Splendour Sideshow Live Review: James Blake + Oliver Tank - Sydney Opera House (29.07.13)

Fresh from his Splendour set over the weekend, James Blake played his first Sydney sideshow in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House on Monday 29th July, with support from Oliver Tank.

Sydney producer Oliver Tank opened the show, his music of a similar strain to James Blake’s. His set was reserved, with little communication with the audience; Tank was definitely most focused on his music, and was almost in another world with his focus. His sound is very sleepy, dreamy music, not in a boring way, but an ethereal trance-like way.

Tank’s beautiful voice has this calming, transcendent tonality/timbre/colour to it that is bright and engaging at the same time, and his voice and his songs translated really well into the space of the Opera House, particularly ‘Up All Night’.

James Blake promptly entered on stage with his band in an epileptic fit of lights and sound. They launched straight into song, and it wasn’t long before the favourite tracks began to emerge, with the second song of ‘I Never Learnt To Share’ gathering wild applause. Blake has a voice that soars and in the Opera House it was so clear even above the rest of the electronic sound.

An interesting contrast that was amplified throughout the performance was Blake’s angelic voice and innocent, young-looking appearance combined with dirty bass beats and bass lines that he writes. This vast contrast works so well and gives his music such an entertaining and charming quality. After the third song, ‘Life Round Here’ he requested of the sound guy “Can I get everything a bit louder please?” causing even more vibrations to be sent through the Concert Hall, with the space experiencing more bass than it has potentially ever seen before!

‘CMYK’ is a song that has an almost dancy, salsa beat to it, much more prominent in the live show. For many of the songs, all around the room people could not help pulsing to the beat, the music causing everyone to want to get up and move. Not only is a lot of his music electronic and dancy, but also really sexy and jazzy music as well, particularly in the keys. He blends so many elements from so many genres of music, and refers to many time periods of music as well.

The gig also emphasized the intense and emotional voice that Blake has, particularly in ‘To The Last’ and across the set he used looping to great effect to enhance his emotive vocals. ‘Lindisfarne I’ was exquisite in the Opera House and had everyone spellbound, and ‘Limit To Your Love’ and ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ captured the audience as well.

‘Retrograde’ was his official last song, but the encore saw the grand piano brought out for one final song, for Blake sans band, 'A Case of You’. A much more stripped back, acoustic song than his all his others, Blake left the audience pondering on his beautiful vocals and absolute raw talent. What the show primarily displayed was that at only 24, James Blake has the musical maturity of a much older musician, with lyrics that hint to an older soul, with decades of life experience.