Gig Review: James Blake @ The Prince Bandroom, 26th July

James Blake’s live show comes with near-impossible expectations. He doesn’t play the type of music that is easy to transfer onto a live setting, and moreover he doesn’t play the type of music to which a crowd can give him any real immediate feedback, apart from nodding along slowly and clapping in between tracks. Indeed last night at the Prince Bandroom, I wasn’t quite sure whether the crowd as a whole had loved or hated his set until I heard snippets of conversation from people leaving including phrases such as “out of this world” and “most incredible show ever”.

More than anything my uncertainty as to the overall feelings towards the show were probably indicative of the fact that the crowd, for the better part of the night, had simply been in a trance, held captive by three men (but one in particular), unable to move or think properly without breaking the spell that James Blake had cast on an entire sold out Prince Bandroom crowd.

First up however was UK artist Marques Toliver, who was tasked with the difficult job of opening for James Blake. He did an admirable job though, with a minimalist stage setup featuring only the man himself and an assortment of instruments including a xylophone and a violin.

Opening with a string of covers that included a version of Single Ladies, Marques soon had the crowd packing around the stage. He had a huge stage presence which was diminished slightly when he chose to sit down for the first half of his set, but the moment he stood up to play his own track Deep In My Heart he owned the Prince Bandroom. It was a wonderful song, and he has a simply stunning voice which could both soar and be surprisingly restrained when the song called for it.

He finished his set with a ballsy move from an opening act, jumping into the middle of the crowd as a circle formed around him and playing one of his song, White Sails, completely unplugged with just his voice and violin. It was a sublime, magical moment, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was one of my favourite support act songs ever. The crowd fell reverently silent as he played, his voice somehow even more beautiful without a microphone, and his violin sounding oddly distant and surreal without any amplification. It was a song worth the ticket price alone.

Marques Toliver finished his set to huge applause from the crowd, proving that the unplugged track was a masterstroke. I adored his set, due partly to his beautiful music and partly to his natural charisma on stage. It was great to see him at the merch desk after the show, shifting plenty of his handmade EPs. I’m already looking forward to catching him again at Splendour.

There was a pretty damn long wait in between sets all things considered, nearly 45 minutes, including half an hour of the stage being completely ready for James Blake to appear before he actually did. But the moment the softly spoken but yet oddly captivating musician took to the stage, along with his drummer and guitarist, all was forgotten.

Immediately it was obvious that this was going to be a show like no other. The noise in the Prince Bandroom while James Blake was playing was face-meltingly, bone-jarringly loud, with bass that got inside your very being, reverberating inside your head and ebbing and flowing with the rhythm of the song. Of course you could expect nothing different from a James Blake show, but as someone who has had problems with hearing as a direct result of gigs, the volume of the show definitely decreased my enjoyment of James Blake’s set, even with earplugs. How old do I sound right now.

But this aside, James Blake demonstrated why he is one of the hottest musicians around right now. He did things with his voice that I didn’t even know were possible; things that I had never seen before and will probably never see from anyone else again. He could summon avalanches of layered vocals while barely opening his mouth, croon to a piano ballad one moment before breaking into a dense dubstep chorus, and sound impossibly understated and surreal at the same time as filling the Prince Bandroom with fierce and attention-demanding music.

At no point was thismore obvious than with I Never Learnt To Share, undoubtedly one of the highlights of the night which began with James Blake setting up the multiple vocal loops which would drive the remainder of the song to mesmerising effect. Unfortunately the main loop was ruined by crowd members screaming out, which was representative of how some people in the audience struggled to adapt to the fact that this wasn’t a show where you show your appreciation by screaming or jumping. But the screwed up vocal loop didn’t detract too much from the song, which was a stunning listening experience as it grew to that bass-heavy conclusion which had the whole venue rocking backwards and forwards in something of a trance.

Dubstep or soul or dance, call it what you want, James Blake’s music is powerful beyond all imagination.

Limit To Your Love was met with the biggest response from the crowd, and that piano-driven beginning was magical. Lindesfarne I and II were similarly incredible, and the restrained second part was probably my personal favourite moment of James Blake’s set, couple with The Wilhelm Scream, a beautiful sucker-punch of ebbing and growing synth, layered vocals, and a surreal atmosphere that seemed almost like a thick fog slowly descending over the spell-bound crowd.

“All that I know is I’m falling, falling, falling.”

James Blake and co. returned for a two song encore that included an unreleased and untitled track by way of a conclusion, and one thing’s for certain: if it’s ever recorded in studio form, it is nothing short of a guaranteed hit. And so ended a set unlike any other from a musician unlike any other. James Blake played music to lose yourself in; music to consume your being, if only momentarily. His understanding of the flow of a live show was second-to-none, probably coming about as a result of his skill as a DJ and as a producer. 

It is no easy task to transfer James Blake’s atmospheric, layered, and polished studio music to a live setting, but he did so perfectly. The virtuoso of electronic music was in his element last night, and played a set that is going to stay with every single person in that venue for a long time to come.

2 Responses to “Gig Review: James Blake @ The Prince Bandroom, 26th July”

  1. The first track of his encore was a cover of Anti-war dub by Mala. Release date around 05 – 06.

  2. meandthewanderlust Reply July 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Great review! The bass was insane; I was standing in front of the stage and beer bottles left by other punters were vibrating across it every time it hit during Limit to Your Love and AWD. I actually thought the volume was really good; no fuzziness in my ears when I left, but maybe I’ve already lost more from my hearing than I thought!

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