James: First Direct Arena, Leeds Saturday 8 June 2024

Review and photos by Gareth John

A YEAR on from their triumphant 40th anniversary orchestral tour, including a show at The Barbican, York, indie rock veterans James returned to Leeds Arena to promote their latest and 18th album, the chart topping Yummy.

Returning to arena-sized audience following recent theatre-size outings, Bradford born frontman Tim Booth retains an unwavering freshness, agility, and passion for his music as the core band of nine, plus tonight’s choir of four, display an impressive unity and chemistry.

On-stage antics and an ability to work the room are Booth’s superpower, and tonight the 64-year-old’s trademark dancing, barrier clambering, and crowd-surfing sessions thrill the audience.

The singer challenged the crowd to put their mobile phones away, explaining he did not wish to see a bank of phones when facing the audience.

Once he had structured expectations, Booth worked methodically through the set, opening with fan favourite Jonny Zen as the band weaved songs from their impressive back catalogue with eight tracks from the recent 12-track Yummy.

James on stage in Leeds. Photo by Gareth JohnJames on stage in Leeds. Photo by Gareth John

He introduced new release Our World as being about the destruction caused to the planet, the grim legacy handed to future generations and the damage which will take decades to repair and recover from.

The catchy and euphoric Life's a F***ing Miracle (radio edit Shocking Miracle) sings of gratitude and mystery whilst rhythmic love song Better With You stirs the audience with its rolling loop. Butterfly and Shadow of a Giant are impressive songs further enhanced by large screen backdrop complex graphics. Mobile God challenges the addictive, controlling and numbing effects of mobile phones whilst Way Over Your Head sings of helplessness and depression, themes also at the heart of encore and classic Sit Down.

Tonight, new releases hold their own against established favourites, all of them strong, fresh, and yet instantly recognisable as trademark James material. Booth explained that those who had done their homework and listened to Yummy in advance would have enjoyed the evening even more. No-one appeared to be complaining as the crowd lapped up the setlist as Booth declared and explained that the new songs would soon become the audience’s future favourites.

The 20-song set lasted two hours with classic Sometimes (Lester Piggott) spanning 10-minutes as the band lined the stage in chorus and switched vocal responsibilities between themselves and the audience in a choral relay.

Booth appeared moved by this exchange and connection with the audience. Beautiful Beaches was impressive in its tales of recent fires in California and the devastation caused.

Penultimate encore Sit Down was appropriately paused following a health incident in the audience as Booth reconvened asking ‘where were we?’ as the crowd sang in unison to this signature song.

The evening closed with 1993 album title track Laid before the audience filtered out having savoured a delicious set from a band still creative, vibrant, and relevant.