Gig review: James at Victoria Theatre, Halifax

'I'm liking Halifax on a Sunday night,' James singer Tim Booth tells a heaving Victoria Theatre after a bout of crowd-surfing during a propulsive Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) that almost carried him the length of the stalls.


“You’re not too p***ed and very present,” he adds with a roguish grin, to agreeable cheers.

Shamanic in flowing shirt and trousers, bald pate and goatee glistening with sweat, he is the textbook charismatic frontman; across a mammoth two-hour-and-twenty-minute show, his unflagging energy is paramount to the air of boisterous, balcony-shaking delirium that ensures across a pleasingly exhaustive show.

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It has become an increasingly rare occasion to see James in halls of this intimate bearing in the North of England; above the Midlands, they have mostly filled arenas since the commercial renaissance sparked by their last studio album Girl at the End of the World. As such, this small-scale tour trawling through industrial towns within touching distance of the M62 is more up close and personal than it typically gets for the 1,500-strong audience in attendance on a warm late-spring weekend.

Initially, the band appear to cue up an evening of political rage-rock; they enter to a pair of new songs, Hank and Heads, that tackle the barbed state of American democracy.

But starting with a euphoric Ring the Bells, they opt for a waltz down memory lane instead, making detours deep into their catalogue along the way. Not all stick – Booth hits a flat patch on Scarecrow, then soars on the jubilant communality of Nothing But Love – but they showcase a captivatingly vivacious palate throughout, from the icy baroque pop of Five-O through the post-rock-tinted landscape of P.S..

Booth is very much still the spiritual focal point however; the group’s established fastidiousness in avoiding their biggest chart hits is rarely felt when the 58-year-old Bradfordian is this magnetic.

Gone Baby Gone sees him haul a fan up to trade wild dance moves with; he graduates to the balcony for Born of Frustration, climbing up the lighting rig and perilously strolling along the velvet-adorned precipice to goggle-eyed gasps of delight. By the time he bows after a curfew-busting encore of Sometimes and Laid, he only just looks like he’s getting warmed up.

“See you around,” he quips as he leads them off. It would be foolish not to hope that such an occasion is sooner rather than later.