In theory James Blake isn’t doing anything truly novel or revolutionary in his tactical approach to making his music. Using effected & repetitive choruses, mixing in adroit keyboard skills, and using highly slowed down electronic beats are all musical maneuvers that James certainly didn’t come up with. Yet, through combining these aforementioned tactics with his own singular song writing feel, we sincerely are left with music that is the definition of original, something which has not been attempted before.
It wasn’t too long since James – who is the leader of three musicians that make up his live act – played Chicago, as his set back at Pitchfork Festival in June was one of the weekend’s best. But on this night at The Metro, possibly the city”s finest mid-sized venue, there was a feeling of atmospheric appropriateness for James’ music, being an intimate & indoor night-time event, that his summer festival show didn’t offer the audience. James is, after all, a seemingly very calm and reserved individual. So is the rest of the band. No matter the tempo or energy of their music, they always stay cool, calm and collected and in doing so create for a very relaxed and amiable crowd energy.James Blake – I Never Learnt To Share by kisstiger
It’s amazing how James can truly capture the senses through seemingly simple maneuvers. In “I Never Learnt To Share” James layered different takes of himself singing, “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me, but I don’t blame them”, each time slightly skewing each vocal layer with a subtle electronic effect. Slowly the momentum picks up and the layers increase, while what are at first periphery electronic sounds take the lead more and more before – poof! – a highly subdued but still forceful dubstep beat drops with a controlling force to it that the crowd pleasurably eats up. Oddly though the tempo hasn’t really changed, and the drums are provided by an actual drummer, but the song still manages to take on a completely electrifying robotic feel. But you know that’s not completely true, because you are watching the three mellow musicians who are making those robotic sounds, it’s something bordering on a music oxymoron, and there in lies some of the beauty of James Blake’s music and live show. It’s truly stirring.
But then there are songs like “CMYK”, in which we see the band play with very short electronic samples, quicker paced drumming, and the keyboards take a rare back seat and instead provide an emotional undertone to the song. It’s music that when on the album has a very “in the box” feel, but then when played live really induces a pleasant & intoxicating kind of confusion as your ears and eyes are experiencing sensations that usually don’t mix together (live, calm musicians creating excitable DJ-like music).
One of the highlights of this evening was “Limit To Your Love”, which was the first single off of James’ self-named first LP. So it wasn’t a surprise that the song would be played well, or that the crowd would respond well, what was astonishing was the manner in which they manipulated the track. Moving from gorgeous piano-vocal interaction, with a wobbling but discreet dubstep beat in the background, we soon found ourselves in an all out “dub breakdown” with thick reggae vibrations that slowly morphed into something akin to a tribal beat. He did not play this track in this manner the last time he was in Chicago so the enchanting change could only come off as a welcomed surprise to his ardent fans in the audience.
So besides creating and playing music that is unlike anything people have heard, James and his band have the ability to take the songs from the albums that you love and add twists, unexpected breakdowns, or even add new movements of sorts. None of the ingredients to this magic are novel, there is nothing about this music that prohibited it from occurring before – but it never did before Mr. Blake came along. Couple that with his, and his band’s, ability to truly placate the crowd with talented live musicianship – that is anything but static from performance to performance – and you have one of the most captivating live shows that currently exists.
He can’t come back to play Chicago soon enough.