James and the Giant Peach

Live: London Shepherd's Bush Empire

James Oldham

NME, 4 Jan 1997


"... Richey's there of course with his red shirt, black eyes and dark hair. And to his left, there's James wearing shades and a customised shirt howling desperately into the microphone. Nicky and Sean are around somewhere too, bobbing up and down and smiling. They look so young in all that make-up, and you'd almost forgotten about how great they looked back then. When it all began, they surely couldn't have envisaged what was going to happen to them? They couldn't have guessed that in 1996 they'd be one of only three artists to enjoy four Top 10 hits - along with Boyzone and Celine Dion. They couldn't have predicted being lauded in every end-of-year poll, having made one of the albums of the year, having become bigger than they'd ever been.

So no wonder they want to celebrate. Even though they piled on more guitars, cultivated new muscles and crushed us with even greater bombast, they never forgot their audience's intelligence. They kept the slogans, quotations and manifestos which always separated them from their peers. And that's how they begin this show: huge words crawling across a giant screen, huge statements of angst and regret accompanied by the strings from 'A Design For Life'. That's why there are people jumping, shouting and punching the air, that's why there are people in danger of falling from the balconies because they're leaning so far forward in a bid to touch the stage, and that's why there are people more excited than they will be again for at least six months. And it all quickly begins to pile up, one anthem after another - opportunity after opportunity to bellow every single word into the air. The brutal riffs of 'Australia' become the shouted fury of 'Faster', which in turn transforms into the steely despondency of 'From Despair To Where' and then the trumpet-fuelled momentum of 'Kevin Carter'. Occasionally, of course, the rock has to stop, or at least abate for a moment. And so here's Kylie Minogue to help James deliver an older tale of pornographic abuse called 'Little Baby Nothing'. Dressed in jeans and with her hair pegged up into a curious mohican, she provides some momentary relief by looking like a startled mallard. Still, it doesn't last long, and then normal service can be resumed. Nicky Wire gleefully shouts, "This is for Sunderland stuffing Chelsea and making us all really happy," and they play a belligerent but poignant 'Theme From Mash (Suicide Is Painless)'.

But even then, they've still got a million singles for you to hear: a corrosive thrash through 'Motown Junk', a triumphant cruise through 'Motorcycle Emptiness' and the expletive-ridden 'Stay Beautiful'. Then, inevitably, it's time to remember. The crowd understand this, and immediately fall silent. Where only a minute earlier there had been revelry and celebration, now there is floor-watching faces and whispered conversations. James begins to sing Richey's words to 'Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky' ever so softly, his face is no longer contorted in rage, but contemplative. And the relief when the huge electric storm of 'Elvis Impersonator' tears from the amps is obvious - hair-tearing intensity has come back on the agenda. This is the homeward stretch. The epic, Spectorish noise of 'Everything Must Go' is massively expanded by sampled strings and complete jubilation. The words to 'A Design For Life', so firmly impressed on these teenage minds, are sung loudly and in unison - and then we're at the end, which is where you came in. Projections of the Manics as they used to be, a deafening punk-rock racket and perhaps the most appropriate words of all. The last song is 'You Love Us' - and there is no encore."