James Blows Away Headliner Psychedelic Furs at The Observatory

Alan Krueger in his excellent book “Rockonomics” goes to great lengths to emphasize the role that luck plays in the musician’s road to success. Had Richards not noticed Jagger with a clutch of American RnB albums on a train platform, had Elton/Reginald not been handed an unopened envelope of Bernie lyrics and the list goes on, success would not have followed.

I was completely gobsmacked yet again by James in concert.

I wonder what luck has prevented James from repeatedly ascending to the top of the charts and headlining larger venues.

The Psychedelic Furs at The Observatory, August 6, 2019. (Photo by @jegavision)

Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs; he could be the love child of Hugh Grant and David Bowie. (Photo by @jegavision)

James has been on the undercard with The Psychedelic Furs on this tour, but far outshone the headliner at The Observatory in San Diego, the tour’s penultimate gig. Tim Booth is rivalled only by Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil when it comes to bald lead singers with white man’s dancing disease. But that is a minor trifle, compared to Booth’s command of the stage and the credibly talented band behind him. More than once Booth indicated that each night the set list was fluid and the band would choose one song over another on the fly. Impressively, I confirmed that was the case when I was given a copy of the set list.

“Laid” was met with a roar, and Booth commented that those otherwise unfamiliar with the band recognized the radio-friendly hit from 1993. The band then shot into “Come Home,” another sparkling song from their deep catalog.

With a range of instruments including cello and violin, often supplemented by a shimmering trumpet, the band’s sound was diverse and compelling.

Booth’s vocal prowess has not diminished from the first time I saw the band (Woodstock 1994, the clear highlight of the weekend). His swooping vocal acrobatics still sail above the band’s crisp and insistent arrangements, which also marks my recollection of seeing them at a small venue in Los Angeles in 2008.

Tim Booth gyrates through the audience causing a frenzy, making a crisp photo an impossibility.

This is a band that needs to be seen far more than once a decade. The eight member band at The Observatory was well oiled and provided much room to move within each song structure. Speaking of moving, Booth several times balanced precariously on the chest high fence separating the stage from the standing room only crowd, supported by a punter. Toward the end of the band’s all-too-short set Booth rather than returning to the stage jumped into the crowd and wove his way back past the soundboard, where I was one of the many old white men embarrassing our dates with our less than stellar but exuberant dance moves.

This will probably be the concert of the year for me, especially if the Van Morrison show in October is sadly subpar.

Simply put, a James concert is not to be missed.

James at The Observatory (courtesy of Garcia Borgo Photography)

Tim Booth (courtesy of Garcia Borgo Photography)

Tim Booth held up by a punter (courtesy of Garcia Borgo Photography)

Click here for 80 seconds of crowd frenzy and the author (in his white T-shirt) getting caught up in Tim Booth’s waltz through the crowd at the end of James’ set at The Observatory.




Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.