Photo: Melanie Smith (Mudkiss)
Review: Sarah Walters for Manchester Evening News (see link)
As the band tells it, James have had their ears bent so severely by crowds up north for staging all their new album tester shows down south that they've footed an expensive bill to do one in their home town.
Quite right, too! Especially since bassist and founder member Jim Glennie uses this intimate showcase for new album Girl At The End Of The World at the Academy 2 to confess he used to skip the gig entrance fee at this venue in the 1980s by teetering along the first floor ledges and climbing in through the open windows. About time he paid his dues!
Despite over 30 years in the game, they've never played here. And they're correcting that oversight with a spectacular 90 minutes of live euphoria - most of it dished up hot and fresh from the new album.
If this is an accurate guide of what's to come, then album 14 is going to be a belter. "Good evening and welcome to James out on our comfort zone," smiles frontman Tim Booth, leading on his beefed up eight piece band (with Larry Gott still on rest time, multi-instrumentalist Adrian Oxaal returns to take his place). They don't sound it; all night, they only make three real mistakes.
In fairness, James have always injected a special magnetism into their songs on stage that studio recordings either iron out or fail to adequate capture, and versions of the record's lead singles - To My Surprise and Nothing But Love - suggest this remains true.
They confirm another proven track record, too: that James shows have no rear view mirror. The setlist isn't a textbook crowd pleaser, packed with new songs (bottom line, of course, is that is the whole point of playing this little show), but their loyal crowd are wowed regardless.
Every fresh track that thunders in is met with a flurry of whoops and wolf whistles. New album opener Bitch is a big belly punch to start the night, intensely reverbing as Booth bursts into his characteristic flailing dance, and features the first demonstration of a new era of complex harmonies.
Moving Down South is full of tribal thunder, Dear John (a song Booth describes as "a strange little one, and James have never done anything like it before") has wild electro keys, while Surfer's Song - in the same vein as oldie Sound - gallops frantically on a schizophrenic melody.
There are some classics amid all these new songs. A majestic Top Of The World, whose strings still catch you off guard; a howled Born Of Frustration and hollered Say Something; La Petite Mort's Moving On.
And just as this crowd wasn't going to let James get away with no northern warm up gig on the schedule, they're not going to let them escape after one encore other. Encore two arrives after noisy demands: hopelessly romantic anthem Just Like Fred Astaire is their final reward.
Artefact added : 11th August 2016