James Monday, September 29th, 2008 The Ogden, Denver Better Than: A lot of the atmospheric pop rock that has come since.
Emerging from an impressive field of expressive guitar bands in Manchester, England, James made a name for itself with a larger body of work than many of its peers, as well as for the melodic poetry of its best material. On its first tour in seven years, James showed no signs of having taken a break except for maybe a renewed sense of purpose in its performance.
The show began with an older, not as well known song, “Top of the World,” with the signature heavy reverb laden guitar tone rendering the song at once powerful and ethereal. The lightly fogged stage set an intimate and yet otherworldly feel for a band that embodies both. The first half of the set was dedicated to the new album, Hey Ma, featuring tracks like “Oh My Heart,” which Tim Booth informed us was written so we could all take our heavy hearts and shape them into something more beautiful. Andy Diagram’s incredible trumpet playing shined the whole show, particularly during this song in which his sheer ability was on full display as was his floral print dress.
During “Waterfall,” the band performed the music with a joyous and celebratory aplomb, making it clear they were having a good time feeding off the energy of a crowd that truly knew the act’s material. The last part of the main set was comprised of older songs that the group acknowledged the audience might know better after an evening of “abuse” at the hands of songs from the new album. If the energy and conviction with which this was played is any indication, “abuse” is hardly so bad when you have the music to back up even as gross an exaggeration as that. “Sound” was an impressive live experience, especially with the lead guitarist using the tremolo bar mid-strum to create unique chords.
We were not even so much as teased for an encore when James came back out and pretty much immediately performed a short atmospheric piece that became “Born of Frustration,” soaring into musical regions of expansive melodies and driving rhythms that propelled the act to stardom in the early ’90s. This was followed up by a powerful and moving rendition of “Sometimes,” with a good chunk of the crowd singing the chorus over and over until the guitarist on the right side of the stage kicked into “Laid.” In that moment, James had to have been moved by so many people remembering its song so well. During “Laid,” Booth pulled people on stage to dance with the band and the show, capping a brilliant night from a band so very capable of articulating emotional highs.
-- Tom Murphy
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Personal Bias: I have a strong affinity for all the rock bands out of Manchester 1977 to now. By the Way: The latest James album, Hey Ma, is one of the act’s best releases to date with songs that sound as great as much of its back catalog.
James Set List 01. Top of the World 02. Dream Thrum 03. ? 04. Oh My Heart 05. Waterfall 06. Ring the Bells 07. Hey Ma 08. Bubbles 09. Out to Get You 10. Of Heroes & Monsters & Men 11. Upside 12. Say Something 13. Sit Down 14. Sound
15. Born of Frustration 16. Sometimes 17. Laid