TVD Live Shots: James at Royal Albert Hall, 3/9

The last time I saw James was at a radio festival in the States in the early ’90s. The band was riding high on the Brit-pop invasion and celebrating much-deserved success with their breakthrough single “Laid.” While I’ve always considered myself a casual fan, I had sort of lost track of the band before moving to London a few years ago. That all changed last week at Royal Albert Hall—I’m hooked—and I feel like I’ve discovered the genius of James once again in a proper setting.

If seeing a show at the beautiful and legendary space that is Royal Albert Hall isn’t enough, enter Tim Booth and company. James delivered a masterclass in what it means to be considered Brit-pop royalty and how to keep relevant for three decades plus. The band opened for themselves with a short acoustic set of stripped-down deep cuts and fan favorites. That’s quite a bold move, and the only other artist I’ve seen do this is the excellent Noel Gallagher (who admitted that he couldn’t find anyone worthy of the spot). After seeing the full-blown electric set that James delivered, I think they could easily say the same.

James are touring in support of their 15th studio album Living in Extraordinary Times. The Manchester natives blasted through a set celebrating pieces of their impressive catalog while pulling heavily from their latest. In fact, I think they nearly played the entire record, but I was in too much awe to be taking any notes—and trying to keep up with Tim Booth as the 59 years young frontman impressively sailed over the top of the crowd following several stage dives and making his way around the entire venue. This guy has more energy and personality than most punk bands half or even a quarter of his age.

The highlights for me were, of course, hearing the classics, but the new material is absolutely brilliant. The evening hit a peak with the song “Heads” from the latest record. James brought this song to life in grandiose fashion, transforming the Royal Albert Hall momentarily into a futuristic, psychedelic groove hall that brilliantly exhibited how one band can perfectly fuse both emotion and energy to become one of the most incredible live shows touring Europe at the moment.

The band boasts a 100 song arsenal and continuously mix up their setlists each night—sometimes you get your favorites, sometimes you discover new favorites. Either way, when you go to a James show, these guys leave everything on the stage while wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

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