Review: James, Live from Times Square, Newcastle

James singer Tim Booth had the crowd at Live from Times Square eating out of his hand. All pics: Carl Chambers.
James singer Tim Booth had the crowd at Live from Times Square eating out of his hand. All pics: Carl Chambers.
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Nostalgia was the order of Saturday evening at Times Square, as a packed crowd was treated to a career-spanning set from eternally popular Mancunians James.

Now in their 36th year, the seven-piece remain a significant live draw thanks to a seemingly bottomless reserve of hits which lit up the radio waves in the late ‘80s and ‘90s.

This succession of enduring classics was just one of the coups pulled off by local promoters SSD this summer, and as with all these festival-style shows the headliners came backed with eye-catching support.

Unfortunately that description cannot be applied to North East outfit The Voluntears – a last-minute addition, whose name didn’t feature on any listings or promotional material.

As such, the quartet were left with a meagre audience and a vast space to fill, and with the best will in the world their workmanlike indie hardly did much to stir those present into a frenzy.

Things were similarly flat during Wild Front’s performance, though I for one found their set to be an enjoyable introduction.

Playing a jangly brand of dream pop, the Southampton four-piece’s songs came packed with variety, with nifty hooks and dense atmospheric curves around every corner, even when they threatened to drift.

Next up were Milburn – a group who, even with the current spate of reunions, can’t have had many clamouring for their return.

In fairness, the Sheffield quartet were undoubtedly victims of circumstance, having emerged from Sheffield in the wake of the Arctic Monkeys and inevitably been condemned as copyists (they had, in fact, formed shortly before Alex Turner’s band).

Now, though, they’re back with new material; yet despite clear attempts to establish their own identity it’s difficult to envisage such stale numbers converting critics who view them as the epitome of mid-noughties landfill indie. You’ll probably have guessed that I’m one of them.

Thankfully, proceedings were elevated several notches by the arrival of former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook, who these days celebrates his career fronting his own five-piece outfit, Peter Hook & The Light.

Instantly lifting a crowd by now nearing capacity, the Mancunian legend set out with a selection of brooding Joy Division classics (She’s Lost Control, in particular was sumptuous), before sparking rapture with a bunch of unadulterated New Order bangers.

Tonight’s crowd may have been somewhat middle-aged, yet this is music which has transcended generations, carrying a magic and commanding a reverence that not even initial sound issues could dim.

Perhaps the finest moment, however, came when he invited James’s Tim Booth and Jim Glennie onstage for a glorious finale of Love Will Tear Us Apart, described by the former as "one of the best love songs ever written." Superb.

Earlier in the day, Booth had posted a tweet urging fans to come down early, urging some optimistic followers to speculate that James would be opening their performance with Sit Down.

Arguably their best-known song, it’s also one which James are notoriously reluctant to air live – so it came as little surprise that the frontman moved instantly to quash the rumours.

Well, he lied, and it was indeed their opening song. His explanation? "How else could we follow Love Will Tear Us Apart?!"

This huge crowd-pleasing entrance did come at a cost – instead, it was the transatlantic smash Laid which was conspicuous in its absence – though the group were hardly found wanting in backing it up.

It wasn’t all about the hits either, with more recent cuts such as the fabulous Attention melding seamlessly and lending a freshness many may not have anticipated.

Most of the big beasts were nevertheless present and correct, with the encore in particular delivering the beautiful She’s a Star and baggy anthem Come Home before closing with Nothing But Love, a cut from latest album Girl At The End of the World, which didn't sound at all out of place.

For me, though, the highlight had come earlier when they rounded off the main set with Sometimes, a magnificent, cathartic indie classic which sparked perhaps the night’s loudest – and certainly longest – singalong.

There’ll be plenty more of those as Live From Times Square moves into its second week, yet The Libertines, Manic Street Preachers, Brian Wilson et al should know that the standard has been set!

Peter Hook rolled back the years with a greatest hits set of Joy Division and New Order songs.

Peter Hook rolled back the years with a greatest hits set of Joy Division and New Order songs.

James singer Tim Booth joined Peter Hook & The Light for their closing song, Love Will Tear Us Apart.

James singer Tim Booth joined Peter Hook & The Light for their closing song, Love Will Tear Us Apart.

James vocalist Tim Booth gets up close and personal with some of the Live from Times Square audience.

James vocalist Tim Booth gets up close and personal with some of the Live from Times Square audience.

James singer Tim Booth led his band through a set of classics and newer songs, beginning with Sit Down.

James singer Tim Booth led his band through a set of classics and newer songs, beginning with Sit Down.

James set the bar high for this week's Live from Times Square gigs.

James set the bar high for this week's Live from Times Square gigs.