Wednesday 12 June 2024

James / Razorlight - Cardiff Utilita Arena - 11th June 2024

After a two-day break James returned to the stage on their Yummy tour in Cardiff's Utilita Arena on Tuesday night with a set still heavy on their recent number one album, a few unexpected twists and turns and with an energy and vitality that resonated with an appreciative Welsh crowd so early in the working week. Support came from an impressive forty-five minute set by Razorlight.

Razorlight open up the night and as at previous shows they get a very warm and well-deserved reception. Bookmarking their set with big-hitters In The Morning and America and liberally sprinkling it with the likes of Stumble And Fall, Golden Touch, In The City and Somewhere Else, the five of them remind us of how many great songs they wrote in their heyday.  

Like the headliners though they’re not just resting on their laurels with new material on the way. If Scared Of Nothing is anything to go by they’re emulating James in creating some of their best material while many of their 90s contemporaries are either treading the same paths or water for a payday at the nostalgia trough. Johnny’s voice sounds stronger than ever, powerful enough to fill these cavernous spaces  and he means these songs still after all these years. The lack of backing tracks gives them a harder edge. The Cardiff crowd, mostly in early for them, take Golden Touch away from them in the middle and give them a huge ovation at the end.

It’s an auspicious start when James come on stage exactly on time at 8.40pm, something that doesn’t happen very often. Saul wanders on, picks up his guitar and is then followed by the others almost nonchalantly. Whilst they’re playing arenas and performing sets that fill the cavernous spaces, the opening to these shows is somewhat low-key. But like what follows, James are about the music and the moment and not a robotic performance night after night and Cardiff’s setlist just underlines that point.

They start with Sound, a crowd-pleasing opener and one on this tour augmented by Debbie playing congas, adding to the song’s tribal opening sections before they start to improvise their way through a song that they often leave out for a while and come back with new ideas and new treatments. Andy appears on the balcony towards the end and shifts everyone’s attention away from the stage. The Cardiff crowd love it and there’s a real joy in the room for Waltzing Along, a simple song in many ways but one that captures perfectly a feeling of exhilaration communicated through music. Tim’s down on the barrier for the first time tonight during it, surveying the adoring masses from atop the narrow rail that separates him from the crowd.

Better With You is the first of eight Yummy tracks tonight - and two of the four on the sidelines are the lead singles Is This Love and Our World as well as many people’s favourite Hey, testament to the band’s unwavering belief in the quality of every single song on the record. A few performances in and they’ve captured the ecstatic essence of this song now, the lift and soar as it hits the breakdown matches that uplifting moment when cupid’s arrow strikes its target and love floods in. As the choir come in alongside Chloe the song rises to the heavens. It’s followed by Dream Thrum, possibly the most left-field choice of the tour so far but a band favourite. Tim performs the song between the two drum risers at the back of the stage allowing the focus visually to be on Saul’s violin playing which is far more prevalent on this tour than it’s been for a long long time.

Stay makes a return to the setlist, a favourite of some of the band, and tonight they nail it in a way they haven’t the previous times we’ve heard it live. Tim introduces it as a song about trying to avoid being spun off the planet and Rogue which follows it as about “getting fucking old.” One of Yummy’s most upbeat moment, he rolls off the tonne of lyrics with impressive dexterity whilst there’s a number of subtle changes to the way the band play it that show they’re constantly evolving these songs and taking risk with them as they tour. Josh from the choir duels with him on the final section of the song.

“This is the last one before the break” Tim jokes as he introduces Life’s A Fucking Miracle and heads back down to the barrier and then out into the seats, dispatching a camera on the way out there as it gets stuck in his face. This song seems to have captured some recognition even from some of those who are here to relive their younger days. He playfully chastises the lighting man with the spotlight for not keeping up with him - hard when he’s going where the mood takes him - and those sticking a phone in his face, something he tells us they wouldn’t do in the street. 

