James Blake in The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on Thursday 27th October 2016
Halfway through his set James Blake tells the crowd, “everything you’re hearing tonight is being made live on stage” and goes onto to say how most of that is down to his bandmates. He clearly prides himself on recreating an authentic experience on stage, rather than simply playing over a backing track. Little does he know, however, that later on during Retrograde it would come back to bite him as his loop pedal gets stuck on repeat. It’s that sort of attention to detail and adherence to his craft that makes him such an intriguing performer. He would rather take some risks onstage than have every performance be the same, and that’s certainly something to be admired.
Early on the crowd are treated to cuts off his newest album, ‘The Colour in Anything’, which came out earlier this year. It’s a somewhat subdued start from Blake though, as he plays some of the more chilled numbers from the new record. Things really kick off with Choose Me, which from its opening moments builds to a crescendo of distorted vocals and swirling synths and still somehow manages to deliver a memorable hook. It really stands out early on because of the hip-hop inspired production, which injects a bit more energy into the performance.
Out of all the instruments onstage, whether it’s the triggered kit or the Moog synthesizer, the most precise instrument of them all is James Blake’s voice. His quivering vibrato has a remarkable power to it and he has the ability to bring a room to a hush when he begins to sing. The set is really tailored to compliment his range, as one moment he’s singing a piano ballad on his own and the next he’s belting out the chorus to Retrograde. This type of flexibility means that the set never becomes stale and we got to see different sides to James Blake.
It’s well known that Blake isn’t really a showman and usually he lets his music do the talking, but beyond the music itself the light show adds an extra layer to the performance. Much like the music, it does a great job of creating an atmosphere, and each song has its own distinct mood and tone. Sometimes it is even as simple as shining a light on Blake himself. During The Colour In Anything we see Blake front and centre with a spotlight shining on him as he sings what sounds like a hymn for a broken heart. Before he starts he informs us that there is usually an animation that accompanies him – he doesn’t need it as, the crowd witnesses a stirring performance from a performer that embraces the spotlight being shone on him.
There are times though when Blake is a bit overindulgent, and some of the longer songs cause a lull in proceedings. I Hope My Life (1-800 Mix) is the chief culprit as he loses some momentum and also the crowd, as the song just seems to keep repeating instead of progressing in any meaningful way. Thankfully the next song, Voyeur, is the perfect change of pace, and suddenly The Olympia Theatre turns into a midnight rave. It’s a song that’s made for a live setting, as it gradually builds before a bass synth transforms it into a full-blown dance number. The crowd responds as well – for the first time they aren’t just observers, they are active participants.
Blake finishes off the main set with the atmospheric number, The Wilhiem Scream, from his debut album before returning for his encore. He’s on his own for the this as he plays a beautiful rendition of Joni Mitchel’s Case of You before finishing with the choral number, Measurements. He tells the crowd not to sing along for this one because it would mess up the sound of his vocal loop. They oblige, and watch on as Blake creates a tapestry of voices, each layered on top of the other. It’s certainly an unconventional end to a gig, but it showcases how James Blake is a true original, and an artist that goes to great lengths to create a truly authentic live experience for his audience.