Despite the band forming in 1982, and having multiple charting singles in Australia during the '90s, this was James' first performance in the country.
Meanwhile over in the UK, they were a household name with songs like ‘Sit Down’ being so ubiquitous and familiar as to become aural wallpaper. As such there were a large number of British accents in the assembled masses waiting for the band to grace The Tivoli stage (12 January).
The venue wasn’t sold out, but there was a palpable excitement in the air. Not a single person was there by accident; these were people who have waited a long time for this to happen, and were going to make the most of it.
When the band walked on stage for a rendition of the exquisite ‘Out To Get You’, suddenly this audience – mostly in their 30s and 40s – regressed a couple of decades to the screaming fanatics they really were.
As the song reached the repeated line “What I need”, the crowd couldn’t help themselves to sing and shout along as though this were some stadium rock song. In some circumstances this sort of atmosphere can ruin a band’s performance, but the sheer, unadulterated joy across the faces of those in attendance could melt even the most cynical heart.
As someone who’d never seen the band before, I was taken back by how good they were live. Tim Booth looked genuinely moved at times as the crowd sung his lines as though his role were superfluous. Looking like the sort of person who is an aficionado of hot yoga, he took the opportunity to fill any instrumental moments with dance moves that define the phrase 'dance like no-one’s looking'.
Until you listen to their songs back to back, it’s easy to forget how many highlights James have in their cannon. ‘Getting Away With It’, ‘Laid’, ‘Sound’, they all manage to sound even better live than on the recording. With 16 albums to choose from, it was inevitable that they’d miss some of the big ones, but the omissions of two of their biggest songs ‘Sit Down’ and ‘She’s A Star’ were particularly surprising. However, being two of my least favourite tracks of theirs, I was happy enough for them to be left off.
One surprise came in the form of the gorgeous ‘Five-O’ from their career highlight album ‘Laid’. As with many of the other tracks on the night, the highlight was the note-perfect vocal harmonies giving a hair-on-end effect as the lines intertwine. On the evidence of this performance, this is a band who play each show as if it is their last.
At one point Tim Booth piled through the crowd, stopping to dance with fans along the way before reaching up to the balcony to grab their hands. Many a time he balanced precariously on the barrier as the security staff did what they could to keep him safe. During ‘Moving On’ Andy Diagram ran around the balcony areas, trumpet in hand, moving the attendees aside as though he had somewhere he needed to be. At one point, Tim Booth took a moment to comment on Donald Trump and the death of Leonard Cohen this week, reading an excerpt on his letter to Marianne. Never a dull moment from start to finish.
The set finished with a rousing rendition of ‘Sometimes’ that saw the crowd belt out the lyrics at deafening levels. As the band left the stage for the final time, they promised not to wait 35 years next time. Let’s hope they hold true to their word.
James Tour Dates
Mon 14 Nov - 170 Russell (Melbourne)
Wed 16 Nov - Metropolis (Fremantle)