No one wails quite like James Blake.
The Enfield artist has a unique way of catching his listeners and drawing them deep inside of his music, coaxing them to the very centre where his vocals are at their most penetrative. He touches your soul, truly, in the same way legends like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye do, tinged with the biblical power of gospel and layered with all kinds of styles, from buttery R&B to something that’s entirely his own.
And this is most apparent live, when Blake snags onto a seemingly endless melisma and rolls that distinctly intimate voice around a room. It’s as if his vocals leap right out of his throat and start surfing on the sub-bass, bouncing from wall to wall to make sure these songs are hitting well below the surface.
This power is felt from busy set opener “Assume Form”, right up until haunting closer “Lullaby for my Insomniac”. All this vocal work slaps you in the face, both to sting and to soothe, validating Blake’s unusual way of using space and silence to say nothing and everything all at the same time. This is why you’ll hear desperate (and angry) shushes whenever anyone even dares make a noise during songs like the impossibly pretty “Are You In Love?”, a declaration of hope and affection stemming from his relationship with Jameela Jamil. It’s why a crowd, like the one packed into a sold-out Enmore Theatre, stands in silence and awe as Blake studiously attempts and re-attempts to loop his ghostly vocals live to build the backing for eccentric cut “I’ll Come Too”.
There’s little wonder as to why James Blake has eventually found a way to incorporate the sounds of Texas screw music into his work. As the autotuned soul of Travis Scott leaps from “Mile High” and echoes through the Enmore Theatre, it’s clear that this slowed-down style of music resonates with what James Blake is all about: vocal manipulation – opening up these sparse pockets of music and really getting at the visceral effect the human voice can have on its listeners.
James’ vocal prowess is bought to life from various in angles, through various songs. As the very valuable team of Ben Assister – drums – and Rob McAndrews – guitar and synth rig – help Blake create these meticulous soundscapes from the ground-up, the man of the hour (and a half) sits there behind a small piano, spinning his gift through various permutations in order to match the precise mood for whatever song comes next.
Visuals help with this too. Glowing clouds of various colours steam around Blake, Assister, and McAndrews while down lights change their tune accordingly. The hues change more intensely when sounds shift to booming 4×4 beats like on the extended “Voyeur”, edgy ventures into hip hop like to the Andre 3000 assisted “Where’s the Catch?”, or slinky pop like “Like Round Here”.
As a whole, this is everything we could have asked for from a James Blake show (minus the sad omission of “The Wilhelm Scream”). The nocturnal blues of “Retrograde”; the sincerity of Joni Mitchell cover “A Case of You”; the drug-addled after party of aforementioned “Mile High”. All tracks connected to each other with James’ otherworldly vocal range.
Again. No one wails quite like James Blake.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Life Round Here
I’ll Come Too
Barefoot in the Park
The Limit to Your Love
Love Me n Whatever Way
Are You In Love?
Can’t Believe the Way We Flow
Loathe to Roam
Where’s the Catch?
A Case of You (Joni Mitchell Cover)
Don’t Miss It
Lullaby for my Insomniac
The reviewer attended this show on 22.07.2019.
Feature image by Belinda Dipalo.