james blake brought colour to everything at his london show
Following a feature on Beyonce's Lemonade, James Blake dropped his third record The Colour In Anything earlier this month and proceeded to tour it round a handful of venues across the world. We caught the Monday night show at London's Village...
"Thanks for being guinea pigs to this big test," says a silk shirt-clad James Blake as he welcomes the audience to the London leg of his figuring out of the new album, The Colour In Anything, live. He says that he feels like he's playing in his living room, that he recognises lots of faces… "mum's… dad's…" His parents are standing by the sound desk and watching on with pride, shoulder to shoulder with an impressive number of other London-based artists. They will all soon be dancing.
Positioned to the side of stage behind a good collection of keyboards, James is joined on stage by his guitarist and drummer. Opening with 2013's Life Round Here from previous album Overgrown, the familiar intro kicks in and cheers erupt under low purple lights and a dry ice haze. Moving straight into the present day and intensity of Choose Me and things turn to red and orange with the passionate breakdown of a relationship. Live, the track's guitar builds to an all-encompassing wall of sound that eclipses all else. "Great…" starts James the moment the music ends, before quickly pointing out that his utterance wasn't in response to the man in the audience who just shouted that he loved him. He continued by pointing out that that would've been an awful response to someone telling you they love you for the first time. "Sorry, I should have said thank you...which I suppose would also be an awful thing to hear".
The looped ooooos of Radio Silence start and it's clear that the emotional trip really is just beginning. With a swipe of synth, things move to a heavier more powerful place as James begs for more time and clarity. On to the record's title track and he moves to another keyboard, sitting side-on like a child practicing a simple but beautiful tune at the family piano… but then of course he opens his mouth and it's James Blake and it's wonderful. Just him and the keys, harmonies are added at times courtesy of his vocoder. Love Me In Whatever Way sees synth waves crash over the dark rocky beach of a stage. A steady bass drum kicks in and like a modern day opera, our beach-walking protagonist's vocals build into a wailing atmospheric sound, feeling hopeless, he is about to give up and almost definitely drown himself in the dreamed-up dark nighttime sea.
There are more cheers as Timeless kicks in and the mood is lifted slightly, before starting to transition from depressed to club with old school James Blake and 200 Press. The lights switch to UFO green and people - including a seated James - begin dancing, making it feel right away like a Boiler Room session. "Did you like the album teaser?" he asks. More cheers. As he makes his way through his older work - from I Hope My Life to Voyeur - the bass thumping and lasers strobing, incredibly, the room has transformed into a full-on club right in front of us and the audience are responding as such. Mixing one tune into another as though he were DJing, James' versatility is exemplified tonight.
As the delicate piano of Always comes in, three low hazy spotlights illuminate the band. "I'll be on your side," James sings with an echo, and we believe him. The euphoric Wilhelm Scream takes over the room with an almost blinding white light and a huge wall of guitar that almost masks his vocals. He shouts out his father who wrote the song, musician James Litherland, and then his band, without who he probably wouldn't bother leaving the house. On to Retrograde and his vocals rasp as he sings "we're alone now" and he rocks back and forth at the keys. He leaves, we cheer and he returns for an encore with the reflective Modern Soul. With the lyric, "I want it to be over," the track ends and it is. We'll be your guinea pigs any day, JB.
Photography Alex Kozobolis