James Blake at First Avenue, 9/28/11
September 28th, 2011
First Ave, Minneapolis
It was just a few short months ago that James Blake first set foot in our fair Cities, in town then to pay a visit to the 7th St. Entry. On his return to Minneapolis last night, Blake made the upgrade to the Mainroom, and his excitement was impossible to conceal. Having giddily had his picture taken in front of Prince's star outside before the show, the soft-spoken Brit, on the few occasions he did speak, enthused over the opportunity to play such an historic venue. Granted, it was perhaps more what he didn't say than what he did say: Blake seemed almost speechless.
Which was just as well, because the man's music said plenty itself.
For those who had the privilege of seeing Blake first time round, last night's show most likely didn't quite measure up. After all, his ghostly music is tailor-made for an intimate venue like the Entry, where the pin-drop details would most clearly be communicated. But all in all there was little reason to complain, and indeed there was something surreal about looking out over such a sea of people and seeing them all stand silently, heads bobbing gently, at rapt attention.
There were two other musicians, Rob McAndrews on guitar and Ben Assiter on drums and drum machine, who were both introduced as childhood friends of the singer. But it was inevitably Blake who took the spotlight. He spent the night with his lanky frame tucked in behind a keyboard and synth, his mess of hair smeared around his head and across his face, while credentials dangled from his neck.
Not surprisingly, the setlist drew heavily from Blake's self-titled full-length, but this wasn't a mere recital of that record. It felt more like a convocation, a rite, delivered with glitchy, stuttering bursts and a vocoder quaver. There was disarming elegance, such as on a song like "Lindisfarne," and sheer tear-the-house-down, rattle-your-fillings-out dubstep beats, like on "Klavierwerke." There was even an extended reggae interlude on "Limit to Your Love."
The twisted soul of "I Never Learnt to Share" seemed to encapsulate the polarity of the music, as well as the intimacy of the evening: Blake recorded his vocal tracks live on the spot, but the recording caught some cheers from the audience, so each successive loop somewhat bizarrely played the audience back over the PA. Gradually the layers built up until Blake was all but harmonizing with the stained-glass tones of his synth. It all built into a furious climax that took the simplicity of the lyric's lone, repeated phrase to express the desperation behind those words, as if laid out as a sacrament--or a confession of one's sins.
Blake's is a singualr voice and singular style of music. It's already evolved quickly over a still-short career, and it continues to do so, as his new, as-yet-unreleased tracks included last night demonstrated. Whatever he chooses to say next, there undoubtedly will be a seat waiting for him in the Mainroom. And maybe, eventually, a star of his own outside.
Critic's Bias: The comparison is inevitable, but would I get shot if I said I liked James Blake more than Bon Iver, Bon Iver?
The crowd: Youngish hipsters. Sorry, I said it.
Overheard in the crowd: "It's like [pauses to think] intellectual dubstep!"
Random notebook dump: Chairlift were heavy on the '80s vibe, but were a solid, dancy opener. Their Cure cover went over particularly well.
For more photos: See our full slideshow, including pictures of Chairlift, by Erik Hess.
Give Me My Month
Tep and the Logic
I Never Learnt to Share
To Care (Like You)
Limit to Your Love
Enough Thunder (new)
The Wilhelm Scream
Once We All Agree (new)
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