with Ed Harcourt
House of Blues, Orlando, FL • September 21, 2010
They never reached the levels of International success that fellow Mancurians The Smiths did, but James sprung out of that same Alternative pool of the early 1980s. Their music was sometimes silly, sometimes maudlin,and always irresistibly melodic. The group’s fanbase may be modest, but it is fiercely loyal, and so with the return of the irreplaceable Tim Booth (whose 2001 departure led to a hiatus that lasted until his return in 2007) inspiring both a new album The Morning After, the Night Before and a U.S. tour, the tides of Brit Pop are once more wetting our shores. Florida was lucky enough to have received the first wave.
As excited as the Orlando contingent of James fans were to see the newly reunited group, the majority of them were not early birds, and so it was in front of a half empty House of Blues that Ed Harcourt quietly spun his soulful web of piano-driven tunes.
Tucked into the corner of the stage, behind three microphones, two keyboards, multiple guitars, and all the wires that accompany this collection of musical tools, Harcourt could very easily have faded into background noise were it not for his subtly captivating choices as both a songwriter and singer. Skipping his way through a mouthful of lyrics with the casual ease of a male Lily Allen, the English crooner’s unexpected approach to his vocals is what saves him from falling into the cracks of Jeff Buckley comparisons. Accompanied by an anonymous drummer and bassist, he conquered sound issues that threatened to dampen the mood, especially when the group had to halt mid-song while Harcourt played with his plug-ins, delivering an endearing opening set.
Bodies began to pile in as the minutes passed until the room was at last abuzz with the sort of zeal than can only be summoned at these reunion-type shows.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been here,” James’ frontman Tim Booth said with a smile. “How long has it been? 15 years?!”
As if not a moment had passed since their heyday in the mid ’90s (surely you remember the inescapable pop hit “Laid”), all seven members of James ushered in a 90-minute set thick with brand new material that bears the same sense of catharsis as the old. Of course as gorgeous as a song like “Tell Her I Said So” may be — and the hardcore fans down front whom Booth decided to join in the crowd for this song, did seem to know every word — the large applause was reserved for the songs that carried the memories along with them.
The heart wrenching solitude of the violin-enhanced “Out to Get You,” the jangly joy of “Sometimes (Lestor Piggot),” the grandiosity of “Born of Frustration,” and the absolute giddiness that accompanies a live performance of “Laid” are hard to outshine with songs most have yet to hear… but “Crazy” and “Bubbles” were a couple of solid attempts.
Classic or freshly written, no song could match the memory making abilities of “Say Something” which found Booth in the crowd once more, dancing with fans. Getting hands-on with the fans was a side of the band I was surprised to see. In addition to giving fan club members access to a special soundcheck earlier in the day, Booth hopped in and out of the audience on several occasions and it never felt planned. The whole night had an air of spontaneity to it.
Onstage and off, Booth danced about in a strange little fashion that was part Michael Stipe, part hippie chick on acid. He fluidly flailed about, swinging his body about as if boneless. Smiling all the while, he may have appeared quite the oddity, but he — like everyone else in the building — was having a grand old time!
To see more photos from this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.