Thursday 13 June 2024

James - Birmingham Utilita Arena - 12th June 2024

James’ UK tour in support of their number one album Yummy headed to Birmingham’s Utilita Arena on Wednesday night. The most spontaneous and thrilling show so far, imperfectly perfect, delighted a West Midlands crowd with a rich mix of the familiar and not so familar.

Dead on time at 8.40 James make their entrance to the duo of She’s A Star and Waltzing Along, two live favourites that raise the previously subdued build-up to the set following an excellent opening set from Razorlight. Tim ventures to the barrier for the latter and refreshingly isn’t met by a wall of phones, which he tells us means he can come out to play, more of that later.

It’s then straight into a trio from Yummy, a rousing Our World where the choir come to the fore in the chorus, an uplifting glorious Hey that sparks brighter than on previous tour outings testament to their continual striving to find any missing parts to the songs and a gloriously uplifting Life’s A Fucking Miracle that sees Tim out crowdsurfing before being dropped and having to make his way back to and over the barrier on foot. 

Say Something makes its first appearance on the tour and the Birmingham crowd find their voice and take the song away from the band and Tim lowers his mic and stands in awe of the moment unfolding in front of him. Born Of Frustration has Debbie brought forward to a mini set of drums and Andy out in the seats where Tim has to point him out to us as the song heads into the ecstatic magic of the breakdown.  Five-O begins with a wonderful build with the unusual combination of Saul’s violin and Debbie’s congas and reveals its true beauty as the song progresses. At the end Saul describes it as “folk but not as we know it.”

It’s back to Yummy for a couple more tracks. Butterfly is a late blossomer on the tour, its complexity making it one of the hardest for them to get to a point that meets their exacting standards. Tonight it soars higher as it unfurls its wings and reveals the beauty in its detail as Tim recounts the song’s story. They never quite nailed Wherever It Takes Us, a similar journey song, on the last album’s tour but they hit exactly the right spot with Butterfly. It’s followed by Better With You, introduced as an apocalyptic love song, and delivered with  the intimacy of its subject whilst still swelling to the size of the room without losing it. There’s a touching moment when Tim almost loses track of the lyric and Chloe rests her hand on his arm to reassure. The song really hits the stratosphere at the end as Chloe and the choir take command and Tim completely loses himself in the music. Saul jokes with someone in the front row about something they say about the song as he tells them to review it on Tripadvisor and score it 4.5.

He’s off into the seats in the opening bars of Just Like Fred Astaire, dancing, hugging, shaking hands with those looking for connections and swerving those with mobiles held up. He sings directly to a girl in a wheelchair then clambers to the upper tier as the song finishes. He tells us he’s stuck and doesn’t know what the next song is. There’s a comms issue between him and stage so the audience tell him and he laughs that it’s one he hasn’t learned the lyrics for but “let’s see how it goes”

He completes a whole trip round the arena by the end of the song where the band extend the middle section and Chloe’s megaphoned vocals. There’s a short pause as he clambers back on stage, telling us there’s ice cream on sale in the foyer and it was completely spontaneous and if it wasn’t it would have been more professionally choreographed.

Shadow Of A Giant has a tough act to follow, but the excited audience give it the due respect and attention it requires as it takes twists and turns as it builds slowly from moody to cinematic in the space of a few minutes. It’s followed by the unmistakeable drum beat of the opening to Sit Down and the most full on version so far on the tour until the moment the audience take it from Tim, the band drop out and ten thousand voices become one.

Mobile God has not one but two false starts. Tim tells us one is forgivable, two embarrasing to roars of approval from a crowd that appreciate that a James show is a living breathing organism that doesn’t always go exactly as planned. It’s worth the wait, one of Yummy’s strongest tracks, augmented by graphic trickery on the screen as people are turned to robots.

Tomorrow is ferocious and raw and delivered with a real edge and energy. Sometimes ends the main set with a glorious guitar solo from Adrian before Tim conducts a singalong that alternates between audience and choir. Before Way Over Your Head he tells us they need to retire it and replace it, to follow their ethos of avoiding the predictable and forced, to what he describes as “appreciative boos”

Way Over Your Head possesses the potential to take over that mantle were it not for the nostalgic sentiment associated with the older songs. Like many of James’ greatest songs it turns despair into hope, a catharsis and a sense of not being alone. Even a false start that Tim says is like Les Dawson before Saul quips “Les rehearses” can’t derail it.

Beautiful Beaches is euphoric, a song that few bands in their fifties and sixties could create. Powerful, uplifting and joyous, despite the undertones of the lyrical content and concluding with eleven of the thirteen on stage turning, mostly kneeling and watching Dave and Debbie’s drum outro with the same wonder as the rest of us. They finish on Laid, way after curfew, a devil-may-care romp that feels on the edge of imminent breakdown that encapsulates the band and the live experience in a three minute pop song.

James played She’s A Star, Waltzing Along, Our World, Hey, Life’s A Fucking Miracle, Say Something, Born Of Frustration, Five-O, Butterfly, Better With You, Just Like Fred Astaire, Curse Curse, Shadow Of A Giant, Sit Down, Mobile God, Tomorrow, Sometimes, Way Over Your Head, Beautiful Beaches and Laid

James tour at Manchester CO-OP Live (June 14), London O2 Arena (15), Lisbon Rock In Rio (22), Bedford Summer Sessions (July 6), Lytham Festival (7), Stornoway Hebcelt Festival (19), Ludlow Castle (25), Scarborough Open Air Theatre (26), Kingston Prism (August 23, two shows), Powderham Castle Gone Wild Festival (24), Dublin Collins Barracks (26), Thessaloniki Earth Theatre (September 3), Athens Lycabettus Theatre (5), Brazil Rock In Rio (September 14), Denver Paramount Theatre (17), Vancouver Queen Elizabeth Theatre (20), Seattle Moore Theatre (21), Portland McMenamins Crystal Ballroom (22), San Francisco The Garfield (23), Los Angeles Orpheum Theatre (25/26), Austin Stubb's (29), Dallas Majestic Theatre (30), Houston Bayou Music Center (October 1), Atlanta The Eastern (3), New Orleans The Fillmore (4), Washington Warner Theatre (6), Brooklyn Paramount (8), Boston Orpheum (10), Philadelphia Franklin Music Hall (11), Montreal MTLEUS (13), Toronto History (14), Detroit Masonic Temple (15), Chicago Riviera (17) and Saint Paul Palace Theatre (18).

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

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

Razorlight's official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.


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

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