London W1 Embassy Rooms

It's all a vaguely soothing acknowledgement that [a]James[/a] are still here, still the same and settling into middle-age...

It's better to fail than just be mundane, they say. But while certain pioneering souls - like Campag Velocet or Death In Vegas - are ready to reach for embarrassingly distant sonic heights and produce flawed masterpieces in the process, most Brit bands seem content to scuffle around the middle ground.

Take James - tonight playing a low-key secret set to a venue packed with true believers. In Tim Booth, at least, they have a frontman who can still make us believe we're watching a pop hero, as he wades into the adoring audience during 'Laid', or gradually peels clothes off his sweat-soaked body. He's shameful, silly and deluded, but ultimately endearing.

If only the music was equally frazzled. But James know what they're here for. "Hi, we're those strange vegetarian, Buddhist, Smiths, Simple Minds lookalikes," Tim drawls, post-ironically. But this safe hits set attests to the fact that they've come to terms with the label, that it's almost a comfort - they don't have to try too hard any more. Hence we get a smattering of new songs from current album 'Millionaires' which already sound like oldies, so basic is the James formula.

It's all a vaguely soothing acknowledgement that James are still here, still the same and settling into middle-age. They'll never be up there with their idols, but at least they've never humiliated themselves, right? Wouldn't want that, eh? Wouldn't want to be mad and special. That would take, you know, effort or something.

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