Live: James Blake @ Palais Theatre – 31/07/13

As James Blake walked onto the stage with several thousand punters sitting in the Palais theatre, I was struck by how unusual the scenario was. Never having seen a concert at the St Kilda venue, it felt extremely dramatic, as if we were about to witness something that was going to take our breath away—without the bothersome cameras and awkward ‘white guy’-dancing that is a constant feature at other settings.Blake, flanked by drummer Ben Assiter and touring guitarist Rob McAndrews — who has been particularly busy with side projects under the moniker Airhead —, entered the stage with the sort of dignity you would expect from the exceptionally talented 24-year-old. He welcomed the audience before welcoming in the zany, electro sounds of “Air And Lack Thereof”, one of Blake’s earliest works.As Blake warmed into the occasion, I was struggling to gauge the audience’s reaction to the set. There were cheers after each song, but the murmurings that usually interrupt the serenity of a spectacle seemed to be non-existent. Despite this, the spectacle was absolutely enthralling. The light show was brilliant and adapted to both Blake’s earlier, high-octane productions and his later, more subdued works including “To The Last” and “Overgrown”.It became increasingly apparent that there was little to no background noise, minus the rapturous applause from the audience, because everyone was absolutely transfixed by the show. Following “CMYK”, which left me bopping along for hours after the show, Blake slowed the pace to a memorable stand still with “I Am Sold”. The sincerity of Blake’s lyric — “And we lay, nocturnal/speculate what we feel” — was not lost upon the audience. It would have taken a stoic man or woman not to be moved by the number.Other highlights included both parts of “Lindisfarne” and the wonderful cover of Feist’s “The Limit To Your Love”. These two songs, both from Blake’s self-titled album, are two of the predominant reasons that Blake had such success with his first record, and after the focused delivery it was pretty easy to see why. During “The Limit To Your Love”, the line “Like a waterfall in slow motion” dripped with delicious melancholy, but the entire song was effortlessly disarming. The show never appeared to be too methodical, which emphasised both Blake’s excellent vocals and the more manufactured electronic manipulation of sounds that remains one of his trademarks.  Although “Retrograde” and “The Wilhelm Scream” both drew huge responses from the enthralled audience with some even muttering along with the lyrics, it was definitely Blake’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” that sealed the night.The three members of Blake’s band including the man himself were very in-sync with each other; however, it was the previously mentioned finale where Blake broke away from his band mates and illustrated why he is more than just an electronic flash in the pan. While he is clearly an incredibly talented producer, at the heart of it he is a brilliant soul singer in the mould of Mitchell, James Taylor and even Stevie Wonder.As noted earlier, I was initially confused by the atmosphere of the gig, but as the show wore on, it was clear that Blake is an artist who latches onto our vulnerabilities and forces us to consider them within the realm of some particularly well-produced musical compositions. Most of the audience members were rightfully William Balme

August 12th 2013
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