It’s not often that you get to see a double bill quite like this. Two legendary bands touring the UK together both with rich backgrounds and fantastic reputations. Needless to say, it’s bound to be a great night when Echo And The Bunnymen are on the bill, but for James to be following them is something you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
In a set lasting around 45 minutes, Echo And The Bunnymen proudly show off vintage numbers from a sparkling back catalogue, and I could have happily listened to them all night. Ian McCulloch reveals that it’s the first time they’ve played at the Colston Hall since 1982. The smoke and stage lighting often make the band’s age so invisible that what the crowd are witnessing could just as easily be an 80’s Bunnymen gig. Especially since all but one song are all from over 24 years ago. Plus there’s the fact that you can’t really make out any of the group except for original members McCulloch and Will Sergeant. And even though he isn’t always clearly visible, Mac still maintains that commanding presence. It’s down to the voice, his static cool, these massively influential songs and the passionate way in which they are delivered.
Kicking off with a bright ‘Lips Like Sugar’, McCulloch’s vocal is faultless and the band are tight and clear. With both key members busy with their own projects during recent times, it’s been four years since their last album and on stage there seems to be little interaction between the group. But they love playing the music and it shows. They also love reminding people just why they deserve their place in musical history and why they are such an important band.
They do so with a lively ‘Rescue’, an effortlessly cool ‘Viller’s Terrace‘ and a hugely anthemic ‘Seven Seas’. The 12 song set is packed to the brim with classics like ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’ and the creeping, intense ‘Zimbo’, and throughout most of the songs Mac hits the notes well, although he does seem to shamble through ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ a little bit. It’s the only point in the set that he isn’t at his best. He’s back on top form for the two final numbers, pointing out that ‘The Killing Moon’ has been described as “the greatest song ever written”. Then they demonstrate why. After the magic of that timeless treasure, the confident climax of ‘The Cutter’ provides a glorious, incredibly satisfying finale. Best support act I’ve ever seen? I think so.
James are one of those bands who have so much great material, that they will never have time to play all of their classics in one night. Tonight we get a mixture of the hits, rarely played fan favourites, more recent numbers, and a few brand new songs to bring things up to date. They begin with a low key ‘Dust Motes’ that tops the studio version from 2010, followed by an enticing ‘English Beefcake’, before frontman Tim Booth wanders through the audience during a beautiful and utterly sublime ‘Just Like Fred Astaire’, sounding in perfect voice throughout.
A joyous ‘Waltzing Along’ turns out to be the only thing that they play from 1997’s brilliant ‘Whiplash’, while ‘Seven’ is delivered gracefully and proves to be a wonderfully uplifting moment. A spot on ‘Dream Thrum’ is followed by the slow burning ‘Quick And The Dead’, a provisionally titled new song that promises great things from the next album. An urgent ‘Johnny Yen’ provides a welcome burst of energy before the old classic ‘How Was It For You’ is played live for the first time in ages, sparking fun and nostalgia throughout the place. After a fine ‘We’re Going To Miss You’ (apparently written in an attempt to lift a curse) we’re treated to a magnificent performance of ‘Sound’ along with a brooding ‘Of Monsters And Heroes And Men’ from 2008.
‘Interrogation’ is another intriguing new song with hypnotic fiddle courtesy of Saul Davies that leads into a top notch ‘Five-O’ that sounds every bit as stunning as it did on the recorded version from 20 years ago. They remark that this is “an intelligent crowd” who are taking in the music and not going mad from start to finish like the “ones in Glasgow and Sheffield”, perhaps because there are very few people under 25 here, or perhaps because the bar here charges too much for some people to become too merry. Of course it could be because the crowd are captured by the performance in a way that transfixes their attention purely on the music. So it’s an ideal audience for James to preview the new material to, the third new track being the possible future single ‘Moving On’. They certainly seem more enthusiastic about trying out new things than they are about playing the obligatory ‘Sit Down’, which sounds like a group running through a song because they have to rather than because they want to. I wouldn’t say it’s a half arsed rendition, but you can tell they’re probably playing it for the millionth time. Ironically some people in the balcony seating are standing up throughout the song.
For a man of 53 Tim Booth certainly knows how to move, his manic loose limbed dance moves adding visual energy to a triumphant ‘Born Of Frustration’ and the ecstatic burst of baggy classic ‘Come Home’, a song which you can’t help but move to, even if you’re seated. After arriving back for an encore, Booth’s voice is still as strong as ever, sounding truly immaculate on a powerful ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’, which tonight is dedicated to former England football legend Stuart Pearce who attended the band’s previous Bristol show and complained that they didn’t play enough of the hits. As a result of a heavier and slightly slower arrangement, ‘Sometimes’ lacks energy and seems to lose part of its charm, but there’s no faulting a properly rousing ‘Laid’ which sees the crowd at their liveliest and rounds off the evening superbly.
So one or two slightly flat bits, and lots of great songs they didn’t have time for, but it’s impossible to complain about a James gig like this one. Add to that a genuinely top notch support act, and disappointment is well and truly off the agenda. Both bands continue the tour throughout the UK, and I strongly advise getting a ticket.