Live Review: James – Liverpool

James

Echo Arena Liverpool, 10th December 2016

Words: George Holland

Photos: Elena Katrina

I’ll admit I approached this one with a certain amount of trepidation. I’d never seen an arena show in which it could be argued that both bands were worthy of the headline slot. They are both cornerstones of all that was good about British music of the 90s. The Charlatans with their pulsing, organ-driven brand of the Madchester scene that they were founding members of; and James with their soaring anthems of love, life and loss. Tim vs. Tim. I assumed there would be some sort of indie tug-of-war, with both bands trying to one up each other. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

charlatans-1-7 copy.jpgTim Burgess emerges – presumably rejuvenated by a big swig from the fountain of youth – to a ¾ capacity Echo arena (that missing ¼ delayed by huge queues outside). The ominous Hammond organ of Weirdo serves as an instant shot of adrenalin to the thousands in attendance. By the time he heralds in second song North Country Boy we’re at capacity and the band drive through a concise and precise set of hits old and new. Then, a moment of magic as Tim invites Tim Booth to the stage to assist with a cover. “Seeing as though we’re in Liverpool, we thought we’d do a song by four lads who shook the world,” he proclaims before launching a cover of Echo & The Bunnymen’s Rescue. A heartfelt nod to the band that “Laid” (sorry, couldn’t resist, more on that later) the blueprint for Britpop way back in the 80s.  From this moment any doubt had subsided. Both bands are on the same page and everyone in the room can feel it. The set is bookended in a similar way to how it began with more ominous keys, this time of Sproston Green, a criminally underappreciated gem that steadily rises to an otherworldly climax.

james-1-8-copyIn come James and their messianic frontman, the second Tim. Booth is preaching to the converted from the off with Waltzing Along ushering in a wave of euphoria that refuses to subside for the entirety of their mammoth set. To My Surprise and Surfer’s Song from recent album Girl at the End of the World are already sing-alongs much to the appreciation of the frontman who is already down at the front contemplating whether to cross or part the sea of fans. A mid-set acoustic version of She’s A Star provides us with the first of many goosebump moments. Here, Booth’s voice is laid bare against minimal backing and it gives us all a chance to truly appreciate how much of a faultless singer he is. Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), the song that marked what seemed like the end for the band when Booth left back in 2001 now stands tall; a huge, sprawling song of resilience and survival that threatens to take the roof off and sail it out to sea. An exceptionally brief pit stop before the encore (the band insisted on giving us more songs before curfew) and what an encore it is. Just Like Fred Astaire initiates another sing-along, this time with 90% of couples in attendance giving each other that knowing, loved-up stare that only seems to come with great ballads. Then Tim calls for the other Tim who returns a favour in belting out Laid which allows both to close the night each with their fair share of exaltation.james-2-9-copy

It’s not some bittersweet nostalgia-fest; the respective band’s new songs go toe-to-toe with their classics. James & The Charlatans are at the top of their game.

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