By Alexia Kirov, Music Editor
'James prove that they are masters of juxtaposing pace and pathos in their setlists.' Alexia Kirov reviews James' Bath gig at The Forum.
It’s the first time that James have played Bath in over two and a half decades. But this city holds a more significant place in the band’s annals than you might expect. Just ten minutes away from tonight’s venue - The Forum - is Bath’s Moles club, where James’ self-funded 1989 live album, One Man Clapping, was recorded over three nights.
Copies of One Man Clapping are notoriously hard to track down, as tickets for this gig would have been if you didn’t get them early; it has been sold out for a while. The Forum is already near-capacity at 8:15 - unusual, maybe, for a support set on a Thursday night.
But this is not a standard tour: James have always been a fiercely individual, maverick band, the sort that refused the front cover spot of NME when they were first offered it. Indeed, Gold Mother, Seven and Laid have had their 25th anniversaries in the last five years; the band could have easily profited from celebratory full-album tours as is the current vogue. Instead, James have produced three new LPs since 2014; their most recent album, Living In Extraordinary Times, was released last August. On this tour, they are continuing that tradition by supporting themselves with an acoustic set.
You could hear a pin drop in the first @wearejames acoustic set at @TheForumBath our lives laid on the line until you all stood up and danced for an ending like no other #ManyFaces sung hearts out. Thank you Bath @RealTimBooth @chloealper @DBayntonPower pic.twitter.com/taL9aD9h4X— andydiagram -=iii=() (@andydiagram) March 7, 2019
It's no small undertaking for a band whose members live across different continents so can’t always get together to practice: but they pull it off. The support set features two more recent James singles: 2018’s 'Coming Home (part 2)' and 2014’s 'All I'm Saying'. Tim Booth’s lyrics for both deal with deeply personal topics: the strain on family life that being on tour brings and the loss of his friend and mentor, Gabrielle Roth.
Unclad of its electronics and glossy production, the emotion at the core of the former shines through, especially when its opening line, “I missed your seventh birthday” is only accompanied by Jim Glennie’s bass. It is the vulnerable latter, however, that is one of the centrepieces of the gig. With keyboardist Mark Hunter on upright piano and Saul’s Davies’ elegiac violin, coupled with the chorus slowed down to half speed, it is as striking as it is mournful.
This stripped back slot is also an opportunity for the band to give more seldom played songs an airing: Millionaires album track ‘Hello’ and 'Pressure’s On’ from 1994 experimental LP Wah Wah; it hasn’t featured on a setlist since the year of its release. The inclusion of cello from Adrian Oxaal – not yet in the band when the song was written – in this performance gives it a pleasing extra depth. It is fitting that ‘Pressure’s On’ closes the acoustic set and Laid’s ‘Five-O’ kicks off the electric one, as One Man Clapping is not James’ only link to Bath. Close-by is Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, where the band spent six weeks with Brian Eno recording both 1993's Laid and 1994’s Wah Wah.
Following tonight, The Forum can be added to the list of Bath-based James landmarks. The sound at this venue is faultless throughout the gig, but this is especially evident on second song, ‘What’s It All About’. This Living In Extraordinary Times track is a great example of the full scope of the eight-piece band, as two drum kits, trumpet, keyboard, violin, guitar and bass weave around Booth’s lyrical interrogation of the world. For anyone wondering what James are about in 2019 – this is it. But it is with ‘Leviathan’, another song from their most recent album, that there is a true shift in energy and atmosphere. The Forum is an all-seated venue, yet its soaring chorus brings almost the entire crowd to their feet – they stay up for the rest of the night.
As only-ever-recorded-live track ‘Stutter’ - a tempest of strobe lights, two full drum kits plus additional percussion - segues into a gorgeous, slowed down, piano-heavy adaptation of ‘Sit Down’, James prove that they are masters of juxtaposing pace and pathos in their setlists. With its famous riff peeled away and Booth’s inclusion of lyrics from the 1989 Rough Trade version, “The wisdom that I seek has been found in the strangest spaces”, the song’s sentiment rises to the forefront.
However, tonight is about much more than just James’ biggest commercial hits. As the encore begins with a strummed C chord, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they might be about to launch into 1993 single ‘Laid’. Instead, it is last year’s ‘Many Faces’. Unprompted, the audience sings its unifying chorus back to the band for at least a couple of minutes; that James can achieve moments like this, uncontrived, proves their enduring power.
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