A Night of Unburdened Music

July 14th, 2011

James Blake – Webster Hall – July 13, 2011

Concentrated expressions flickered in and out of visibility. Eyes fixed on a stage bathed in often-clever lighting. Never mind the forced intimacy, strangers pressed shoulder to shoulder. Only pauses broke the imaginative spell, whereby the sound of a laboring wall fan cut through vital silence. The space intended for rest, balance to bass-heavy vibrations, felt as musical as any melody, and the man who crafted these moments showed increasing confidence in his instincts. Even when the house lights periodically darkened, his presence lingered, voice echoing with processed intonation.

James Blake, one part songwriter, one part sound sculpture, shows restraint, the ability to produce unburdened music. This sets him apart. But what connects him to tradition is his voice, painstakingly beautiful and subtly emotive. Voices such as Blake’s draw adoration the same way athletes do. Others want to experience one using his talents extraordinarily well. And on Wednesday night at Webster Hall, Blake, joined by Rob McAndrews (also known as UK producer Airhead) on guitar and sampler and Ben Assiter on drums, justified his capacity crowd.

Drawing from his debut album, James Blake, and previous EPs, Blake presented the best of his material. When the enigmatic lyrics “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me/ But I don’t blame them,” sounded, fans, recognizing it to be “Never Learnt to Share,” gave appreciative applause. Similarly well received were other James Blake highlights, “To Care (Like You)” and the Feist cover “Limit to Your Love.” But perhaps the best moments came when Blake and company fleshed out “CMYK,” an earlier dance track converted into an expansive live version. Four months ago, Blake didn’t have the practice or inclination to include such a song in his set. Now, he couldn’t possibly exclude it. —Jared Levy