“IN TYPICAL JAMES STYLE, DEFEAT IS SNATCHED FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY,” DEADPANS TIM BOOTH FROM THE STAGE OF THE ELECTRIC BALLROOM, CAMDEN.
It’s the intimate launch show for new album LA PETITE MORT (released next Monday), and the band have tried to conclude proceedings with latest single MOVING ON…
But, in what seems to be an entirely appropriate nod to the fragile nature of existence, the ‘circle-of-life’ song hasn’t made it far. In fact, it’s not even lasted as long as a ridiculously truncated version of enduring hit SIT DOWN which James were forced to play in its place on BBC TV’s light-on-its-feet magazine THE ONE SHOW earlier on in the evening.
In more precious hands public collapse could spell disaster. But here it’s somehow triumphant, one of several telling moments during the evening which show the band to be an organic entity. Before a note even sounds Booth has told the crowd they’re likely to see how the new songs have yet to be fully learned, but from the first few bars of opener WALK LIKE YOU onwards it’s clear that highwire stepping is an essential part of being able to work as a potent force. There is the occasional stumble – forgotten lyrics summoned on a tablet, say – but the edge of unpredictably, of ‘safe danger’ (James are amongst friends tonight), keeps everything vivid and alive.
Arrangements are bent, band moving in the moment. Booth is often swallowed by song; spirit surrendered, body abandoned. Spinning, writhing, flailing, happening, being. Mesmerising. New songs jigsaw into transcendent favourites JOHNNY YEN and SOMETIMES. The club beats of CURSE CURSE echo the coming up cool of Faithless, while FROZEN BRITAIN’s anthemic chorus plays off against angular indie verse. GETTING AWAY WITH IT (ALL MESSED UP) and LAID are pulled out to rapture, COME HOME helicopters off its circular keyboard riff and, curiously, when it’s finally played in full MOVING ON seems as if it has always existed – waiting just out of frame, much like its subject matter…
LA PETITE MORT shines a little light on the spiritual connectedness of human experience – specifically the circular relationship between sex, birth and death. The songs speak to head, heart and hips in equal measure and, in a small venue in downtown Camden on a Wednesday night, what they say translates as euphoria, euphoria and euphoria.
James’ Electric Ballroom gig took place on Wednesday 28th May 2014. LA PETITE MORT is released on Monday 2nd June. Order here. Listen to The Mouthcast with bass player JIM GLENNIE here. Camden photo courtesy of Paula Harris.