JAMES London Kentish Town Forum 04 May 2016
35 years, umpteen lineups, and 14 albums in, James are one of the more schizophrenic bands in the world. It's been 8 years since I saw this band, for reasons too personal to explain : the last time I saw them co-incided with some awful news. It's not enough, and not possible, sometimes, for the band, or any band, not to be wrapped around memories ; good or bad. For me, Blur have always been tied with an awful evening at the NEC in 1999 where other people had a very public split.
Tonight is, for me at least, a disappointing show. I know my expectations aren't always what the band want. A brand – and that is what a band is, whether they like it or not – has expectations. You see a band, or a James Bond film, or a Diet Coke, and you have an idea of what it is, what it does. I've never been the kind of person that puts bands in A Box, and demand they Never EVER Get Out Of The Box, or make them prisoners. But bands set themselves a standard.
And James are one of the more … schizophrenic bands. Determined never to look back. There's no trace of the spiky quartet that gave us their fantastic “One Man Clapping”, and little, to be honest, of their stadium indie years. 13 of tonights 22 songs are less than two years old, and there's a gap between what the audience want and where the band are.
James have changed over the year. The songs run a formula, of sorts, building to a crescendo, a cacophony of drums and trumpets and ascending chords, a move always, towards takeoff and to … ascension beyond the mere mortal.
And what James serve isn't necessarily what is ordered. Of course there's no obligation for a band to play.. any song.. and in theory, they could play nothing but unreleased songs. I've seen that happen. The new stuff is great, but most of it is unfamiliar, and the new record is six weeks old over half the set is made of the whole new record.
Normally, I'm all for bands braving forward, playing new stuff, exploring, going places. Sometimes there's a balance though, and you forget where you came from. It's half an hour before they play any song over seven weeks old. And whilst the audience are looking for something, I get the feeling they're not getting it. It's not that James are bad – the new stuff is very good – but that it is unfamiliar. The audience want to see a different James, mostly.
It's also... sort of James... and sort of not.. Longstanding guitarist Larry Gott has been quietly rotated out (either on temporary sabbatical, or permanent break), replaced by Adrian Oxaal. Multi-instrumentalist Swiss Ron (also temporary drummer for some promotional appearances) augments the lineup. There's a danger that with a number of members changing, is it still James? Not that that bothers AC/DC of course.. but it's underwhelming. The hits appear to be presented with a sense of obligation, and whilst “She's A Star” and “Just Like Fred Astaire” are wonderful songs... they are presented acoustically. There's a sense of waiting, of patience. And little reward. Whilst I am often loathe for bands to be a indie jukebox.. when you have songs like “Sit Down”, “Lose Control”, “Seven”, “Born Of Frustration”, “Tomorrow”, “Laid”, “Waltzing Along”, “What For”, and “Getting Away With It”, and you avoid those.. it can be offputting. We're getting older. Babysitters aren't cheap. Being at work the day after a gig isn't always easy. It's not a festival set or a crowd pleasing night out.
It's James alright. Always doing something new. Never following convention. For better, for worse, definitely. But tonight... not for me.
Move Down South
To My Surprise
Ring The Bells
Girl At The End Of The World
One Of The Three
She's A Star
Just Like Fred Astaire
Nothing But Love