Live music galleries: James [2008]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Like my ‘Vinyl love’ series, these posts will be more photos than words but that doesn’t mean I won’t welcome your thoughts and comments. And of course, until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts of page.)

James live in Montreal, 2008

Artist: James
When: September 22nd, 2008
Where: Club Soda, Montreal
Context: I recently finished wrapping up the series on my favourite albums of 2008 and in talking about how James’s 10th album “Hey ma” was my number one, I also referenced their show that I caught in Montreal that year and how it was my favourite (as well as my wife’s favourite) ever live show. Much like the gallery I posted recently from the Virgin festival that took place earlier that same month, the pictures here are not quality because they were taken with my old camera but I do have pictures and this is mainly due to Victoria’s forethought. It was the first and last time we ever drove to Montreal and back the same night for a concert and never plan to do it again because it was exhausting. However, neither of us regret seeing the show. We saw one of our favourite bands that normally plays gigantic shows at an intimate venue and were able to sing along with all of our favourite tunes. In fact, the whole club loudly sang along, blowing the band away, especially during “Sometimes” when the crowd lengthened the song to well over seven minutes by repeating the chorus refrain over and over again. Such an exhilarating and magical night.
Point of reference song: Sometimes“*

Tim Booth, Mark Hunter, and Andy Diagram of James
Jim Glennie, Saul Davies, David Baynton-Power, and Andy Diagram of James
David Baynton-Power, Tim Booth, and Mark Hunter of James
Saul Davies and Andy Diagram of James
James performing ‘Sometimes’
James’s final bow

*The link I’ve shared is to the music video but someone who was also there has shared video footage from James’s performance of this song on YouTube from the show. You can find that here.

Best albums of 2008: #1 James “Hey ma”

For those of you who have been following this blog (and its predecessor) for a good amount of time, this pick for the number one spot on this best albums of 2008 list might not come as a huge surprise. You’ll know already that I’m a pretty big James fan and that I continue to follow this band and buy their albums, despite the face that their popularity in North America is pretty much limited to just the one song. However, back in 2008, this pick was a huge surprise, most of all to me.

I had loved James throughout the 1990s and was a little bit crushed when I heard Tim Booth was leaving the band in 2001 to pursue other efforts. They reformed the group six years later when Booth returned to the fold and saw success with their comeback shows. It all went so well that they decided to reconvene for a new album, news I took in with a good deal of reservation. These days, a lot of the bands I loved in my youth are coming back out with brand new albums, many of them quite successfully, but in 2008, the bands that I had previously witnessed trying to recapture the magic of their heyday had not gone as particularly well. As it turned out, though, “Hey ma” was a revelation. It was an album that didn’t try to ride on the band’s back catalogue’s coattails, instead, forging forwards, finding its own feet, and can stand tall with any of their previous work.

This was no more obvious than when my wife and I trekked down to Montreal in September of 2008 to go see the group in a small club. James is a band that my wife loves as well as I and we have both agreed that this show stands as one of our favourites ever. It was a show that both of us sang along to every song in the set and the fact that the setlist included a good deal of “Hey ma” just proved that we loved this album just as much as their previous material.

For those that don’t know the band, James plays big sounding tunes with lot of atmosphere and soul, all anchored by Tim Booth’s expressive vocals and poetic lyrics. Any of the three picks below could stand as a good starting point and if you like these, I recommend voyaging back to check out some of their previous albums as well.


“I wanna go home”: “Kissing is forbidden. Biting leaves marks. Sex is overrated. I need to dance.” The final track of the album is the epitome of slow build into oblivion and ecstasy. It begins with a rumble of bass and the tease of cello, synthesized, of course, and Tim Booth in agony. Then comes the threat of a beat, a tribal one at that, and a whole lot of incidental noise filling in the negative space. These become louder, like shrieking ghosts gaining confidence as the David Baynton-Power asserts himself firmly at the kit. Finally, it is a cacophony of joy and Booth can go home. And dance.

