James at the Fine Line, 9/27/08

Let me start out by saying that I have had some bad experiences at the Fine Line, and I do not take the decision to go there lightly. The last time we were there, we saw Soul Asylum. The place was absolutely packed, and nobody was paying attention to the band, and my husband had to ask a guy to unhand me at one point. We left early and in a foul mood. The only club lower on our list is the 400 Bar, which not only attracts the loud talkers, but has horrendous sight lines as well. But, because we hadn’t seen James since their tour promoting “Laid” in 1994, we psyched ourselves up to brave the chatty crowds at the Fine Line.

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who feel the need to carry on conversations while a band is playing. If it’s so important to catch up, why not head to a restaurant, or if you still want musical ambience, move closer to the bar area. We’ve become more bold in recent years by telling people to politely shut it, to varying degrees of success. You have to evaluate the situation. If it’s out of control, as it was at the Soul Asylum show, you just throw up your hands, reinforce your earplugs, be grateful the band is loud, and deal with it the best you can. But if it’s one group of offenders, you can try giving them the stink-eye (best for theater shows) or politely asking them to keep it down because you’re trying to hear the music. Sometimes it works (R.E.M. at Midway Stadium), and sometimes it doesn’t (Liz Phair at First Avenue, and I will never see her and her obnoxious giggly sorority girl “tee hee, she said ‘fuck'” fans again).

However, we were pleasantly surprised by the James crowd. They were one of the most polite crowds I’d ever experienced. People were really into the music (in a way, it helped that the fans were older and weren’t drawn out by a hit single). Despite being in the back of the club, we still felt like part of the show. And, for the most part, people were hyper-aware of the others around them. They said “excuse me” when they needed to pass, and they were careful when they moved so they didn’t block other people’s views. It gave me hope for humanity.

My husband and I had listened to “Hey Ma,” the new James album, and enjoyed it greatly, but were wondering how Tim Booth’s voice would hold up live. He did not disappoint. His voice was as strong as ever, and during the encore, he held one of the longest notes I’ve ever heard. And James is definitely a band that needs to be seen, with Booth’s enigmatic dance breakdowns during each fast song. The effect was amplified by the occasional strobe light. The lights were fairly elaborate for a club show– there was a backdrop like a large fishnet of beaded lights across the stage.

The band played a mix of old and new material, and it was great to hear both. Again, it was nice to be in a crowd that didn’t have an attention deficit when the band played new songs. Before the show, the title track to “Hey Ma” had been my favorite, but I left appreciating “Upside Down” even more.

My favorite memory of the show was during the encore at the end of “Sometimes,” when the crowd sang the chorus over and over again to Tim on stage, and he stood basking in the glow of the music coming back at him. He looked like he was really enjoying the moment.

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