Live Reviews

LIVE REVIEW: James and Happy Mondays, AO Arena, Manchester 03/12/2021

From the moment James and Happy Mondays announced a joint arena tour, with Manchester Arena being one of those dates – it just felt like one of those gigs you had to get tickets for. Two of Manchester’s finest exports taking on Manchester Arena with a crowd of over 15,000 expected; it had all the ingredients of an iconic night.

Despite an insane amount of traffic and waiting times getting into the arena due to the rigorous searches taking place, we arrived just in time to see Happy Mondays come out to a roaring crowd to play fan-favourite Kinky Afro. Although based off his appearance, the lifestyle he led during the ’80s and ’90s has evidently caught up with Shaun Ryder, his voice has miraculously held up very well. The band sounded tight, and the crowd were lapping up every track.

As with the nature of the two bands having an older demographic as a fanbase, this was reflected in the crowd, although people were seemingly enjoying themselves, there was very little dancing to be seen despite the nature of Happy Monday’s music. However, that may be expected, but it’s one of those things you’ll only really know when you get to that age.

As the set went on and Bez’s maracas continued to shake, the band’s greatest hits were continuing to hold up well in the arena environment with the fantastic dance anthem Step On being the clear highlight, although a bit more effort with the lighting and production would not have gone a miss. At the ninth song of the set, Ryder announced Wrote for Luck would be the final song of their set, which was slightly disappointing as you would imagine that most people were there as much for Happy Mondays as they were for James. Although the energy levels were not particularly high and the setlist wasn’t particularly long, it was by no means a bad performance. 6.5/10

After an interval which may have included one or two £6.50 pints of bang average beer (yes, you read that correctly), James took to the stage. The arena was a lot fuller, however that is likely down to the extensive searching and obscene traffic rather than by choice, one would assume. From the very first song it became evident of just how great a singer 61-year-old Tim Booth is, his voice has aged like fine wine. His vocals in ZERO and Isabella, two tracks from his brilliant latest effort open the set and get the band’s performance off to a strong start.

Towards the start of the set, the band also played the self-titled lead single from their latest record – All The Colours Of You, in what from a production standpoint, was the highlight of the set. As the song grooved from its huge chorus to playful lyrics, the bridge section when the stage went dark and all that could be heard were Booth’s vocals, and all that could be seen were a few vibrant lights was truly mesmerising.

Sadly, from a live production standpoint, the rest of the setlist’s visuals and lighting were distinctly average, and seriously lacked creativity, and for a two-hour performance where a lot of the songs were not really known by the majority of the crowd, people did begin to get a bit bored. Of course, James hardcore fans who have listen to every single one of their 16 albums and were wanting a piece from every single one will be happy, but for the majority who were perhaps more casual, there were a lot of 15/20 minute periods in the set where the aching in your legs from standing up for so long was starting to become felt, with little to no adrenaline going through your veins.

Occasionally, James would play a song you know, it took about seven songs into the set before Booth brought out Bez to join him in fan favourite Come Home, which certainly got the crowd going. Yet again, after this high, an eleven-song period passed with no real reactions from the crowd as the songs were all more obscure tracks from their catalogue. It certainly felt like a long time, although it is worth noting that the band’s performance was solid throughout, Booth’s iconic dancing like a man who had been machine gunned in a film was at its best during the psychedelic Honest Joe, whilst his frantic delivery during Wherever It Takes Us certainly caught your attention.

Following that track was arguably one of the two tracks everyone had been waiting for. Sit Down is the ultimate sing-along anthem, no matter what age you are. Booth dedicated the track to his late stepfather as he told a heart-breaking story about whilst his stepfather was on his death bed, he asked him to sing the track to him one last time. Booth said it had brought a whole new meaning to the track he had been singing for over 30 years, and of course, the crowd reacted by singing the chorus in its entirety before the band had even begun to play the song. It was a wonderful moment, which led into the best track of the gig.

As the band subsequentially had a break then came back on for an encore, it was disappointing to see them lose the momentum gained from the Sit Down by playing a lesser-known track from the new album in the form of Beautiful Beaches. Although, this was just a small blip as our tired legs were soon no longer felt as the classics hit us. Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) and Laid were played to a crowd who had been waiting to sing these lyrics throughout the set’s entirety.

James live may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they definitely do have their moments, sadly, these moments require rather a lot of patience.


Written by: Joe Loughran