Live Review: James @ O2 City Hall, Newcastle - 2nd May 2023
As a band with a reputation for spontaneity and the occasional jaunt off course, it was a surprise to see Manchester standard-bearers James head out on the road with a full orchestra and a choir in tow. Orchestral arrangements don’t usually eave much room for improvisation, so it was interesting to see how the band handled being restricted in this way. There was no need to worry. The lush orchestrations leave plenty of room for the band to do their thing, whilst offering a delightful platform upon which to rest the source material.
That’s not to say the songs aren’t intrinsically changed. She’s A Star feels somehow more introspective and aspirational, whilst Sometimes, when stripped back, and laid over plucked strings, has the power to bring the room together in awe. The same songs, but more powerful, more emotive. Just more.
What stands out throughout the performance was just how well the band’s back catalogue works in this format. This isn’t just a rattle through the greatest hits with a few strings in the background, it’s a deep dive into the band’s 40 year career, with early album tracks and b-sides standing shoulder to shoulder with the bona-fide classics that this band has in abundance. 1985’s Hymn From A Village loses none of its urgency, Medieval none of its playfulness, and Say Something none of its fervour. The arrangements uncover new, untold layers whilst staying true to the soul of what makes this band great.
This isn’t the way I’d want to see James every time, but once every few years, as a reminder that they are indeed a national treasure? Most definitely.
Words: Lynne Thwaites & Thomas Jackson
Images: Thomas Jackson