James live review by Rob Johnson

The last time I found myself in the cavernous Darlington Arena was to watch the now-defunct Darlington FC defeat my beloved Doncaster Rovers back in 2003. It’s fair to say that there was a lot more talent on show this time around.
Maximo Park kick things off and deliver a set as energetic and vibrant as ever. Paul Smith is an incredible frontman, sporting his trademark bowler hat and on this occasion a white t-shirt with the slogan NO WAR emblazoned across the middle. He delivers each song as if his life depends on it with old favourites ‘The Coast is Always Changing’ and ‘Graffiti’ rubbing shoulders with new tracks ‘All of Me’ and ‘What Equals Love?’. The Newcastle band are one of the most consistent bands on the live circuit and a pensive, longing performance of ‘Books From Boxes’ confirms that before a ferocious ‘Our Velocity’ brings the house down. Smith finds time to thank the headline act mentioning that he celebrated his 18th birthday by seeing James live. A lovely moment. The set concludes with ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ and ‘Apply Some Pressure’ with the rain clearing up during the latter song. Darlington goes wild.

Editors are up next with ‘An End Has a Start’ and ‘Bones’ setting the mood for a jubilant and hit-filled set. Frontman Tom Smith is clearly up for it, bounding around the stage like a demented choir master throughout ‘The Racing Rats’ and ‘Karma Climb’. It is ‘Munich’ that generates the biggest response of the set, however. A massive song that sounds huge here. A wonderful and pounding cover of the Adamski classic ‘Killer’ goes down a treat before an imperious ‘Papillon’ closes things out.

James have endured because of their impressive back catalogue and because bandleader Tim Booth is an incredible frontman. Booth somehow embodies both swagger and humility and from the first notes of classic single ‘Sound’ it is clear that Darlington is in for a special night. While James’ new stuff has a lot to recommend it, it is the old songs that contain the most sheer power. ‘Waltzing Along’ and ‘Come Home’ sound incredible. Indeed, on ‘Born of Frustration’ it is striking to hear just how well Booth’s voice has held up. He can still hit the high notes and he still knows how to get the party going – he takes the opportunity to wade into the crowd on numerous occasions – trademark beanie hat living a charmed life atop his cueball-like head all the while.

While James were never really a Britpop band, tracks like ‘She’s a Star’ and ‘Say Something’ were still 90s anthems and they are treated as such here before ‘Sit Down’ provides a moment of real unity and triumph. For three minutes or so there everyone is lost in the music. In one of indie rock’s most recognisable choruses. Iconic.

‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’ should have been a massive hit upon release but the band’s label fudged the promotion and so it has become something of a fan favourite instead. It’s performed with gusto here before ‘Sometimes’ has the whole crowd singing along. Booth has always been a singular and accomplished lyricist but when he intones ‘When I look deep in your eyes I can see your soul’ the whole crowd is there with him. ‘Laid’ closes things out and from the opening pounding drums to the final furious chorus it sounds massive. This is a song that is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary and yet it remains as vital as ever.

Three great bands. Three great sets. And the rain held off. What a night.

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