James at Olympia Theatre by Colm Kelly_Photo Credit: Colm Kelly

James at The Olympia Theatre on 23rd August 2013

It’s kind of hard to believe that James are just over thirty years on the circuit. That’s probably a decade younger than the average age of the patrons in the Olympia tonight for the indefatigable Tim Booth and co., and there’s an undeniable buzz of anticipation in advance of this band that have inconspicuously soundtracked many a person’s youth. James have been consistently releasing records since ’86, but they are a band that immediately conjure memories of the 90’s such was the ubiquity of their most famous song…but more on that later.

Tonight’s pre-James crowd are warmed up by the somewhat pastoral tones of Daniel Anderson, armed with an acoustic guitar and a ream of 60’s inflected, folksy tunes. There’s a sense of familiarity to his songs, inhabiting that sharp, reflective Ray Davies style of songwriting. The subject matter veers towards the darker end of the spectrum, but it’s encased in the melodic sensibilities of the Small Faces at their playful best, and when Anderson asks the crowd to film a certain song on their mobiles it’s with the mischievous suggestion that it’s going to be a good one. It all goes down well with the crowd, even if it is a world apart from what is about to follow.

Where Anderson casually saunters around the stage, Tim Booth sporadically explodes into a frenzied, body popping figure in baggy trousers, as James take the Olympia crowd through a set that brings in everything from Madchester rave-ups to hands-to-the-sky epics. Booth cuts an enigmatic figure, somewhere between Ming the Merciless and a yoga aficionado, and there’s no denying his ability to effortlessly command a room. Two drumkits dominate the rear of the stage, one of which is occupied by the guitarist early in the set for Waterfall – needlessly, if we’re honest. It adds little to the sound but it’s just one of many instances where different instruments are taken up by the band’s busiest member during the gig.

Horn player Andy Diagram also double jobs on cowbell for How Was It For You as Booth comes in front of the monitors, hand on heart. This early favourite takes the night to another place, as the crowd for the first time hop as a collective and the balcony dwellers rise to their feet. Jam J is a baggy, bass driven groove, while Interrogation garners a burst of appreciative cheers at its intro. Even when the newer, less familiar numbers are played, the crowd maintain a respectful air, but when they hear Born Of Frustration the place erupts. Booth comes down into the crowd, accosted by huggers then hoisted up by those around him before getting a helpful leg-up to the stage from the security.

There’s no mistaking that drum intro for Sit Down, and nary an arse in the venue is on a seat at this point. The band cut out midway to let the crowd sing as the venue is fully lit, and half the band sits on the monitors while the air is filled with a multitude of voices. The song ends, and Booth re-starts it alone, only to have the crowd once again lend their vocals for the final, rock-out coda. A few outstretched arms can be seen during the subdued epicness of Five-O before the heaviest moment of the night comes with a snare-laden Stutter, and a floor tom appears stage front . The guitar player hammers this, the keys man switches to drums, the singer to keys…they’re all over the place for this one, rounding off with some Fender abuse as the strings are mauled by drumsticks.

The singalongs come again in quick succession with Getting away With It (All Messed Up) and Laid, while Tomorrow simply crackles with energy. “We’re gonna play a new one because we’re so fucking confident” jokes Booth on re-entering for an encore and the hotel sex saga of a synth-heavy Curse Curse, before a jubilant Come Home sets the venue off once more. The encore takes things right back to the 90’s heyday, and with an up-for-it crowd like this it’s the perfect denouement to this mass love-in. The band literally bow out, touching their toes. There’s life in these oul dogs yet.

James Photo Gallery

Photos: Colm Kelly