“Waterfall”: Opens with a crushing, thumping beat but not long after, the drums are joined by jangling guitars and Andy Diagram’s horns. At the verses, things let up and Tim Booth goes on about being crushed by the weight of material things. “Watching too much TV I’m an actor in a puppet show. There’s so much stuff in my life no room for me to grow. One day I’m going to break from my life due south down to Mexico. I’m going to burn down my house it’s the only way to let it go.” Then, at the chorus, the rest of James’s players join in, letting loose a waterfall of sound (so to speak), that big sound again. Those of you from Canada might find the track familiar and this is because it was used as the background for a commercial here. But for the life of me, I can’t think of what it was for, nor could I find it with a quick google search. Maybe one of you can help me out here…

“Hey ma”: You might have noticed that the cover of the album is a bit provocative and the band was firm in keeping it as it was (though the gun was removed from the image for the US release). The title track is just as heavy handed, an obvious poke at the quick and just as heavy handed reaction to the 9/11 attacks. “Now the towers have fallen, so much dust in the air. It affected your vision. Couldn’t see yourself clear. From the fall came such choices, even worse than the fall.” And yet, it is also a great pop song, perhaps just as danceable and ear worming as “Laid” was a decade and a half earlier. Listen to it a few times and see if you don’t find yourself singing along to the chorus lines, “Hey ma. the boys in body bags, coming home in pieces.” And that’s the beauty of James: thought-provoking lyrics set to pop hooks wrapped up in a million layers of big sounding music.


In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Fleet Foxes  “Fleet Foxes”
9. The Submarines “Honeysuckle weeks”
8. Schools of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”
7. Glasvegas “Glasvegas”
6. Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”
5. Elbow “The seldom seen kid”
4. Death Cab For Cutie “Narrow stairs”
3. Vampire Weekend “Vampire Weekend”
2. The High Dials “Moon country”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best tunes of 2001: #6 James “Getting away with it (all messed up)”

<< #7    |    #5 >>

For James and their ninth album, “Pleased to meet you”, the story is similar, almost word for word, to that of Pulp’s “We love life”, whose song “The night that Minnie Timperley died” appeared at number eight on this list.

Like Pulp, James was one of my very favourite bands in the latter half of the 1990s. Both bands found great success as part of the Britpop phenomenon after having toiled for many years prior, but in my case, I happened upon them both before I even knew what that there was such a thing. Both bands were coming off an album that, while excellent, did not chart or perform as well commercially as their previous albums, probably resulting from changes in musical direction as well as the waning Britpop movement.

In the case of James, I went out of my way to buy 1999’s “Millionaires”, picking up an ‘import’ copy of the CD at HMV for an exorbitant sum and though I enjoyed it, it took a while for the love to take hold. Of course, that was back when I was still living the bachelor life in Toronto and making a mockery of my financial situation. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my finances were quite different after moving to Ottawa with Victoria in 2001. I didn’t have the money to lavish on CDs, especially on ones that I had never heard before, so I didn’t buy “Pleased to meet you” upon its release. It was years before I finally picked it up used and got to hear the whole album in full, well after the band had called it quits, frontman Tim Booth having announced his intentions to throw his hat into the solo ring. And it might even have been after the band decided to finally get back together for some reunion gigs in 2007, shows that would eventually result in full reactivation of the band. Of course, you all know that James is still slogging it out today, their most recent release being this year’s very fine, “Living in extraordinary times”.

But back in 2001, there was no way of knowing that there would be a reunion so I did my best to hear parts of this ‘final’ album. “Getting away with it (all messed up)” was one of the songs I had no problem locating on the internet, being the only single to be released off the album, and I listened to it quite a bit back then. It starts off all slow and jangling arpeggios against an acoustic strum, Tim Booth whispers and soothes the thrum of the bass and ushers in a temperate beat. The song builds as all good James songs do, layer by layer, energy upon energy, until each of the band’s six members (seven, if you count Brian Eno’s production work) has joined the party. And a party it is, a final (or not quite final) bow, depending on at what point in time from which you were listening.

Lovely James music, gets me everytime.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.