A hazed, empty stage lay before me as Samiyam made his exit. A calm fog crept over the platform, overflowing into the audience as the vapor muddled our sight. After only listening to James Blake for a relatively short while and never watching a live video, I didn’t quite know what to expect. As the name would suggest, James Blake, intuitively, implies James Blake on stage, with a beat machine, keyboard, and various other electronic devices. As the band walked on stage I was pleasantly surprised to see a drummer and a guitarist make their entrance along with the man behind the music.
Beginning the set with “Air & Lack Thereof” and immediately following with “I Never Learnt to Share,” the band established their foothold for the night– we all knew that this show was going to be incredible. Flickering lights in the background, resonating bass, complex electronic beats and James Blake’s lyricism came together elegantly. The bass in the last minute of “I Never Learnt to Share” not only engulfed me but rumbled the cartilage in my nose, fostering the sensation of complete submersion in the sound waves. I closed my eyes and just let my body vibrate, following the speedy peaks and troughs of the fluttering ripples of that deep A which reverberated and bounced off the walls of the 9:30 Club.
For such a mechanical and inorganic sound, aside from Blake’s vocals, the live show felt so real. Not a computer nor beat machine could be found onstage while the drummer was tapping away on his electronic drum kit and the guitarist was strumming along. Many of the songs that were performed were not identical to the recorded versions, some songs were extended while others were improvised, adding novelty and originality.
Half way through, just before performing “Digital Lion,” James Blake stood up and introduced his band members, reminiscing in the fact that they all went to school together. He expressed his true appreciation to his fans, thanking everyone for their unrivaled support and attention. It was true; throughout the duration of the show, whether it was an empty space during a song or silence between, you’d be able to hear a pin drop. James Blake even commented on the fact that he felt like he was playing a recital. He was truly grateful to have the fans that he does and it wasn’t just his stage presence that proved it– every single CD sold that night was signed.
As Blake sang the opening vocal crescendo of “Retrograde,” the audience rallied and hollered in promotion. As the hook was looped and used throughout most of the song, the crowd interaction was captured and the cheering crashed down like a wave over the shore flowing back and forth. In that moment, the connection between audience and performance was clear. The song was living, breathing, and interactive– completely unique containing the blips and variability of human association. A cyclical beauty was performed and lost with the close of the song.
As they made their leave, a roaring crowd summoned them back on stage within a few minutes, performing “The Wilhelm Scream” and “(Case of You).” After taking a subtle and nervous bow, the humbled James Blake ambled off stage with a content smirk on his face. As any 24-year old musician should be, he was thrilled to have just finished his performance at the sold out 9:30 club.