Here we are back again at the Kentish Town Forum for a second night – but if anyone expects it to be a carbon copy of the other night then they really don’t know this band at all! The VIP Soundcheckers were the first to have an inkling that this was going to be a very special night with their sneak preview of some of the songs the band had been rehearsing. It’s often happened though, that songs played in the soundcheck never make it to the gig, so often, the VIPers are hugely privileged.
The night always promised to outshine the one two nights previously – the Friday night London crowd always up for a party at the start of a hot and sunny weekend (although there are inevitably going to be more of the sort of casual fan who doesn’t want to hear new or rare tracks, just a night of 90s nostalgia – they were definitely going to leave disappointed!)
The evening began with The Slow Readers Club – every night they play they double in confidence and rightly so. Their songs are powerful and unique – the range of Aaron’s voice superb and they sound like a long established and already successful band with a real connection between them that usually comes from years of playing together. In a hint to anyone of any import within earshot, they remind us that they are an unsigned band – surely that cannot go on for much longer – and the queues of people afterwards buying their CD must surely attract the attention of a label soon. If you have yet to see James on this tour, make sure you get down early because it will be well worth the effort.
James’ set tonight has a totally different feel from the start – those lucky enough to have attended the warm up gigs will have been treated to the album’s opener, Bitch, as the live gig’s opener too – and despite it being a good couple of minutes before Tim sings, the mesmerizing power of the intro grips everyone’s attention from the first chord. Not many bands are able – even when touring their new album – to start a concert with 5 songs from that album, but if anyone can do it then it’s this band. To My Surprise follows, with the crowd ecstatically singing the chorus back at the band, and then Catapult, where Tim decides to go for his traditional swim across the crowd and Alvin and Waking follow, the fun and laughter of the nonsense lyrics at odds with the soul searching ones we’re used to, but they still work with the crowd dancing along happily. Andy’s trumpet again comes to the fore in Waking, giving a song that many in online discussions weren’t quite as keen on from the album a new lease of life and making a good case for the trumpet to be pushed forward in the mix a little more in future.
To prove that point the next song, Ring The Bells, is greeted like an old friend – the crowd bouncing up and down enthusiastically as Andy uses the whole stage to play towards each area of the audience, lights flashing and Tim’s gyrations taking us all back 25 years in time. With Sometimes following on, the moans of the casual fans are temporarily forgotten as they sing the familiar words.
Then we’re back to the new album, with the sublime Move Down South holding us spellbound with its tale of man-made drought and forest fires and the gorgeous harmonies that bring it to a close. Girl At The End Of The World follows and then the surprises that the soundcheckers had had prior warning of began to come into their own.
Firstly, a song that Saul has long championed, but that is difficult to fit into many of the setlists that the band have put together – “For the old faithfuls” says Tim by way of introduction. English Beefcake from Pleased To Meet You takes most of the crowd by surprise, and many are indeed hearing it for the first time. With the feel of that album being so different to anything else, it is indeed a tricky one to make work in most set lists, but with the choice of the next song PS, it makes them both feel like they should always have been in contention, the sheer beauty of both songs weaving their magic across the audience. Not content to just play these older songs, the band do what they do best – the connection between the members so strong that they are happy to slip into one of their jam sessions live on stage, with Saul and Andy improvising on violin and trumpet, Tim watching them intently, joining them with improvised lyrics to create a shimmering moment of genius in front of us.
Keeping with the moment, they slip into Feet Of Clay, although the magic so many of us are experiencing are lost on some of the Friday night crowd as Tim has to tell them to shut up. She’s A Star, in its stripped back, almost acoustic mode, comes next – the haunting tones of Adrian’s cello adding an extra element to the old favourite.
But then, talking of She’s A Star as an old favourite pales into total insignificance as the band manage to gobsmack every real fan in the venue – a song so often begged for but never played live, certainly not since 1999 according to Dave Brown of Even The Stars/One Of The Three – What For brings gasps and dropped jaws around the front sections of the audience, its familiar melody changed but still instantly recognisable, with a fabulous new trumpet line and a slowed down acoustic delivery, it brings the longest and wildest reaction and applause at its end that the band have to wait for it to die down before they can continue. Tim looks rather stunned at the love being projected back at them yet he shouldn’t be – What For is the hit single that never was, released before its time and loved by all those who came to find it in the back catalogue with a tinge of regret that it wasn’t more widely known back then.
How to follow that though? Dear John has a lot to do to cut through but manages it – one of the strongest tracks on an album full of strong songs, it has become one of the favourites of many fans, with the haunting whistle at start and end along with the sad beauty of its tale. But Dear John is just a breather before we are again hit with three amazing tracks – one obscure, one favourite and one new, each with its own power that make them fit so well together. Honest Joe with its wild drums and megaphone sung lyrics, Sound with its anthemic yet ever changing construction which sees Andy again bring it to its crashing climax from a UV lit trumpet on the barrier, and Attention – a song of two parts joined by a section that you can feel and see as well as hear before it explodes into the second part, demanding the Attention of its title from the listener.
The encore starts with Say Something – with Tim and Adrian making their way through the audience upstairs, from one set of stairs, across the seats and back down the opposite side to join the band on stage to conclude the song, which slips into Moving On and then sharing the love given to them all night with Nothing But Love. A second encore of Tomorrow is demanded and for the first time, given – “You’ve earned it” says Tim – which we may have done, but many people were left wondering what they’d done to have deserved such a stunning and memorable night in the first place!
- To My Surprise
- Ring The Bells
- Move Down South
- Girl At The End Of The World
- English Beefcake
- Feet Of Clay
- She’s A Star
- What For
- Dear John
- Honest Joe
- Say Something
- Moving On
- Nothing But Love
Video courtesy of Lou Hughson
Video courtesy of Lou Hughson