Chances are if you’re reading this music website you probably pay some attention to music blogs and have heard of James Blake by now. The buzz surrounding this 22 year old Londoner has been growing continuously up until the release of his highly anticipated self titled debut in January, which exceeded many expectations. But unless you were one of the 550 people in attendance last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY, you probably haven’t seen him perform live. This would due to the fact that this concert marked Blake’s US debut; and well-received it was.
At the time this show was originally announced Blake was still riding this buzz from his four EP’s leading up to his debut. This didn’t seem to matter much as tickets sold out within a few days (even before playing his first US concert, tickets sold out for two other New York City shows announced as part of a larger tour within 5 minutes over the last weekend). Amid all this hype Blake still seems to play it cool, his first words to the American audience being “Oh, hi. Thanks for coming.”
And with his warm greeting, he broke into “Unluck,” the opening track from his new CD. The track slowly kicks off with Blake playing a synthesized progression until he is eventually joined by a gently tapping drummer and guitarist. This recorded track relies heavily on Blake’s digitally manipulated voice and it was nice to see these effects play out so well live.
Much to the crowds delight, Blake went into “The Wilhelm Scream” next. This track really showcases Blake’s abilities as a producer and the tremendous amount of precision and balance that are put into his songs. Typical to many of his songs, repetition of words and careful instrumental timing are relied upon in the construction of this song. As synth loops echoed throughout the room, Blake repeats the lyrics “falling, falling, falling” reinforcing the vulnerability felt in this song.
“I Never Learnt to Share” was another highlight of the night and completely overtook the room as the song came to a climax. Blake’s voice is a powerful instrument throughout the track as it blankets all of the different sonic layers that emerge as the song progresses. From the chaos of this track emerged the two part “Lindisfarne,” which relies heavily on silence as a counter to the vocoded lyrics. This silence eventually gives way to a gentle guitar strum and drum kick come in to reinforce the vocals.
By the end of the set most of James Blake’s debut CD had been brought to life. The encore consisted of a piano and vocal rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” which closed the evening. I was a little disappointed not to hear any of Blake’s EPs but the show was a definite indicator of things to come. Blake had complete control over the audience throughout the show and the sound was stellar in the Music Hall of Williamsburg. His abilities as a producer and DJ have been evident for some time, and it should be interesting to see how his young career and live show develop.
By Jesse Zryb