Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale
Monday, September 20, 2010
Better than: vinegar on fish and chips.
For any diligent anglophile the announcement that veteran Britpop group James would be kicking off its U.S. tour on our shores -- and performing in a quaint venue like Culture Room no less -- was akin to the thrill local basketball enthusiasts must have felt when another James announced he would be bringing his talents down to South Beach. OK, admittedly, there was much less fanfare circulating this U.K. act's concert in Fort Lauderdale than there was for Mr. Lebron publicizing he would be shooting hoops for the Miami Heat. But for fans of British rock, the chance to witness a perennial band like James -- contemporaries of legendary English acts the Smiths and New Order -- performing with its original seven-member lineup in a 650-capacity venue like the Culture Room presented an opportunity like no other.
A projection of the cover art for James' latest album, The Morning After the Night Before, on a screen to the back of the stage hinted at the direction this Manchester U.K. band might take with its set. Shortly after 9:30 p.m., as the lights dimmed and James front man Tim Booth genially walked up to the microphone and welcomed everyone to "an intimate evening with James," it came as no surprise that the group commenced the show with a couple of new numbers. "Dust Motes" began as a piano-led ballad and then burst into an orchestral frenzy a few minutes later, with violinist Saul Davie manically striking his strings with the force of a lumberjack. "Tell Her I Said So" was a synchronized number dealing with the singer's 90-year-old mother dying in an old-age country home.
Andy Diagram's muffled trumpet began matters on the first of James' crowd pleasers, "Born of Frustration." Booth riveted the crowd on this one with his Von Tramp-like yodeling and engaging la-da-das that would fit nicely on any John Hughes soundtrack. Mariachi brass led off a masterful rendition of "Ring the Bells" next -- an up-tempo take that became a full-on jam session with guitarist Larry Gott shredding the higher frets on his axe as Booth went wild on the maracas and drummer David Baynton-Power pounced the skins like a madman. This double shot of tracks of off 1992's Seven arguably might just have been the highlight of the night.
Throughout the evening, James proved how nimble a band can be, with the ability to go from revved-up blues action -- as on "Out to Get You" -- to reserved contemplation heard on the somewhat low-key version of "Say Something." A straightforward rendition of "Sound" followed suit as Diagram's sprightly trumpet notes propelled Booth's idiosyncratic, rhythmic mini-seizure dance moves.
The group broke for a bit and then the ambiance was set with a little mood lighting for the next track, "Lullaby," a stripped-down version of this song off of James' only successful U.S. album, Laid. Featuring Booth's crisp vocals and Gotts' simplistic three-chord progressions, this track lived up to the "intimate James" billing Booth had promised earlier on. The crowd erupted with a Beatles-on-Ed-Sullivan-like jubilee as the jangly intro to "Laid" was heard. The most popular James song did not disappoint as the group seemed to relish in its fans' delight.
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While the seven James bandmates were bowing at the end of the show, Booth mentioned to the crowd: "Bring your friends and children next time and we will come back to a bigger place." In our opinion, most of the 500 or so people in attendance this night wouldn't have changed a thing with this performance and would rather the storied group return to exactly the same place.
Personal Bias: I once rocked a mop top in high school.
Random Detail: One of James' last performances before this one was before nearly 60,000 people at the Isle of Wright Festival.
By the Way: James' latest, The Morning After the Night Before, came out just last week.