Review & Video: James, O2 Academy, Bournemouth, Wednesday 29 May 2024

Review & Video: James, O2 Academy, Bournemouth, Wednesday 29 May 2024

Photos by Rhona Murphy. Words by Graham Hiley.

It was a case of Getting Away With It All Messed Up as James played a special set at Bournemouth’s O2 Academy.

The title of one of their most popular songs proved to be the theme for the night as the Manchester rockers prepared to embark on a nationwide arena tour.

There were false starts, technical issues and teething troubles – and the fans loved it.

The beauty of such warm-up gigs is they are real and raw. Yes, it might lack the polish of a big arena production but that simply made it more authentic, almost a return to the roots of playing an intimate venue.

This kind of low-key preparation is a chance to shake off the cobwebs and try out new material; the odd glitch is not only to be expected but often welcomed. At times it was messed up but they got away with it!

The live debut of Better For You took two attempts – but was brilliant. Nothing But Love was abandoned altogether due to gremlins in the system.

But lead singer Tim Booth laughed it off with characteristic good humour. After the first hiccup he proclaimed: “That’s the way it’s going to be tonight.” Later he added: “Those who have seen us before know this happens regularly but the thing is… we have actually been rehearsing!”

The 1800 fans who crammed into the Boscombe venue lapped it up, rejoicing not just in the old favourites but also the chance to hear new material.

The band opened the two-hour set with six tracks from their 18th studio album, Yummy, which shot straight to the top of the charts. For the diehard fans it was a great chance to hear live versions of new songs in their infancy, with Stay and Better With You making their tour debuts.

Then the gig hit top gear with a succession of songs to get the place jumping. They finished the main set with Come Home and a fantastic extended version of Sometimes, before their four-song encore which began with Way Over Your Head and then Getting Away With It.

The big surprise of the night was still to come with a new version of Sit Down. This was slower, stripped back and scaled down. It was musically intriguing and a treat for the diehards to get something so different, though a disappointment maybe for the more casual fans bracing themselves for the anthem they were expecting.

Booth said: “We have never played it like this before!”

Whether they will do so again is a big question ahead of their big tour. A warm-up gig is absolutely the place to try something new – and in front of an appreciative audience.

Although beautiful in its own way, this haunting version may not have the power to carry through the cavernous O2 Arena on June 15 and may disappoint those wanting the full anthem. It is good, but not what most fans want to hear – a bit like watching an acoustic version of Born to Run. Expectant fans kept waiting for it to kick in and it never did.

Changing perfection is always a gamble. In the intimate setting of the Bournemouth O2 Academy it just about worked; at bigger venues the audience won’t want to Sit Down for what should be the highlight of the night.

*James have another warm-up show in Stockton on Friday before heading to big arenas in Aberdeen, Newcastle, Glasgow, Leeds, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester (hopefully – it is the Co-Op Live after all) and finishing at the O2 Arena.

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