words // photos: Sarah Rix @sarahrix
“… if you had waited a while to see a James show, they were prepared to deliver.”
It’s a wonder that James has only been to Australia twice.
As a room full of part-British ex-pats, part-social awareness proponents can attest to, the English band most definitely has a fan base on this side of the planet.
Melbourne’s Nadeah seemed as happy to be there as James’ fans, opening her set with a bouncy, upbeat number. Performing as a two-piece – accompanied stage left by another guitarist – 2011’s “Ain’t Got Time” proved to be a little more soulful, showing off her vocal capacity to a quickly filling room.
Though she’s been at it for a while (cofounding The Lovegods and singing with Nouvelle Vague), there was a sense that her set was all a bit fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. Perhaps that was part of the design, though. “Our drummer’s not here because we don’t have one yet,” she’d later joke to the crowd before pulling out a cover of Prince’s “Gett Off”.
It would be James that would steal the spotlight for the evening, however. Inauspiciously (quite literally), to begin with.
The house lights dimmed and the horns swelled. Eyes turned to the stage… a stage that remained conspicuously empty.
A murmur rippled through the crowd as people scanned the room. Finally, they settled on the middle of the room, where Tim Booth crooned into a microphone and Andy Diagram played the trumpet. They made their way through the appreciative crowd, all clambering for a closer look at the musicians, before settling on to The Forum’s main stage.
Throughout the evening, it was this presence and engagement with the crowd that would sell the show and their performance – the eight-piece so aware and aligned with the near-capacity room that it felt collaborative and inclusive without feeling rehearsed.
“That was kind of improvised,” Booth told everyone after the band delivered the pop sensibilities of “How Was It For You?”, from 1990’s Gold Mother. “And that’s the beauty of live music.”
It’s also the beauty of when a band has been around for over three decades. Understandably, they’ve gotten to a point where their musicianship is worthy of reverence. Whether it was the multitude of drums, horns, guitars, or Booth’s vocal delivery (matched only by his Thom Yorke-esque dance moves), if you had waited a while to see a James show, they were prepared to deliver.
“Come Home”, with its straight-out-of-the-90s guitar lines, saw Booth hop into the photo pit to serenade the audience from the barricade. It wasn’t the last the audience would see of him, either, making good use of a wireless microphone to crowd surf during “Born of Frustration” from 1992’s Seven. “Many Faces”, meanwhile, was a(nother) song about the United States’ current leadership – an example of the band’s political awareness, as well as being U2-like in its instrumental lines and sing-along chorus.
By the time the band returned for their encore – three songs, sandwiched by seminal hits “Sit Down” and “Laid” – there was a genuine sense of euphoria and camaraderie amongst all the punters in attendance.
It’s a long journey, though, and James might need some encouragement – Booth sending everyone off with the message: “Next time bring your friends so we can come back again.”
You heard the man. Get recruiting. Everyone deserves to sing along to “Laid” at least once in their life, after all.