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In his first of two sold-out shows in the country, James Blake (UK) took to the stage at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne last night, exciting fans by only announcing the two-show tour a fortnight ago.
With latest single Retrograde exploding onto our airwaves and a highly anticipated album due for release in April 2013, both Melbourne and Sydney shows sold out in record time (it is reported that tickets to the Melbourne show sold out in 60 seconds) making it one of the hottest tickets of the year.
It’s Blake’s first visit back to Aus since touring for Splendour in the Grass in 2011, and needless to say, fans lapped up the rare opportunity to witness the unique and intricate richness of his live show in such an intimate setting.
Blake opened the show with Air And Lack Thereof, a seriously odd song with a seemingly scattered scurry of drums, solid dubstep and spooky vocal hooks: a pretty intense introduction if you’re new to the James Blake vision.
During his second song I Never Learnt To Share, the room was so silent you could hear the fans whizzing in the background. Blake had the crowd mesmerised and everyone hung on to the last lingering echo of his incredibly haunting, soul-drenched vocals that felt like they were creeping their way into the depths of your core.
Blake delivered a mixture of old and new material that took fans on a journey of unforeseeable eclectic intensity. We were expectant of perfection when anticipating Blake’s new music and we were treated to just a taste of what is some beautifully crafted, less abstract and soulful melodies.
Blake blew the roof off with Digital Lion, and when he was not happy with the layering of the vocal loops that he was creating on the spot, he stopped, threw his hands up in the air and pronounced ‘you know what, fuck it, I’m sorry. That’s the first time that’s happened and it’s the first time I’ve played this tune’, which was just brilliant because there was no preconceived notion of what to expect or how it was supposed to sound. Not that you can generally expect or not expect anything from James Blake, except his ability to drop an incredibly solid amount of bass of course.
Blake worked tirelessly throughout the show. He was constantly recording and re-sampling snippets of vocals and piano lines, editing and re-shaping throughout each song to create and manipulate either a solid background sound or a faint and sometimes spooky echo that vaguely resembled its original tone. Blake delivered many crowd favourites, and in a handful of songs I was thrown from floating through Lindisfarne to bouncing to CMYK like R Kelly in a hip hop club.
Limit To Your Love was exquisitely effortless and beautiful, as was of course his iconic cover of Joni Mitchell’s Case Of You, which Blake decided to ‘finish the show with’. I say this with inverted commas as he still hadn’t sung Retrograde. Now this was what really gets my goat. I’m sorry James, but there was no need for that encore.
We all knew that you were not going to leave without singing the biggest song of your career so far, so what was the point of walking off stage pretending you were not coming back, when we all knew that you were. The encore is extremely misused and often misunderstood, and in this case there was just no need for it.
Blake did finish the show with a one-song encore, which was of course ‘Retrograde’, and well worth the wait.
In the words of one of my best friends, ‘that awkward moment when the best R&B song of 2013 is sung by a skinny white guy’, proving beyond doubt that Blake is continuously pushing and, better yet, breaking down boundaries of genre-restricted music. I can’t wait to watch the next passage of his career erupt, and I’m tipping that after the reception that his new music received last night, Overgrown will give Album of the Year a serious run for its money.