As I walked into Chicago’s Metro, I already had a couple of preconceived notions of what to expect from a James Blake live performance: the riveting bass levels would shake my rib cage to a point where it could be difficult to breathe, continuous high-energy output driven from the performers, and personal shock that James Blake stands at 6’5″. Surprisingly, only one of these assumptions lifted from the stage, and it’s unlikely for youngsters like Blake to shrink. Overgrown, Blake’s fantastic sophomore effort, has been tagged as laid back and stripped-down when placed next to his self-titled debut. After incorporating a number of new songs into his set, it’s evident this maturity has constructed an entirely different animal — one that may seem timid and gentle, at first, but will unleash its wrath when it’s least expected.
Blake decorated such a daring illustration by sewing each song together through growing crescendos. The calmer first half of the show was dedicated to the spotlight, leaving his tenor unaccompanied to reveal his soulful falsetto like he never has before. As he enveloped his emotions through the main hook of “To the Last”, he reached his vocal heights comfortably and held onto each sustained pitch with confident precision. This renewed demeanor also transitioned into highlights from his debut, like “Lindisfarne I & II”, making every phonetic twist full of raw emotion.
The post-dubstep locomotive gradually picked up speed as Blake and company unveiled impressive experimental renditions. Blake exemplified mastery of his setup by alternating through numerous cycles of synth effects and looping beautiful croons in multiple tracks, as opposed to the effect’s sole inclusion in “I Never Learnt to Share” on past tours. His childhood best friends, Rob McAndrews (guitar) and Assiter (drums), contributed adventurous instrumental textures that evolved Blake’s magnetism to grow into every molecule breathable. “Unluck”, one of the night’s ringing highlights, remixed Blake’s intimate synth steps with the short-breathed vocal shrieks featured on his single “Love What Happened Here”. EP-era highlight “Klavierwerke” served as the climax, providing a potion of pungent keyboard tracks followed by explorative bass lines, droning guitar waves, and precise drum flair.
The near imperfect “Retrograde” closed the set with a summation of the two well executed elements, beginning with Blake humming the track’s melody and progressing into the momentous chorus commencement of “suddenly, I’m hit!” Blake’s live output has matured into a balanced strength, one that isn’t too overbearing or under-utilized. The artist has forgone the confines of his bedside recording studio and revealed a contagious vitality affluent enough to impress thousands of eager listeners. Maybe millions.
Photography by Joseph Annoreno.
Air & Lack Thereof
I Never Learnt to Share
To the Last
Lindisfarne I & II
Our Love Comes Back
Limit to Your Love (Feist Cover)
The Wilhelm Scream
Case of You (Joni Mitchell Cover)