Someone get the chairs! Veteran rockers James are trying to play a whole gig standing up. Dave Simpson feels for them.
Once upon a time, when James performed their most famous song, Sit Down, whole audiences would do just that. Nowadays it's tempting to suggest the band take their own advice, lest their creaking joints make the decision for them and they crumple in a heap. Implausibly, this is the Manchester survivors' 17th year, celebrated by a Best Of album (number one today) and a marketing campaign that proclaims the band's songs have "soundtracked our lives".
This is probably a salesman's way of saying that James have always been there, or more usually thereabouts. Never truly enormous (although they were megastars in both 1985 and 1990), they have survived largely because their stirring folky rock has taken in (and occasionally inspired) every trend from indie minimalism to baggy beats but has always remembered the tune.
While vampires attain immortality by feeding on the blood of virgins, the James beat has had a legendary appetite for drummers, trumpet players, guitarists and, more recently, even founding strummer Larry Gott. Original members Tim Booth and Jim Glennie remain, the latter because he provided the band with their moniker, and presumably if he left they'd be forced to rename themselves Timothy.
Inside Manchester Apollo on a second sold-out night, hordes of ageing indie kids chanted for their heroes. Sadly, City were away at Wolves. "Boothy" isn't some hairy centre-forward, although the spindly James frontman has endured his own career of slipped discks, twisted vertebrea, instability, worrying cardigans and ghastly follicular injuries. But with the whirling Booth in fine shamanic form, the gig soon became an Event. Beer flew, chants arose, and it felt like soccer used to be, before seats and Kenny Dalglish conspired to ruin the fun.
Oddly for an idiosyncratic and often intellectual group, James have always had a footy following. Suddenly, the explanation was here at full volume - it's those massive, crowd-surging anthems that usually arrive at their gigs every few songs but tonight came thick and fast to promote The Best Of.
James's great moments - Come Home, Say Something, Sound - boast an unfathomable spirit. It's a bit like gazing over the English countryside after five pints of Guinness. But, as anyone who's seen Manchester's slagheaps will tell you, the view can be disturbing. Booth made sure Born of Frustration's lyrics hit home. "I don't need a shrink, but an exorcist," he howled. Suddenly his demented marionette dancing took on new meaning - this was the demons being driven out.
But the most startling moments were comedic. First, during Sound, whirling spotlight's were held aloft by two burly blokes in balaclavas... perhaps they were trying to spring Deirdre Rachid but had arrived at the wrong venue. Then, as the septet prepared to launch into their expected encore of Sit Down, the audience got there first and sang it themselves. It was an incredible moment, and Booth could only stare dumbfounded at the crowd.
There was only one decent response, and he knew it. He sat down.