Sunday 16 June 2024

James - London O2 Arena - 15th June 2024

James finished their biggest ever UK arena tour with their first ever show at London’s O2 Arena, making the capital’s largest indoor gig space feel intimate with a mix of their greatest hits and tracks from their number one album Yummy.

“Let’s make this place home for the next two hours” Tim tells us as the band make their way onto stage before launching into an impassioned Johnny Yen, the oldest song on the set tonight. As he improvises the breakdown he prowls the stage encouraging, challenging before finishing it on Dave’s drum riser. They go straight into Waltzing Along, an exuberant feel good song that feels more vibrant than ever these days despite not being one of their most ambitious songs. The energy is lifted by Tim venturing first to the barrier then crowd surfing. He’s almost dropped which causes him to admonish those holding their phones rather than him and that he doesn’t want to be trapped on stage rather than coming out and making friends and looking in our eyes. 

“This is a beautiful new one” Tim tells us as he introduces the first of three songs from Yummy. Stay’s beautiful new intro, bringing a stripped back chorus to the front, works wonderfully well and brings the song alive in a room this size. Hey sees Tim throwing colourful foil butterflies from a bumbag. It works well on the big screen but less so with the naked eye and there’s a temporary loss of screens that doesn’t help. Hey’s chorus is as anthemic as many of the bigger guns around it on the set. Introducing the next song Tim tells us that in a world with all the shit that’s going down there’s one thing to hold on to - Life’s A Fucking Miracle. He’s back down on and then off the barrier surfing again. It’s gloriously uplifting and lands the best of all the new songs as the chorus is probably Yummy’s most immediate moment. 

She’s A Star and Say Something follow and Tim’s out and into the seats for two of James’ best-loved songs that don’t always get an airing.  The predominance of Yummy tracks means the rest of the set has been hit-heavy in cognisance of the fact these are huge audiences. The consequence of this is that pretty much all their big hitting singles have made an appearance when some have always been rested for a tour. In many ways that has made this tour’s setlists the most predictable for a long time for those who follow such things or do multiple shows as there’s very few surprises in the set. It’s a fine line and the band stay the right side of it. 

Out in the seats he seeks out those looking for connections rather than a visual memento. Down on the floor the crowd find their voice. As Tim makes his way back the opening bars of Out To Get You, not a single but included on The Best Of, are met with roars of appreciation. It’s a million miles away from the scrappy b-side that it started life as. It builds momentum like a runaway train heading downhill, on the tracks but uncertain of where it will stop and end up. Saul’s violin playing on this tour has been one of the highlights and here he steals the show.

He keeps the violin for the start of Shadow Of A Giant, the most challenging of the new songs for anyone unfamiliar with Yummy. Its slow build is beautiful though and it’s not hard to understand why the band have kept it in the set. Better With You is a hit single from another era, the moment when it soars big enough for rooms like this.

Sound sits as the filling in a Yummy sandwich as it’s followed by two more. Arms are raised, clapping along before Tim comes in and it’s one of those songs that’s never the same two nights running. Jim’s bass is spiky and aggressive, Andy’s trumpet screams from the seats to where he’s relocated and Tim loses himself completely. As it ends he engages in a call and response with the audience of the “mah ba ooh” part.

Butterfly is glorious, the harmonies and melodies augmented by the four piece from the Manchester Inspirational Voices Gospel Choir. It might serve as a piss / beer break for many who head out of their seats but they miss the most magnificent musical moment of the night. Mobile God has Tim back down on the barrier, the visual trickery on the screen turning band, choir and audience into robots in line with the song’s lyrics about dependence on the machine in your pocket.

The main set finishes with a trio of Sit Down, Tomorrow and Sometimes that has the sold out floor and the seats up and letting goof the inhibitions that London crowds often have. Sit Down and Sometimes are huge communal singalongs, with them joined by Johnny and Rennie for the latter and there’s an unwanted stage invader and a worrying moment where he won’t let go of Tim. It’s Tomorrow that’s the big powerful moment, a song propelled forward by the weight of its own momentum and the thrilling energy that James, despite their ageing years, seem to have more of than ever before.

The encore starts with an uplifting Way Over Your Head that might just do that for the 90s fans who Tim says might want to hear something else. But as the butterflies swirl on the big screen and Chloe and the choir’s voices lift this song of personal resurrection it’s a magical moment. Tim playfully teases that Beautiful Beaches won’t please those same fans but it’d take a stubborn fool not to be converted by the song’s effervescent and boundless energy concluding in the drum duet from Debbie and Dave.

It is inevitably two old favourites that bring the night to an end. Come Home brings back memories of student discos to large parts of the fifteen thousand crowd. Laid sends them even wilder as the final farewell to a tour where James both stuck to their guns with their new record as well as rolling out their biggest hits.

James played Johnny Yen, Waltzing Along, Stay, Hey, Life’s A Fucking Miracle, She’s A Star, Say Something, Out To Get You, Shadow Of A Giant, Better With You, Sound, Butterfly, Mobile God, Sit Down, Tomorrow, Sometimes, Way Over Your Head, Beautiful Beaches, Come Home and Laid

James tour at Lisbon Rock In Rio (June 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


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