He decides to stay out there for Tomorrow, dancing in the aisles with some of the fans who thought they’d be watching the show from a distance rather than being part of it.  It allows Andy to take centre stage on one of the raised platforms to blast out his trumpet on a song that post-dated his departure from the band but which adds so much to the live versions. Sit Down is a raucous celebration, the breakdown singalong isn’t immediately taken on by the crowd, but the power of thousands of voices when it does takes Tim aback a little. As it ends he tells us he feels guilty for knocking the phone out of the woman’s hand earlier.

He tells us the next song requires silence and listening, adding “not that we’re going to get that” but the Cardiff audience, at least those around us, calm down from the excitement of Sit Down and listen to the stunning beauty of Shadow Of A Giant from its intense taut opening through its blossoming into a song built for these stages before its tender close. Tim tells us he hopes they’ve still got our attention, as they figured we’re a musical crowd as we’re not at Pink’s mega stadium show at the Principality Stadium across town so they can take more risks. Butterfly steals the show though, the slow build and then explosion into glorious light, accompanied by fluttering colourful butterflies on the screen behind them, is a thing of genuine beauty and intimacy that makes the room feel like it’s shrunk.

Five-O is an enduring part of James setlists over the years since its release thirty-one years ago, yet they constantly reveal new ways of keeping it fresh and alive. On this tour it’s an extended intro of violin and bass, with Jim and Saul facing off to each other, and Debbie on congas again. The crisp detail in the sound, which has been exceptional on this tour, but even more so tonight, allows every little nuance to be heard despite the dampeners an arena can often put on it. Mobile God follows it and again they’ve made some subtle alterations to it and once again the on-screen trickery that transforms humans to robots makes it one of the set high points.

Tim teases that there’s some “90s desperation” in some shouts from the crowd but they’re going to have to wait one more, but that they’ll know it. He tells the story that his mother told him that the Welsh have the best singing voices and that they get it from eating leeks. This made him eat leeks a lot as a child and the first thing he cooked was the leeks with cheese.  Beautiful Beaches is majestic, a fluorescent beacon that lights up the possibilities of the nine-piece James when they let loose.

The main set finishes with the duo of Ring The Bells and Sometimes. In a recent soundcheck Tim said Bells was probably the James song that he would choose if they could only play one ever again because of its energy and the way it never feels tired. Tonight it has a real power to it, be that on stage or in the crowd where the attentiveness of the audience to what’s gone before has made the release of the song even more potent. Sometimes sees first the choir then the audience, on Tim’s bidding to prove his Mum right, take the song and match the voices that frequent the stadium across town on match days.

The encore starts with Way Over Your Head and a demonstration of the way James’ seat of the pants approach can sometimes lead to them having to stop a song. “We fucked up” Tim tells us to a huge roar and they go again with one of Yummy’s transcendent moments that really works live as the choir and band take the chorus and elevate it to the heavens. 

The 90s (and 00s if we’re being picky) desperation is assuaged with the final three songs of the night. Come Home might not have the anger of youth any more but it still possesses that hook line that pumps the adrenaline and sets ageing limbs moving and Tim’s out on the barrier again, amusingly trying to outstare a guy at the front who seems unmoved by the whole thing. 

The joy of the James live show is evident in Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) through the interactions between the band and the coordinated dancing of the choir who feel every bit as if they’ve expanded James to a lucky for us thirteen piece. As it reaches its crescendo it casts thousands of people under its spell before Saul plays the opening bars of Laid and for the last three minutes of the night everyone loses themselves for one last time.

This was a supremely confident and assured performance from James, ever changing the setlist, playing around with songs, looking for new connections both within and without the band, taking us all on their journey. It may have been a Tuesday night in Cardiff, not the sexiest location on a school night, but it was one of their best shows and audiences for a very long time.

James played Sound, Waltzing Along, Better With You, Dream Thrum, Stay, Rogue, Life’s A Fucking Miracle, Tomorrow, Sit Down, Shadow Of A Giant, Butterfly, Five-O, Mobile God, Beautiful Beaches, Ring The Bells, Sometimes, Way Over Your Head, Come Home, Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) and Laid.

James tour at Birmingham Utilita Arena (June 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.


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