Last year Manchester indie legends James released their fifteenth LP, Living in Extraordinary Times. XS Noize found Living in Extraordinary Times was an essential and sacrosanct addition to the James back catalogue giving it a rating of 9/10. This achievement is especially noteworthy since album fifteen was initially conceived as a double album but insufficient funds would not permit this. With the success of Living in Extraordinary Times; the next logical step for XS Noize is to see James tour Living in Extraordinary Times. This is what we did.
As with all the legs of the Living in Extraordinary Times tour, there were no support bands; James took the night on, on their own by first performing an acoustic set and then playing out in full electric glory. Tim Booth led the band (looking youthful and fit for fifty-nine dressed in a white cotton shirt, short blue blazer, light blue flared cotton trousers in proper dharma rocker style) opening the acoustic set with Just Like Fred Astaire. James, with an ensemble including a cellist, pianist, trumpets, and percussionist and backing singers continued to play hits from their back catalogue including, Hello, which added a sad melancholy dimension to James’ performance. This resulted in a stoic audience who then reacted with passionate, boisterous, elating and jubilant rounds of applause.
As well as the classics, James also performed a new song, Coming Home (Pt.2), which was as well received as Hello. The last song of the acoustic set, All I'm Saying, was probably the most personal of all as Booth spoke about a personal friend who had recently died. Booth elaborated that All I'm Saying is a song fans had played at relative’s funerals. At the Royal Albert Hall, the mournful cello with its echoed sadness worked to perfection. Ending with the words, “See you next time” left the audience during the interval deep in thought whilst partially lightened up with Booth previously saying how it is impossible at his age to read printed lyrics in a size 12 font.
Following the interval, James returned for their electric set. Booth had ditched his blue blazer for a black jacket and lightened up the audience saying: “I heard the support band were shit”. James then played two new songs off their latest LP: What's It All About and Extraordinary Times. Booth made good use of a loudspeaker. The latter song was particularly impressive with its The Smiths style, How Soon is Now? guitar riffs. Waltzing Along followed and from this point onwards no one in the audience was left sitting down. The ovations intensified as did the strobe lighting. Much of this electric set paid homage to the nineties electro influences. Booths’ dancing was surprisingly hypnotising and mesmerising; as if he was meditating and trying to emit spiritual energy into the audience. He succeeded.
As well as the classics, James continued to play new songs as well as songs that didn’t make it onto Living in Extraordinary Times including, Moving Car, with its many diverse electro sounds, impressed showing James could still be innovative after thirty-seven years. Say Something followed. At this point, Booth circulated the Royal Albert Hall by throwing himself into the crowds. The crowd surfing intensified with Leviathan and excitement continued to soar with Come Home and Laid. Stutter was the hardest, fastest and most intense of all. The crowd then welcomed new song, How Hard the Day, as a brief cool down from this intense James workout.
Whilst the fast songs, the adrenaline of Booth and the audience was undeniably exhilarating; the most emotive and memorable performance was when things slowed down again and James sang Many Faces. As well as Booths’ consistent superb diction and strong vocals; the power of the lyrics “There's only one, Human race, Many faces, everybody belong here” belonged to the audience. XS Noize lost count of the number of times the crowd recited these words back after James stopped playing this song.
James planned this set to maximise the feelings and poignancy of each of the twenty-four songs they played. With the exception of Destiny Calling, which would have been better placed in the electric set; James more than proved that they were still peaking. This task was made much harder for James as they played a different set for each leg of the tour; plot spoilers from previous nights on Setlist.fm would offer no clues as to what James would play and in what order. James peaked and succeeded in giving the best of themselves, both old and new at the Royal Albert Hall without playing chart hits Sit Down and She’s a Star.
INTERVIEW: James’ bassist Jim Glennie discusses new album ‘Living in Extraordinary Times.’
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