Live Review: James & Happy Mondays @ AO Manchester Arena.
Despite both bands undeniably legendary status, especially within Manchester, it still came as a surprise to me that James and Happy Mondays could still play in arenas. It then came as even more of a shock when the show sold out in the way that it did, of course there is a love for these bands in this city that isn’t replicated anywhere else but it is still admirable to organise a show so emphatically. Happy Mondays were on first, at around 7:30, but unfortunately the majority of time they spent on stage I spent in a car, frantically looking for anywhere to park travelling at about 2mph in gridlock. Because I don’t much feel like giving a review of the traffic around the AO Arena more than saying fuck those roads and their one-way-red-light-bull-shit, I feel it’s probably most suitable to just jump straight into the gig itself, or at least all that I managed to catch.
I still managed to catch the end of what seemed to be a pretty on par Happy Mondays set, watching them blast out their classics, Step On and W.F.L, naturally both big crowd pleasers and songs that deserve their place at the end of the legendary Madchester bands set. Shaun Ryder and Rowetta both were putting in vocal performances that were, in all fairness, though not ground breaking by no means disappointing. The rest of the band were running like a well-oiled machine, as to be expected after so long in the game, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if their setlist has remained largely unchanged for nearly a decade. Lastly, of course, Bez was on top form… or at least Bez’s own personal version of top form anyway. Overall, The Mondays did what they were there to do, warm up a crowd that were really there to see James.
Moving on to the headliners, a mammoth set of over two hours of non-stop crowd-pleasing classics is what the thousands of devoted fans got. The most amazing thing about their set was just how many of the highlight of the show were off of the band’s latest album, no mean feat for a band that has been making music since the early 1980’s. It didn’t just seem like the band were giving more to their newest tracks, the crowd were loving it as well, with All The Colours Of You, ZERO and Beautiful Beaches really sticking out in a set packed with anthemic classics. Admittedly, despite James’ variety within their discography much of the set felt like it could’ve been trimmed down, with some songs performing incredibly similar roles to others and the band needing a cameo from Bez (who by the time of his appearance was very clearly a bit too gassed from his own set to put on any sort of sustained performance, if you can call what he does performing anyway) about a quarter of the way through the set to liven things up a bit.
Of course, closing the set with the songs, Sit Down, Laid and Sometimes is always going to please the crowd, especially when the rendition of Sit Down was preceded by a touching story of how Tim Booth had sung it to his Father-in-Law over face time before he passed away during COVID last year. An acapella version of the first verse and chorus was echoed around the arena and reinvented a song that every person standing around me had heard hundreds of times. Ultimately, the night was a good one for what it was. Would I rush to pay ticket price (£45ish), no probably not, the sets seemed a bit too bloated and it’s hard to get away from the fact that these are very obviously two bands past their peak. That being said I have no regrets about going and the show that both acts managed to put on was admirable.