Thursday 6 June 2024

James - Newcastle Utilita Arena - 5th June 2024


James continued their UK tour in support of number one album Yummy with their first show in over twenty years at Newcastle's Utilita Arena. Mixing many of their biggest anthems from their 1990s commercial peak with their current number one album Yummy and with Tim Booth getting up close and personal with the audience, they turned an old soulless arena into an intimate space.

One of the most magical things about James is their constant striving to find the perfect setlist for a place and time. The answer to that question will always be different - the time of year, the day of the week, the weather outside, the size of venue, the gap between band and audience and the prevailing mood of the audience. So James change their set every night. Last time we saw them here (we weren't at the gig on the 2001 farewell tour) they were at what was probably the nadir in inter-band relationships and the setlists weren't changing. Tonight they ripped up the setlist from the last gig in Aberdeen and rebuilt a completely new one - the openers changed from new songs to two old friends in She's A Star and Waltzing Along and in total they play eight songs that weren't in the previous night's and moved songs around within those that remained. 

The first three are all newcomers, although the first two are familiar to anyone with more than a passing acquaintance to James. She's A Star and Waltzing Along are staples of the live set that the band bring in and out when they feel they can give them fresh impetus and tonight they lift the Newcastle crowd, Tim coming down to the barrier for the latter as the crowd singalong with the song's hook. Our World is the first of three new songs, grouped together to prevent a stop-start feel that bands playing old-new-old-new often inadvertently create. It's followed by Hey and already there's a sense, compared to Aberdeen, that they're evolving these songs between shows rather than having rehearsed the life out of them as other bands often do. The dual drums approach gives it real strength and the chorus line "hey hey, we can fly" is uplifting and given an extra blast by the four-piece Manchester Inspirational Voices Gospel Choir. That sense of joy in the new songs continues into Life's A Fucking Miracle, their most radio-friendly chorus in years, save of course for the shocking expletive. 

Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) sees Tim venturing out in the audience, making his way through the seats, dodging mobile phones shoved in his face and bringing the back of the room forwards into being an alive part of the show rather than onlookers. He tells the crowd if he's going to stay out there he wants to look at them. He decides to stay out for Tomorrow, doing a full lap of the arena as they power through one of their most enduring and best-loved songs.

They strip things back down with Five-O from Laid and Yummy's Shadow Of A Giant, allowing Saul to get out his violin, rarely seen these days since he took on more lead guitar responsibility once Larry left. Five-O has a gorgeous intro section of violin and Debbie stepping away from her drum kit to play bongos feels like part of the evolution of a song that, despite not being a single, is clearly a band favourite and allows them to spread their wings musically. Shadow Of A Giant broods and bubbles, demanding concentration in an arena space, as Tim acknowledges, but as it reaches its conclusion, Chloe and the choir sing the "wow" and it feels like a moment of real revelation.

Better With You is glorious tonight, one of the highlights, the part where the song soars and reaches for the stars and the optimism of love that is at its core reveals itself is as magical as it is on the record. There's a false start that Tim takes responsibility before Mark admitting it was him and there's a playful interchange between the two of them, with Tim referencing that you'll never get a perfect James set, the imperfections are part of what makes it what it is. As it ends Tim drops to his knees as Chloe and the choir take over the final part. 

Mobile God, aided by some digital trickery that transforms the images on the screens from human to cyborg, is stuttering, jittery and edgy and fabulous theatre. Tim jokes at the start that people can get their phones out for this one, even though most already have had them out to capture their own personal moment of the show. It finishes with Josh from the choir at the front with Tim and he introduces them before Saul tells us that Jim is a "manc inspiration." It sequences perfectly into the sonic battery that is Jam J, its industrial raw power and the strobe lights making this one of the most dramatic and powerful moments of the night, even surrounded by such big-hitting songs.

Sit Down is done the old-fashioned way, a glorious communal singalong where the audience takes control of it as it hits the breakdown, Chloe, Andy and Debbie sitting down on the front of the stage and Tim standing surveying awe-struck, even after witnessing it hundreds of times over the past thirty-odd years, the way the song unifies a crowd. He goes crowdsurfing for Nothing But Love which starts with him teasing the audience that their attempt at the harmonies was better than Aberdeen's (although they didn't play it there so by default...) to cheers but not as good as Stockton's to boos. There's a funny moment at the end of the song as he's still half way back in the arena and he chides us playfully for not having a reverse mode.  The main set finishes on Sometimes which again the crowd don't take up and sing back to them. This has been one of the few constants in James sets over the years, but now hopefully it'll mean they can switch it around the set a little more and have something else at the end to take up that role.

The main set has finished earlier than planned so that allows us a five-song encore and the unusual situation of every song on the printed setlist being played including the extras. The first is Way Over Your Head, perhaps not the natural choice from Yummy to be the song that blossoms live, but which does gloriously as the combined choir of angels and rogues on stage lift the harmonies gloriously as the screens behind are adorned by a kaleidoscope of beautifully coloured butterflies. Come Home sets the crowd off, its signature hook line still one of their strongest calling cards but the song has aged like a fine wine, more demure, less chaotic but every bit as ecstatic. Beautiful Beaches is set to a video of apocalypse and nature being consumed in fire and finishes with the band turned to Dave and Debbie battering out a frantic duet on drums that feels like the last moments before the end.

Of course this isn't the end. Laid now seems to be the one song that people complain about most if they don't play it and sets the audience off from the very first bar. It may not have the gravitas of some of their other songs but its energy alone feeds the room who in turn feed the band in a symbiotic way. Tim very sagely acknowledges that they should do this first before the finale of Sound because doing the latter would take them over curfew and mean they couldn't fit Laid in. Debbie takes to the bongos again for Sound and Andy leaves the stage to reappear out in the crowd as the song builds, then drops down and comes back, Tim prowling the stage, urging first Adrian on, then banging his megaphone on Dave's cymbals. 

They take their final bows from an audience who've been treated to one of their best sets in the last few years. The sound that had been a little off for Razorlight was crystal clear, the light show augmenting the songs and the visuals really complementing them. The new songs have the energy and weight for the arena, even in their quieter moments and the Newcastle audience are far more receptive to them than in Aberdeen and the band are clearly revelling in playing them.

James played She’s A Star, Waltzing Along, Our World, Hey, Life’s A Fucking Miracle, Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), Tomorrow, Five-O, Shadow Of A Giant, Better With You, Mobile God, Jam J, Sit Down, Nothing But Love, Sometimes, Way Over Your Head, Come Home, Beautiful Beaches, Laid and Sound

James tour at Glasgow OVO Hydro (June 7), Leeds First Direct Arena (8), Cardiff Utilita Arena (11), Birmingham Utilita Arena (12), Manchester CO-OP Live (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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