Sunday, 6 February 2011
784 JAMES, Unkle Bob, Bristol Colston Hall, Thursday 15 April 2010
This one represented a birthday excursion for Rachel to see one of her favourite bands, and a chance for me to revisit an old live staple; James, 80's quirky yet introverted student indie pop elves turned post-baggy early 90's stadium bores, who nevertheless partly resurrected themselves last time out, back in 1995, with a vintage Reading Festival mainstage set. Since split and reformed, how would 2010 find Tim Booth, the little chap who wandered onstage 26 years ago and started to sing plaintively, "an earwig crawled into my ear..."?
We left at 7 for a quick drive down, discussing the "Sit Down" problem. How would James approach the issue of this, the definitive baggy indie anthem, yet an overplayed, overexposed "millstone" number, this time out? After throwing it in mid-set on Rach's last James gig a couple of years ago, prior to which they'd left it out altogether and apparently rather nastily heckled a punter calling for it, I was all for getting it over with quickly in the set. Let's see... We parked up in good time to pop in for the support Unkle Bob, who were pleasant, inoffensive 80's strum-along indie-lite, with a couple of beefier numbers amidst the innocuous jangle.
We had a drink in the bar, Rach necking a couple of birthday Coors and myself bumping into Barney, an old old buddy, before going back in, getting a good spot stage left, for their anticipated arrival at 9. The lights dimmed at the appointed hour, and all eyes went to the stage, then the unmistakable acoustic introduction of "Sit Down" started up... from behind us! Sure enough, the band emerged through the rear stalls exit to a triumphant welcome, wandering down the stalls aisles and greeting folks like a troupe of travelling troubadours, Tim Booth gaunt and goateed, with a woolly tea cosy atop his bald pate, grinning like a loon and relishing this moment. The journey through the enthusiastic, photo-snapping crowd took virtually the whole song, but by the denouement, Booth was onstage, conducting the first huge sing-along of the night, particularly enjoying the line, "those who find themselves ridiculous...!" A very stylish way to dispense with their millstone number.
"Right, that's the introductions out of the way, now let's have a fun evening!" Booth's words were a totally fitting prophesy, as they then played a fine and fun set of their varied canon of work, ranging from the innocently jaunty and ramshackle (an early and welcome "Hymn From A Village"), through the haunting and anthemic (a huge "Tomorrow", prompting another mass sing-along), to the jagged and moody (a splendid slow-burn "Out To Get You", climaxing in some virtuoso violin work from Saul Davies, and the dark, disturbing oldie "Stutter", generously dedicated to the folks who used to come see James at the Bierkeller in the 80's. Thanks Tim!). Booth was the focal point throughout, staccato dancing with the energy of a man half his age, and yes, playing the stadium showman perfectly. Set closer "Sometimes" was immense, the largest sing-along of the night, with the band downing instruments and letting the crowd take the climactic hook for what seemed like ages, before concluding the song to a triumphant roar.
Encores "Say Something", another anthemic sing-along, and final number "Laid", quirky and ramshackle as ever, put the icing on the cake. Rach loved it, which was only fitting, and as for me? Well, faith well and truly restored, hopefully it won't be 15 years before I see this lot again!