James Blake - The Music Box - 9-18-11
James Blake and Teengirl Fantasy
The Music Box
September 18, 2011
Better than... an Emmys after party
Those who caught James Blake's recent L.A. shows -- at the Troubadour and Hollywood Forever Cemetery, respectively -- know this Englander is best caught live. Still, there was little to prepare us uninitiated folk for the crushing onslaught of reverb, bass, and vocal beauty that went down at The Music Box Sunday night.
Better still, those in attendance were ready to get loose, and more than happy to keep quiet when Blake went the solo route, making for a night's worth of pulsating dance grooves and awe-inspiring sonic trickery.
Opening up the night, Ohio's Teengirl Fantasy proved the perfect warm-up act for Blake. The duo's potent mix of live samples, punching beats, and intricate knob twiddling successfully kept the early arrivals swaying. Though they lacked the vocal leaps that Blake has become known for, the pair managed to occupy the same sonic space as the headliner, creating a woozy and party-ready soundtrack that moved from languidly sexy ("Dancing in Slow Motion") to dizzyingly thumping ("Cheaters") without missing a beat.
Taking the stage to a swelling crowd just after 10pm, Blake quickly asserted his presence. With his two-piece backing band firmly in place, the adorable and fresh-faced Brit unleashed a floor-shaking amount of bass on the crowd, allowing his reverb-soaked warbles to flutter dreamily above drummer Ben Assiter's snaps and crackles.
In solo mode on "Give Me My Month" Blake's voice dipped and rose to haunting effect. More impressively, though, was that he managed to bring the room to pin-drop silence, a feat which he repeated throughout Sunday's hour-and-a-half-long set with both "Limit to Your Love" and "To Care (Like You)."
Appearing cheerful, humbled, and talkative enough, Blake made sure to make note of the night's new (or at least new to the live set) selections. Among the lot, "CMYK" served as the evening's most assaulting, building from a buoyant guitar line to an epic swell of bass, breakneck percussion, and reverb-laden vocal loops and leaps. Elsewhere, "Enough Thunder" (off the soon-to-be-released EP of the same name) gave Blake room to stretch his piano chops, and found the singer at his most crushingly soulful, seeming to reach both high and low notes in the same breath.
Come encore time, it was the newly-penned "Once We All Agree" that found Blake's somber cries awash in a sea of delay and echo.
Since exploding onto the international scene earlier this year, much to-do has been made of Blake's merits as a vocalist, a producer, and an ambassador to the stateside explosion of dubstep. But no matter. With the ability to move so fluidly between heartbreaking piano crooner and electro party starter, Blake is carving out a niche all his own, and showing more promise with each tour stop he makes.
Personal bias: I have a weakness for baby-faced Brits. (Young Daniel Radcliffe, I'm looking at you.)
The crowd: Swaying, swooning twentysomethings, a handful of whom were also sobbing.
Random notebook dump: While the fabled Bon Iver duet never happened, Twitter had it that Mr. Justin Vernon was in the house.
Set list below.