You are as striking as the power that the orchestra give this song whilst making it different from the studio trickery Jacknife used to create it. Many Faces is euphoric, celebratory and sees Andy waving his crutches in the air as the whole place joins in with the song's chorus, repeated over and over at the end. 

Someone's Got It In For Me sees Saul and Adrian illuminated at the far sides of the stage as the two of them open up the song with just guitars before the strings come in and the whole thing explodes into glorious light in the chorus, with Justin from the choir taking over lead vocals on it whilst Tim stands close and admires. At the end of the song he says "we are one" as he points to the choir and orchestra and it genuinely feels like the three bodies have morphed into one unit.

The crowd move into the aisles to dance and some head down the front for the final two songs of the main set Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) and Born Of Frustration as James seek to finish the night on a bang. The security are a little unsure of what to do but as there's no danger of a stage invasion a la 1989 they try and keep the front free without being heavy-handed. People just want to be a bit closer, Tim lets the audience sing the chorus which they do with gusto and the whole Apollo is now on their feet, not to sit down again until they leave. Born Of Frustration's ecstatic windswept moments are even more so with the choir and orchestra augmenting the band and the audience casting off any remaining inhibitions that might have reigned them in earlier in the evening.

The encore starts with Laid, but not as you know it. Tim says before they start it that we might not know what to do with it. The tension of the slow version comes in part from the expectation that they'll speed it up and there's an anticipation of it that never comes which makes it even more an exciting version than the sometimes by numbers crowdpleaser.  Sometimes may be the one true undroppable song from any James set, but here it sheds skins and evolves every night, Saul's violin solo worth the admission price alone before the song becomes one communal coming together and celebration, band and orchestra going with the flow.

They could finish on this, but they throw in one curveball and leave us with Hymn From A Village. Andy's given a chair on the front of the stage because he can't foray onto the balcony with his broken foot, he throws a mock tantrum as the light isn't shone directly on him before he plays Dirty Old Town then directs Debbie to kick in the drums on Hymn From A Village, a song they played right back in 1983 on their first Peel Session. They take their final bows as Tim introduces the choir and orchestra again before playfully referring to the band as "these fucking idiots."  It's a joy to see them in this mood, the on-stage relationship, the improvisational spirit that has kept them young despite their ages still burning bright and using this opportunity to go places they've not been before with their music. 

James played Sit Down, Top Of The World, Dust Motes, Lookaway, The Shining, Space, We’re Going To Miss You, Ten Below, Seven, Say Something, Nothing But Love, Magic Bus, Love Make A Fool, Medieval, Moving On, Of Monsters And Heroes And Men, Riders, Alaskan Pipeline, She’s A Star, All The Colours Of You, Many Faces, Someone’s Got It In For Me, Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), Born Of Frustration, Laid, Sometimes and Hymn From A Village

James' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.  Some of the band - TimAndyChloe and Dave - are also on Twitter.

The orchestra tour calls at Blackpool Opera House (May 12), Nottingham Royal Centre (13), Bath Forum (15) and London Royal Albert Hall (17). They also play a festival exclusive orchestral show at Latitude Festival (July 23) as well as a show in the stunning setting of Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens, Greece (July 10).

They also play non-orchestral shows at Swansea In It Together Festival (May 28), Wolverhampton The Halls (June 20), Bristol Sounds (23), Liverpool Pier Head (July 2), Halifax Piece Hall (7/8), Thessaloniki Moni Lazariston (12), Laois Forest Fest (21), Dundee Slessor Gardens (28), Y Not Festival (29), Darlington Arena (August 5), London Crystal Palace South Facing (11) and Jersey Weekender (September 3).

We also run the One Of The Three James archive, the most detailed resource for information about the band, and the site also has a Facebook and Twitter page.

TimBoothLyricADay, whose posts often lead to Tim explaining his thought processes behind the lyrics, can be found on Twitter and Facebook.


Follow Even The Stars on Twitter at @eventhestarsuk and like our Facebook page for all the latest updates

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