Jim James – Webster Hall – April 29, 2013
Jim James is a human sunset: the multihued snapshot-worthy phenomenon bridging day and night. So it made perfect sense that the stage backdrop for his way-sold-out Webster Hall show last night was an array of LEDs spoked like the rays of the sun as it passes over the horizon—and it even displayed the colors to match. Opening with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” the lead track off his new Regions of Light and Sound of God album, James appropriately sang, “You need the dark as much as the sun” as his backing band laid down a vicious nighttime groove.
The rest of the show was essentially a live version of the album, a set that felt broken into a few smaller parts. The opening number coupled with the heavy keys-and-bass “Know Til Now” represented James’s “Don’t worry, Webster Hall, I brought my own disco” portion of the night, the audience matching the energy from the stage as best they could. Next was a quieter, more acoustic section, marked by the beautiful instrumental “Exploding” followed by the pretty-melody section highlighted by “Of the Mother Again,” the lights flipping between sky blue and cloud white while a very funky extended Rhodes vamp churned the crowd. The set closed with a dark last-purple-throes-of-daylight pairing, headed by “All Is Forgiven,” with a constant swell of bass guitar and a marked rise in intensity that was stretched out into wonderful, mysterious-shroud territory.
Throughout, James’s presence was the focus. His activity was like an ’80s movie montage of motion, touching the extended fingers of those in the front row with his own, like E.T. with a cosmic cure-all, dancing away like an extra in Footloose with uninhibited glee and even doing some sort of mutation of Daniel LaRusso’s crane technique. Still, when it came down to it, his band carried the show. Whether it was an early set drum solo, full-groove keyboard playing, heavy guitar distortion or the constant funky bass, members of the audience were constantly craning their necks to see who was playing what and from where which sound was coming. As they followed James through a five-song, B-sides and rarities kind of encore that included “His Master’s Voice” and “The Right Place” off the Monsters of Folk album, it seemed this band needed their own name, an identity of their own. I think Jim James and the Sunsets has a nice ring to it. —A. Stein