Hard Rock Calling – 24th June 2011

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Setlist

Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), Ring The Bells, Whiteboy, Sit Down, Stutter, Out To Get You, I Wanna Go Home, Born Of Frustration (aborted), Tomorrow, Sometimes, Laid.

 


Hyde Park, London, England, Absolute Radio Broadcast.

  1. Ring The Bells
  2. Whiteboy
  3. Out To Get You
  4. I Wanna Go Home
  5. Tomorrow
  6. Say Something (acoustic)
  7. Dust Motes (acoustic)
  8. She’s A Star (acoustic)
  9. Lullaby (acoustic)
  10. Laid (acoustic)

Review

There are so many misnomers about today’s gig.  Firstly Hard Rock, of course everyone knows the Hard Rock Cafe brand is everything but, you getting Madonna and Beyonce thrown at you as Hard Rock whilst you eat your overpriced burger, soggy salad and fries, and the line-up is anything but Hard Rock.  The opening act, Michael Kiwanuka, is talented enough, but his music is far more suited to a smoky jazz bar in the early hours of the morning than an open field full of pubescent kids and binge drinkers, for even whom the toned down anything-but-alternative spectacle that is Glastonbury is a bit too radical.  By the end, and his songs do seem to drag on, it feels like he’s been on a week. But it’s not raining.  Yet.    The next act, Wolfgang or Wolf Gang, noone’s quite sure, are apparently, on later research, a hotly-tipped exciting band to look out for with their forthcoming debut album.   I’m sure my Mum would say the same about my debut album were I ever to record one, but it’s like bad eighties synth pop never happened.  Still no rain.

Secondly, this actually isn’t a festival.  Tonight is The Killers’ comeback gig, despite them being away for two years and not coming back with any new material, and later, in the endless rain, endless rain, they put on a great show, and James and Kaiser Chiefs (who, surprisingly, aren’t as piss-awful as their recorded output would suggest) are merely supporting acts.  The poor sods going Saturday will have to endure THREE hours of Bon Jovi, the epitome of commercialised soft rock.   Kaiser Chiefs, at least, have a new record to promote, but apart from keeping their profile up in the UK, and hopefully quite a nice payday, there’s not actually a lot of reasons why James should be here.  It’s a Killers crowd, that much is very clear.

Unsurprisingly, there are technical issues which delay the start of James set.  We’re treated to the sight of Tim, Jim and Larry being interviewed by Absolute Radio backstage.  I say the sight, because you can’t hear it over the chatter and the fact that, although this is meant to be Hard Rock, there seems to be some draconian sound limit imposed.   The band meander on stage and Tim comments the weather’s holding and introduces the band as wearejames.com.    They kick into the opening bars of Getting Away With It and the sound is pretty awful.   Almost immune to the fact the band are on, the kids continue their conversations – “what’s your favourite James song?”, “Sit Down”, “what about Laid?”, “I haven’t heard it” etc.   You get the impression the band are fighting on stage against the elements, the sound, the fact this isn’t their set up.  The sound isn’t much better for Ring The Bells, whilst the drunk twelve-year old girl next to us who has cottoned on to two teenage boys who are at least trying to listen to the band asks the same question for the third time during the song.

Whiteboy was the lead single off a top ten album, not that it means much in the new world of most of the audience, as bands like James don’t get radio play even though they sell far more records than some of the bands adored in the music press and by Radio 1.  It starts the fight back through the muddy sound though.   Tim decides he’s had enough at this point and tells us that he’d been told not to go out in the crowd, but that was a red rag to a bull so he jumps off the stage and comes down to the barrier.   He gets Larry to do a loud count in and the crowd and Sit Down finally drags some recognition from the crowd, as well as some pretty awful karaoke wrong-word attempts at a singalong.  There’s an interesting new middle section when the song comes down, which doesn’t quite work.  Tim falls over as he gets off the barrier, and there’s a semblance of a moshpit as the song kicks back into its conclusion.

Stutter is introduced as a song about losing control of the mouth, and is probably the hardest thing that’s played all day and certainly the most off-the-wall.   The sight of three drummers and Tim on keyboards and the wall of, not turned up to the max of course, sound.   It really does need to be dark to get the full effect of the lights, which would have worked superbly on the world’s biggest bacofoil sheet that formed the band’s backdrop.  Saul ends up drumming on Larry’s guitar.

From the hardest to the softest song played all day as Out To Get You comes out of the end section of Stutter.  Naturally, it gets lost in the size of the crowd – it needs the audience to be James’ audience to work in fields this big, which is a shame as Saul’s violin playing and the subtlety of Mark’s melodica fight their way through the air, which is now pregnant with the rain that’s going to fall for the rest of the night.

I Wanna Go Home, surprisingly, brings out some handclapping at the start, which stops almost as abruptly as it starts.   You sense Tim’s fighting to push the rest of the band as he prowls the stage, jumping on Dave’s drum riser.  The song broods menacingly, before bursting into life and Tim holding the extended note for what feels like an eternity.  It battles and beats the rain, the terrible sound and the chatterers.

The opening bar of Born Of Frustration starts and then stops, tempting and teasing, but Tim tells us they’re being told they’re running out of time because of the late start and there’s no room on the schedule for anything as rock and roll as running late.   So they go into Tomorrow, which again gets the crowd moving.

Surprise surprise, the set ends with Sometimes and Laid.   Whilst you can’t necessarily drop them from the set, it really is time to find a new ending.  Tim introduces Sometimes as a rain dance, and the heavens do start to do their worst during the song and it’s the best I’ve heard the song for a long time, Tim cheekily telling Larry where the guitar solo comes in mid-song.  It is however devoid of the singalong at the end – there’s an attempt at giving the crowd the opportunity to kick in with it, but wisely it isn’t pushed when they realise it’s not going to happen.

Tim jumps down into the pit as Laid kicks in and gets back on the barrier.  He’s trying to shake off the security guard who’s doing his best to prevent, heaven forbid, any interaction between artist and the crowd.  Tim wins at the end as he drops himself slowly over the front few rows and is almost dragged back like a naughty crowdsurfer and provides probably the most thrilling moment of the day.  Sadly there’s no chance to get Born Of Frustration back at the end.

All in all a bit of a mixed gig. The sound and the crowd didn’t help at all, but an interesting mix of singles and favourite album tracks, without springing any real surprises.   The temptation must have been there to play a greatest hits only set and you could have forgiven them for doing that and they probably sacrificed some crowd reaction by sticking to their principles in a way other bands don’t in similar situations.  As I said to some friends as we reflected on the show, to see James outdoors in their full glory, you really need to jump on a plane and see them in Portugal and Greece, where it’s their crowd and it’s spectacular and you’re away from the British “drink as much as you can as quickly as you can and then act like a dick for the rest of the festival” culture – failing that see them at one of the lovely small festivals they have targeted themselves at in the North or Scotland.

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