It’s been a triumphant year for Tim Booth and his merry men. To celebrate, James are playing out 2008 in front of sell-out crowds, confirmation they remain a fiercely relevant voice when many suspected time had passed them by.
With such an impressive armoury of songs from which to choose, watching them at Brixton is akin to Manchester United playing at home in the Premiership. The new guns are included, while seemingly certain starters are placed on the bench, or left on the sidelines altogether.
A list of the James substitute bench makes you realise what strength in depth they have. Destiny Calling, Tomorrow, Just Like Fred Astaire – equivalents of Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Ryan Giggs. Only one song each is drawn from Eno albums Millionaires and Pleased To Meet You, those records’ anthemic moments deliberately shunned for now.
Instead the new blood goes straight into the team, and impresses the watching crowds. Hey Ma is oddly moving, a great rabble rouser until you discover the grim truth behind the lyrics of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, for which it leaves a sour taste. New song Porcupine makes a solid impression at the centre of the set, Booth singing from a lyric sheet but with customary piercing insight.
As it’s Christmas we even have angels descending from on high, in this case the violin of Saul Williams, appearing to the crowds as if on the wing. Stars adorn the Brixton Academy roof, thanks to a well placed glitterball. Then comes the sound of trumpets from Andy Diagram, who brings an impressive final flourish to more than a few upbeat endings.
James blend their chest thumping big numbers – a good reworking of Sit Down, a triumphant Seven and a slightly formulaic I Know What I’m Here For – with the cooler ambience of the album tracks. It makes an effective mix, but all are trumped by Sometimes, with a crowd singalong Booth states he wants to hear as I die. Repeating this twice, he looks choked by the experience, as do the band when they take their final curtain call after two hours’ labour.
Booth will be 50 in two years’ time, but as that milestone nears so it seems his energy levels are higher than ever, the celebrated dance of the limbs still a big part of his stage repertory. He continues to have much to say – and on this evidence, thousands of exultant fans to lap up his every word. The cheers are still ringing in my ears.