Getintothis’ Andy Kelly welcomes back an old favourite as one of pop’s most engaging frontmen wows Liverpool.
There aren’t many bands who could call upon the services of Peter Kay as a warm-up man but then James aren’t any band.
The Bolton comic takes to the stage in a sweltering Mountford Hall for a 10-minute cameo to introduce one of his favourite bands and implore them to play his favourite song.
Back after a seven year gap, James – along with The Charlatans, the great survivors of the Madchester era – have delivered an album in Hey Ma which can sit proudly alongside most of their back catalogue.
It makes up quite a bit of tonight’s set and it’s a measure of its quality that these new songs don’t break the momentum built up by old favourites like the anthemic Come Home and Born of Frustration.
The title track itself is a terrific anti-War song, with tales of boys arriving home in pieces in body bags. Of the other new songs, I Want To Go Home, Waterfall and Whiteboy are greeted like old favourites by this packed Liverpool crowd, who know all the words already within a week of the album’s release.
White lanterns swing above the band’s head as Tim Booth and friends unleash yet another harmony-packed three minutes, trumpet and violin filling out the soaring melodies to great effect.
With his bald head and thin tash making him a double for Ming the Merciless, Booth is a whirling dervish of a front man, every so often letting himself go into his full freaky dancing repertoire.
Perhaps his fellow baldy Michael Stipe is the only current frontman who can match him in vocal power, unleashed to its full on She’s a Star, Tomorrow and Sound.
Kay gets his way as Lullaby forms part of the encore alongside Johnny Yen before a gospel-tinged Sometimes brings a hugely uplifting night to a close.
It’s an astonishing finale as Booth stands transfixed as the crowd sings the chorus back to him long after the band have finished.
Maybe he was remembering the night almost 20 years ago when a Liverpool crowd was the first to sing Sit Down (like Laid not played tonight) back to his band, as they hovered on the verge of their big break. Welcome back boys.