100 Shows of 2010 - #71: James/Ed Harcourt @ 9:30 Club, 9/27/10

I've tried and tried and tried to come up with a suitably reverential opening for this review. But even as much as I can foam at the mouth about how wonderful certain bands are, I don't think I can adequately express to you just how amazing, how sensational, and how breathtaking the James and Ed Harcourt show was. On the one side, you have a beautiful, haunting voice (Ed Harcourt) full of ethereal moments and seductive loveliness. On the other side, well, you have much the same in the frontispiece for James, Tim Booth. It's in contention for my show of the year, and was nearly a religious experience. For real, y'all.

MINI RECAP: Ed Harcourt = Elegantly Hypnotic! James = Jaw-dropping! Overall Score: A

Somehow, shamefully, I'd never seen the divine Ed Harcourt before. I know, shame on me. I really should have my head examined. Onstage were three easy pieces, Ed, his keys and guitar, a drummer, and a lady bassist. The richness of the instrumentation was the perfect backdrop for Harcourt's vocals; those incredible, pitch-perfect, honey-coated vocals with equal parts languid enticement and thoughtful sentiment. The sound of this trio was sheer magic, hovering in the starry realms of twilight fantasies and secret, sweet rendezvous. I fell in love over and over again, thanks to lyrics like, "I wish that I was fiction/I wish that I was fact," and "Are you cursed or are you blessed?". Despite the fullness of the band's sound, the songs had a remarkably intimate quality, leading me to feel like the songs were sung only to me (what a delightful notion). To me, Ed was at his absolute best in songs like "The Trap Door", a slight huskiness in his voice giving him a very tender, very sexy appeal. The combination of Ed's guitar strumming and that voice was brutally gorgeous. It made me melt. For some reason, I feel like there's a hint of nostalgia to Ed, as though he is not quite of these times. Which, my friends, is a very good thing indeed. It was a beautiful, beautiful set.

And then, it was James. Despite being another formative British band in my youth, I never had the joy of seeing the band live. The band took the stage to a deafening roar, and the surprisingly loud crowd didn't seem to stop cheering all night. I really couldn't take good notes, so in awe was I. They pulled from all periods of their long, wonderful career. But what got me most of all was my favorite trio of James songs: "Getting Away With It", "Say Something", and "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)". I'm pretty sure I teared up at one point. It was just plain spectacular. The sheer glory of the band, the sheer magic of Tim Booth's voice, and the sheer nostalgia of it all. And I had no idea Booth was such a crazy dancer! He writhed and whirled all over the place, all arms and legs flailing artfully. I got chills from the word go, and they didn't leave me for the rest of the night. As the band bounded enthusiastically through megahit (and Britpop dance night fave) "Laid" and feathers rained down on the floor from the rafters onto a sea of blissful James lovers, I thought to myself, does it get any better than this? The answer, friends, is probably not.

We Yanks don't get many chances to see the old guard. So I do hope you'll take advantage, my loves, when bands like James and Ed Harcourt come to town. Drop what you're doing, cancel all other plans, and prepare for one hell of a night.

mp3: Say Something (James from Laid)


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