James Blake at First Avenue, 5/1/13
Blake then took a moment to appreciatively introduce his band, claiming "If it wasn't for these guys, I probably would have packed this all up and gone home by now." Their powerful cover of Feist's "Limit To Your Love" quickly followed, with the rumbling bass and invigorating keyboard strains ringing pristinely throughout the club, alighting the later end of the set.
The choppy, textured beats of "Klavierwerke" continued the experimental symphonic excursions that Blake seems to be working through with his current live shows, brazenly managing to make something spare and subtle sound grandiose. Again, Blake has moved beyond mere pop music -- there is something far more deep and meaningful going on within his songs. And even if the delicately restrained numbers prove challenging and may even test your patience at times, the process becomes that much more rewarding when the songs gradually take flight and eventually sweep you away.
The main set closed with a stunning trio of songs from Overgrown, beginning with a gospel-like reworking of the title track, which was simply devastating and heartbreaking. Blake then alluded to the new direction he's planning on taking his sound, claiming that he's going to start releasing "dance music" in the future. He gave us a taste of what to expect with a funky, churning version of "Voyeur," which indeed had the dynamic electronic pulse of an after-hour London nightclub, and got those who had enough room to dance within the packed club moving a bit.
After another warm word of thanks to the crowd for their continued support, the main set ended with Blake's towering new single, "Retrograde," with the roars of the crowd again being worked into the sonic fabric of the song. While the mix for the track could have been turned up even louder, the striking song still managed to soar, with the booming bass washing elegantly over the crowd, who saw Blake and the band off with a well-earned ovation that didn't let up until they returned for the encore.
"It was truly a pleasure to be back here," Blake said affectionately as he settled back in behind his keyboard at the start of the encore. James then eased his way into a majestic, impassioned version of "The Wilhelm Scream" that, even with all of the stunning highlights from earlier in the set, still managed to steal the show. And, as if things couldn't get any more poignant and emotional, the band left Blake alone for a solo take on Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You," with just James' dulcet vocals and his delicate keyboard strains managing to silence and stun the full house. With a wave and a quick bow, Blake was off, leaving us all lingering for as long as we could in this blissful sonic world he crafted for us.
Personal Bias: I've been under James Blake's intoxicating spell since the moment that I heard "CMYK."
The Crowd: A diverse mix of stoners, hip-hop fans, indie kids and scene veterans--proving the across the board appeal that Blake's music has.
Overheard In The Crowd: "It's like reefer madness in here!"
Random Notebook Dump: I'm still kicking myself for missing Blake's celebrated Entry show back in May of 2011, but I had my gall bladder removed the day prior to the show. I wisely skipped the gig in order to recover, as all that bass would have done some serious damage to my internal organs.
Air & Lack Thereof
I Never Learnt To Share
To The Last
Our Love Comes Back
Limit To Your Love (Feist)
The Wilhelm Scream (Encore)
A Case Of You (Joni Mitchell) (Encore)