Many years ago (2013) I was living in a strange and distant place (Shanghai) and heard the news that James Blake, singer of a song that still gives me chills to this day (“Retrograde“) was going to be touring there. I snapped up some tickets as soon as they went on sale. Then, because the universe hates music, James Blake never appeared. I don’t remember why, exactly — I think he couldn’t get a visa. Probably in all of his angst-y songs the Chinese government found something subversion (hopefully) or maybe James, like, tried to free Tibet or something, or just general personal issues. I don’t know. All I remember is that I had to trek all the way to the Smart Shanghai office to get a refund and that January (the absolute worst part of the year in Shanghai) was even bleaker and colder than I could have ever imagined (I am dramatic).
Then Spring Festival came and all was right in the world (Spring Festival is awesome).
So he never happened in Shanghai or Beijing, but now I live in Austin and can seem whomever I want, which includes James Blake at the very comfortable (and too-expensive beer vendor) Moody Theater.
James Blake’s music is both subtle and sparse. There’s no bombast, but it’s extraordinarily detailed, delicate and mesmerizing. I suppose you could classify him as R&B, though I think experimental pop would be more appropriate. R&B, soul, pop, post-post-dubstep, any of those things. Either way, he sings regularly in his falsetto and he also moves so effortlessly from highs to lows, accompanied mainly by simple piano, electric guitar, percussion, and a myriad of electronic sounds. Every time his voice breaks you can hear this emotional depth and sadness in his compositions that are becoming rarer and rarer in pop music. Mixed with the excellent lighting, his entire show was minimalist and yet fully engaging. Like, the man is amazing. His songs are mostly forlorn expressions of love gone wrong, which is right up my alley. And it was interesting that on stage, Blake put himself off to the side, while his percussionist took center stage, and his guitarist off to the other side.
Album-wise, I think that his third and most recent full-length album, The Colour in Anything, is his best and strongest to date.
The 10/25/16 setlist (from setlist.fm)
Life Round Here
Limit to Your Love (Feist cover)
The Wilhelm Scream
I Need a Forest Fire
Modern Soul (with opener Moses Sumney)
This show was fantastic. I wish I had seen him in Shanghai, but am glad he’s back on tour for his newest album and I finally got the chance. Check out his current tour dates here. Obviously highly, highly, highly recommended, and, you know, it seemed like everyone else at the Moody that night was really into him too, so there you go.
James Blake performed at The Moody Theater on September 25th, 2016.