Dazzling musicianship from James - a band that is impossible to tear the eye away from

“You’ve got no idea how cobbled together this all is” laughs Tim Booth during the opening moments. As frontman of a band that famously wing it through most tours and shows, he is used to it all by now of course. On this run in support of last year’s superbly-received ‘Living In Extraordinary Times’, indie’s great survivors James now find themselves at the famous Royal Albert Hall for a night that drips with emotion, elation, elegies and euphoria.

Ostensibly supporting themselves by performing a short set of ‘unplugged’ cuts before the main event, early birds (most of the audience in truth) are treated to some unexpected gems delivered in awestruck pin-drop silence. ‘Coming Home (Pt. 2)’, one of the high points from last year’s release, takes on even greater emotional heights in this setting. Stripping away the layers to reveal the beauty within, there is a sense that this segment could easily turn out to be the instigator for full acoustic sets to come.

Returning for the main event, the eight-piece immediately set a different mood with an opening salvo of ‘What’s It All About’ and ‘Extraordinary Times’ - Booth swaying and leaning deep into the crowd, driving the crowd into a frenzy. Eschewing the tick-box mentality of so many of their peers, what follows is (to quote the effervescent frontman) “a hardcore gig for hardcore fans.” Famous for switching and freshening setlists, tonight is no different. There is room for ‘Come Home’ and ‘Laid’, but not for that song, to little serious complaint from a crowd who have no intention of sitting down anyway.

Instead, the highlights come from new sources. ‘Heads’ transforms this cavern into a full-on rave, the incredible trance-like middle section transcending the usual parameters of what a band of this longevity can do - before merging into ‘Stutter’ for an astonishing tribalistic meltdown, with the combination of three drummers and the duo of Adrian Oxaal and Saul Davies on guitars driving it to a ferocious crescendo. That dazzling musicianship from the rest of James is the perfect match for Booth who, whether it is taking long journeys through the crowd and over seats, or by crowd surfing halfway through the hall, proves impossible to tear the eyes away from. Indeed, during ‘Many Faces’, there is a breathtaking moment where it appears Booth is being called up to the heavens; captured by one bright spotlight shining off his pristine white shirt, swirls of smoke rising softly to the rafters as if calling him home. To quote that song on a night that ran the full gamut of human experiences, everyone belonged here.

Photo credit: Jamie MacMillian