Review: I saw James at Newcastle's Utilita Arena and it might be my concert of the year

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The Manchester icons started their UK tour this week and rocked Newcastle on Wednesday evening with a set full of joy and love.

When you think of the great Manchester bands - Oasis, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and more - most tend to tell the story of a white hot band who truly blow up almost as quickly as they arrived.

And yet it is only part of this which makes music fans across the world absolutely love James. In a world full of division, quick rushes to the top and equally rapid tumbles from grace, Tim Booth and co are still going strong 25 years after their first hits.

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I don’t think my parents even knew each other in 1989 when Sit Down and Come Home hit the top three in the UK indie charts, but James have, with the exception of a six year break when frontman and spirit of the band Booth decided to focus on solo work, been a mainstay in the UK music scene.

This was made even more apparent earlier this year when their 18th studio album Yummy reached number one in the UK album charts earlier this year.

However, a wikipedia-esque introduction to James simply isn’t enough to truly understand what it is like to see the Manchester icons live. 

After a fairly lacklustre set from support Razorlight, who offered excitement around their best known songs without much else, Booth and his group took over Tyneside for the night. 

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The frontman would later post on social media saying the show would be “hard to top on this tour” and I truly believe that. As far as James setlists go, starting with She’s A Star and Waltzing Along is an opening duo which will live long in the memory before newer tracks Our World and Hey took fans from the past into the present when Booth took his first opportunity to work his way off stage. 

Booth’s presence as the frontman of James isn’t one to be undermined. He is the true soul of the band and puts a loving, human face to the beautiful noise the group create. 

He is not one for simply staying at the front of stage and keeping all eyes on him either. Just four songs in he was working his way around the floor of the Utilita Arena, fans chasing him around the back stretch like a modern, baggy trousered Pied Piper - in the best possible way.

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James thrive in a live environment, where the full joy of live music can be explored and thrive. A pre recorded message asking fans to not use their phones to record the show was quickly ignored by the majority, only for it to be reiterated by Booth as he worked his way around the crowd, looking for the human interaction many artists tend to not seek out once on stage. 

This is the magic of the James experience. The idea that live music in its purest form is simply the idea of getting people into a big room and having a party, celebrating the moment they are in and trying to radiate that joy into the wider world. There is less sense of a clear boundary between ‘performer’ and ‘crowd member’ with various members of the band heading into the crowd throughout the night, including a fantastic trumpet solo up in a seated area to close the night.

This was mirrored on stage with an almost constantly rotating cast of performers working their way around the stage. From the core members to support from the stunning Manchester Voices Inspirational Choir, there were as few as six and as many as 12 people on stge at once, blending seamlessly without the show seeming too busy. 

I last saw James back in September 2021 when fears around spreading Coronavirus stopped the band from interacting in this way, but this was finally the chance for both groups to come together as one. 

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The setlist itself was immaculately crafted with almost all the band’s biggest hits making an appearance while new tracks were given time to shine in a live settling with backing clips which accompanied the songs well without taking over. 

“Imperfection is perfection” added Booth after a false start to a song due to a mix up between singer and keyboardist, and in a way this is the best part of James as a live act. They see the beauty in life, flaws and all - and project it into a crowd willing to receive and share love in equal measure.

In reality, it is these moments we all live for. At the end of the first of two encores when Beautiful Beaches was played I simply shut my eyes, released my shoulders and danced like I was in the kitchen on my own. They are the moments fans pay money for, and those are the moments James thrive on creating. 

It was a truly beautiful night, and one which I can guarantee offered beautiful moments for each person in the arena. 

James setlist at Newcastle’s Utilita Arena

She’s A Star

Waltzing Along

Our World

Hey

Life’s a F****** Miracle

Getting Away With It (All MEssed Up)

Tomorrow

Five-O

Shadow of a Giant

Better With You

Mobile God

Jam J

Sit Down

Nothing But Love

Sometimes

Encore

Way Over Your Head

Come Home

Beautiful Beaches

Second Encore

Laid

Sound

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