Words by Tom Frodsham.
It’s hard to categorise the James Blake sound. Is it dubstep, electronica, soul, dance? To be honest, who cares? Blake’s music is best experienced live. So when he came to the Academy last week, he easily sold out the venue.
Blake, his drummer and his guitarist stepped on stage to a rapturous welcome, soon to explore that Blake sound. The set’s background visuals, inspired by The Hipgnosis – the design group behind Pink Floyd’s album covers – eerily and perfectly fitted with the music.
Getting a warm response from the audience, Blake shifted through favourites like ‘Limit To Your Love’ and ‘Life Round Here’. He takes us through a rollercoaster of themes and emotions in such a short time. From heartfelt keyboard solos one moment to lengthy dubstep segments the next, he never stops keeping the audience guessing. Unpredictability in a gig is always a good thing.
Songs from his latest release, The Colour In Anything, are sprinkled through the set nicely, but old favourites like ‘Voyeur’ remain the biggest crowd pleasers. Blake took the song and added more layers and beats, easily making it the peak moment of the night. Green strobe lighting filled the venue so it was easy to see there wasn’t a single person not enraptured by the track. Sometimes the thickness of the synth in tracks like ‘Retrograde’ overpowered Blake’s vocals, but the track’s message still shone through.
For the last song, ‘Measurements’, Blake needed absolute silence from the audience so it was only his voice you could hear on the loop that he recorded then and there. You’d think that would be easy, but not in a sold out venue of nearly 2,000 people. Even Blake became impatient, saying, “I like 95% of you in here tonight.”
Eventually he recorded his vocal, then repeated it, and sung over the loop each time adding different nuances making it a really beautiful piece of music. You only get that kind of individuality at a Blake concert. So take note, next time Blake is in Manchester, get your tickets quick.
James Blake played at Manchester Academy on Thursday 3 November, 2016.