James Blake – Terminal 5 – November 6, 2013
As the stage lights began to blaze last night at Terminal 5, James Blake strolled out with a pair of bandmates. Fresh off winning the 2013 Mercury Prize for best album with Overgrown, he had a comfortable, confident air about him. The crowd fixated on the talented electronic-music producer and top-notch singer-songwriter as he and his band slid into a haunting rendition of “I Never Learnt to Share” and flashbulbs ignited the stage. “Life Round Here” followed with sirenlike sound effects and howling synths. “Hello, how you doing? Good to be back,” said Blake with a grin between songs. “We’re here for the same reason you are.” Mystery is the name of the game when it comes to his music: Sparse lyrics, distorted vocals and entrancing beats cast a veil of lulled intensity over cavernous Terminal 5 throughout Blake’s entire set.
“To the Last,” “CMYK” and “Overgrown” electrified the air with lush synths and resounding beats. Blake pulled back for a subdued, almost whispered version of “I Am Sold.” “Digital Lion,” a track Blake created with Brian Eno’s help, came next, filling the air with writhing drumbeats splashed with hallowed, melancholic vocals. The lullaby-esque “Our Love Comes Back” and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” followed—and then “Lindisfarne I” and “Lindisfarne II,” both off Blake’s self-titled debut album, featuring the sparse, distorted vocals of his upper range. Masterful live takes on “Limit to Your Love” and “I Mind,” which alternated steadily between subdued crooning and exuberant beat-making, got the audience gyrating. Next, Blake introduced live looping with a sultry version of “Retrograde,” filling the room with love-struck lyrics.
“The Wilhelm Scream” closed the set, and Blake and Co. took polite bows before exiting the stage. But the crowd was determined to hear an encore, and cheers swelled steadily until Blake returned alone to perform “Measurements.” Before recording the live loops that would build the foundation of the gospel-inspired song, he entreated everyone to be as quiet as possible. And slowly but surely, all of Terminal 5 hushed as the sound of Blake’s voice filled the newly silent void. The loops continued and his vocals faded into the darkness as he made another humble exit to uproarious cheers from the crowd. Blake certainly knows how to cast a spell over a live audience and make even the largest venue fit his melancholic music like a glove. —Schuyler Rooth
(James Blake plays Terminal 5 again tonight.)