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Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeEnding an extended hiatus and a seven-year gap in recording a studio album, Manchester septet James recently reassembled its original cast and is touring the States for the first time since an ill-fated and awkward slot on the Lollapalooza tour in 1997. Hitting Milwaukee's Turner Hall in stride halfway through their tour, James may be far off from the stadium-sized venues on previous tours, but judging by the smiles, particularly on the face of frontman Tim Booth, the band was happy to be playing again and happy with their sound.
From the mysterious sounds of "Dream Thrum" with guitarist Saul Davies on violin that opened the set, to the well-worn hits "Laid" and "Say Something" later in the show, James delivered passionate takes on their older material to much applause, but more importantly, the new material from Hey Ma gave credence to something far from a reunion tour. While "Waterfall" represented the most traditional of their sound, "Upside" was a beautiful waltz with a strong pop appeal, and "Whiteboy" displayed Booth's uncanny ability to command an audience's attention with a mere waving of his finger. "Oh My Heart" featured the trumpet work of Andy Diagram in one of the most driving songs of the night as well as "Honest Joe," in which a bullhorn-wielding Booth danced feverishly-- a sort of psychedelic version of Stone Temple Pilots' Scott Weiland. Leaving no doubt as to who was on stage, the anthemic "Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)" was met with much applause, and after handing over the stage for a marriage proposal between two fans (he got down on a knee, she said "yes" and the band played "She's A Star"), the love in the room would carry over.
As James reached the end of their show with a climactic "Sometimes," the crowd carried on singing the refrain even as the band took a bow and walked off stage. While a sendoff like that might have been a stunning way to leave a show, the band humbly returned to a now-roaring crowd for a second encore with the opening lines of "Top of the World" saying it all-- "The view from here is breathtaking."
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