Two years — almost to the day — after their last visit to Auckland’s Powerstation, James returned to New Zealand to play a fully sold-out show. And just as they did two years ago, they demonstrated why they, unlike most of the acts that rode the Manchester wave of the late 1980s and early 1990s, James are still recording, still touring, still packing houses.
They also showed what a uniquely entertaining band they can be. The show opened with Andy Diagram playing his trumpet from the Powerstation’s balcony as Tim Booth walked around the outside of the audience pit downstairs, stopping to sing to a fan or two on his way to the stage. Lose Control, itself a beautifully controlled and contained song, albeit one Booth sings with his characteristic intensity, gave way to Hank, from the band’s latest release, Living In Extraordinary Times, an outstandingly bangy, crashy drum workout that translated from record to stage magnificently.
And so the show progressed. The set list took in more of James’ older, pre-2001 hiatus, material, albeit in often intriguingly reworked forms. How Was It For You?, from 1990’s Gold Mother, was a quiet surprisingly stripped-down reading of one of the band’s most straight-ahead rockers, but also a pleasingly effective reading of the song. Come Home, from the same album and next up last night, was as crowd-pleasing as one could hope for, the sold-out crowd at the Powerstation singing the chorus back to Booth like it had just come out and they were still wearing their baggies and their daisy t-shirts.
It was, this being a James show, a performance dominated, of course, by Tim Booth. He’s a curious character — looking like Ming The Merciless from Flash Gordon, dancing like a man who’s stepped on a live 240-volt mains wire, he sings with a range and clarity that a man half his age would kill for. He also knows how to work an audience — for Waltzing Alone he stepped off the stage and onto the kit box that had been his step up onto it earlier, took the hand of a woman in the front of the pit, and sang the song directly to her.
The Powerstation only accommodates a couple of thousand punters at most. The first time I saw James,in 1990 when they were at the height of their powers in the UK and still to make their big break in America with Laid, they filled what was then called the G-Mex Centre, in Manchester with nearly ten thousand fans. Nearly thirty years later they’re still playing, not in such huge venues any longer, but they’re still packing houses and delighting fans. They’re still, as Jim Glennie told Crave! when we spoke to him recently, enjoying writing new material — Living In Extraordinary Times is their fifteenth studio album — and they clearly have many more years in them. And if — when — they come back to Auckland in another two years, I’ll be there.