James Blake @ Terminal 5, NYC - Concert Review - OurVinyl
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James Blake @ Terminal 5, NYC

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It feels like just yesterday that James Blake was an artist on the verge of breaking out. His self-titled debut album was released in early 2011 and garnered him a lot of attention and critical praise. Relentless touring and continuous release of new material helped Blake maintain his momentum leading to the release of his follow up album, Overgrown,JB_08 in early 2013. In Overgrown, Blake’s sound continued to evolve and expand, and with it his comfort and prowess in the studio grew as well. Just recently, this album was awarded the prestigious Mercury Prize which is awarded to the best album from the United Kingdom. At just 25 years young, James Blake has had quite the career so far, and those present at his live concert can attest to the fact that this is simply the beginning of it.

Wednesday night, James Blake played his first of two packed concerts at New York City’s Terminal 5. Blake is certainly no stranger to New York as he has made several trips across the pond, including his first ever U.S. gig shortly after the release of his debut album. He has since moved on from the smaller sized venues such as Music Hall of Williamsburg and Bowery Ballroom to the “cavernous hole,” as James described it that is Terminal 5. While his concerts may not be in the intimate settings that they were a few years ago, Blake’s ability to connect with the audience has more than made up for it. The 3,000 or so people in attendance were all transfixed on every sound that came from Blake.

Every time James Blake has graced a New York City stage, he has appeared more and more comfortable. He even made reference to the familiar faces he has seen from his previous shows in the area.  With just two other musicians joining him and a minimal set design, the large stage seemed somewhat empty, but the sound that emanated easily filled Terminal 5. The set started off with “I Never Learnt to Share” off of Blake’s self-titled debut. Starting very quietly with the refrain “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me, but I don’t blame them”,  the synthesizer continues to build up as a kick drum provides rhythm in sync with the pulsing lights. By the time this song reaches its crescendo, everybody in the room was engulfed in light, a stark contrast to the dim ambiance during the first few notes.

“Life Round Here” was the second track that Blake and company would play. With the sound of the synthesizer swirling around the crowd, it was very clear how much Blake has elevated his live show. When at one of his concerts, the music has a way of engulfing the audience. During the quieter moments, such as “Our Love Comes Back” and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and  Blake has complete control of the crowd as they watch on in silence. Meanwhile, some of the more exploratory songs, such as “Digital Lion,” “Voyeur,” and “CMYK” would turn the atmosphere into a frenzied dance party.

When crowd favorite “Limit to Your Love” was played, both of the aforementioned attributes were evident in the same song. This Feist cover, which was Blake’s breakout hit off of his debut album, greatly captures his musical range. His falsetto voice is at full force on this track, while at the same time a loop of the same vocals with digital effects can be heard under it. The song starts off as a gentle piano ballad, but builds in time you hear a booming bass reverberating and drawing you in even further.

JB_01“Retrograde” was another highlight of the evening. This track too begins slowly, with Blake providing a gentle hum for the first minute or so that continues to loop as the lyrics come in. Once the phrase “Suddenly I’m Hit” is sung in the second verse, a buzzing synthesizer note is played which persists for the entire verse until the humming once again overtakes it. A lot of the power in his music is derived from the simplicity. Many of his songs feature sparse lyrics and rely on looping certain phrases, but this use of repetition accompanied by basic rhythms help reinforce the songs and make them resonate within the heads of the listeners.

“The Wilhelm Scream” was another highlight of the evening and was used to close out the 90 minute set. When Blake and his two band members left the stage, the crowd was louder than they had been all evening, screaming for more. Fortunately, James Blake obliged and came out alone for the gospel-tinged “Measurements.” Everybody in the audience quickly became quiet once more as Blake continued to loop his vocals and create a choir composed of his own voice accompanied by nothing more than keyboard.

“The Wilhelm Scream” was another highlight of the evening and was used to close out the 90 minute set. When Blake and his two band members left the stage, the crowd was louder than they had been all evening, screaming for more. Fortunately, James Blake obliged and came out alone for the gospel-tinged “Measurements.” Everybody in the audience quickly became quiet once more as Blake continued to loop his vocals and create a choir composed of his own voice accompanied by nothing more than keyboard.

What James Blake has done since arriving in the music scene is nothing short of impressive. While the “cavernous hole” that is Terminal 5 may appear as a daunting space, the 25 year old Londoner, has had no trouble filling it. As his sound continues to grow, perhaps some of the venues he performs at will as well, but for now we can not doubt Blake’s comfort on this stage. He will be performing throughout North America for the remainder of November before embarking on a string of tour dates in Asia in 2014. Be sure to catch him when he plays nearby next. Below are some more images from Terminal 5 to get you excited. . .

Words and Photos from Jesse Zryb

OurVinyl | Senior Writer & Photographer