James

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
March 16, 1992

It is a rare band that can make the kind of musical impact the British band James did Friday night at the Cabaret Metro.  Starting off a little shaky, the seven-man group eased its way into a spectacular 90-minute concert that made it clear why the buzz is so strong about this unpretentious band.

The buzz has been a long time in the making, at least over here.  In England, the decade-old group already is a star and has shared stages with the Cure and David Bowie.  But until now, James never has toured America.  Their fourth and current album “Seven” should help win over Stateside fans.  The group’s live shows are the clincher.

The power of their concerts lie in the musicians’ ability to translate their infectiously catchy songs in a live setting, without losing the poignancy and sarcasm of their lyrics or the delicate intricacy of the melodic structure.  Their songs battle God, love, sex and paranoia, but the musicians don’t get lost in poker-faced delivery.  The cathartic “Born of Frustration” started with an Indian war whoop and escalated into a musical frenzy as they asked, “Who are you fooling?  You don’t need a shrink but an exorcist.”  “Next Lover” pondered flesh and fantasy with dreamlike clarity.  And a megaphone added surreal creativity to the stripped-down “Sounds.”

None of the musicians looked like they belonged in a band together.  With his curly locks and baby face, the singer looked like a hyper incarnation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “Le Petit Prince.”  The (male) trumpeteer wore a dress.  The keyboardist looked like Crispin Glover.  Their cohesiveness lay in their music.

James’ tour de force is Tim Booth, who is both a mesmerizing vocalist and a charismatic performer.  It’s easy holding an audience’s attention hiding behind the cool facade of a guitar, but a singer is relatively vulnerable when he has just his voice and an occassional tambourine as his instruments.  (Remember Davy Jones?)  But during musical interludes, Booth showed no signs of awkwardness filling time.  He shook himself better than he shook his tambourine, lapsing off into joyful fits of childlike dancing that at first looked startling, and transformed into enchanting.

Reportedly, James is Morrissey’s favorite band.  Both artists sprang out of Manchester around the same time, but James influenced Morrissey’s band the Smiths as much as the other way around.  The Smiths even covered James’ “What’s the World.”

James already has lasted the test of time and America’s indifference.  If it can outlive the hype, there’s no stopping it.

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