Spaceland, June 6, 2008
By Siran Babayan
Well, dye my eyes and call me a reborn James fan. Apparently the Manchester folky pop band has had a more profound impact on some of the people here at Spaceland than they did on me back when I casually listened to them in college. Hours before James (reunited in the past year after a 2001 breakup) took the stage for a surprise semi-acoustic show announced only a day earlier on KCRW, I overhear two women in the restroom talking about another woman who “raised her kids on James.” And sitting next to me during the entirety of the evening, a very sweet, doting and drunk girl from Newhall tells me she’s not only been following the band around since 1991, but named her daughter Madison James. She also ran her fingers through my hair and spat water clear across the club half-way through the show after simultaneously drinking and coughing. (How do the words on “Sit Down” go?: “Those who find themselves ridiculous/Sit down next me.”) “They saved my life,” she says repeatedly. I can see why.
Looking like a less sinister Anton LaVey, newly bald and goatee-d singer Tim Booth cast a spell on the capacity crowd with a set (half from the Brian Eno-produced Laid, the other from the forthcoming new album, Hey Ma) that was uplifting, life-affirming and spiritual. I wouldn’t want to get near this guy while he’s dancing, though. Booth, still skinner than the mike stand with belted pants barely hanging on, likes to sway and then shake himself into convulsions; think Davey Jones-meets-Dead-Head-on-acid-trip. “Look at me Tim!” drunk girl yells.
The band – featuring guitarist Larry Gott, bassist Jim Glennie, trumpeter Andy Diagram, and violinist Saul Davies, who also took turns on guitar and drums – kicked off the set with “Top of the World” off of the band’s first breakthrough, 1990’s Gold Mother, followed by one of my favorite of James’ hushed beauties, “Out to Get You.” You could almost hear a hipster’s pin drop.
“Take a picture dude, this is bitchin’,” drunk girl orders. “Hey Ma” is about the “overreaction to 9/11,” explained Booth, and the soon-to-be single “Whiteboy” contains what will be your new favorite lyrics: “My mum said I look like Yul Brynner/Too old for Hamlet/Too young for Lear.” “Move your head lady!,” drunk girl yells again. This is becoming abusive. Then, pfoooooo, out comes the water. That's probably not what Booth had in mind when he launched into “Say Something.”
One would think that after the American Pie soundtrack and countless covers, including an unfortunate remake by Better Than Ezra I recently heard, the novelty of “Laid” would‘ve worn off . But this is the catchiest pro-cross-dressing and -stalking song ever written, and listening to Booth hit those absurd and pretteeee high notes is more addictive than Morrissey yodeling, as if the two were racing to the top of a hill.
A proper tour in September and October, the band promised us. Until then, drunk girl and I will be bored with frustration.
Photos by Siran Babayan