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James Blake – O2 Oxford Academy, Oxford 22/09/13

December 8, 2013

SUDDENLY I’M HIT

James Blake @ Heaven, London 09/04/13

“Life’s passion can be eliminated through detached contemplation”

Once said Polish poet and fine writer of prose Czesław Miłosz, and it’s a quote that I can’t help but feel is apt in relation to James Blake‘s rather staggering eponymous 2011 Mercury-nominated album. An eldritch album made for, well, himself in many ways, an introspective listen, telling tales of non-existent siblings “they don’t talk to me; but I don’t blame them”, and yearning. The aforementioned quote by Miłosz was applied to art – and a work of art the LP was.

Two years later. Overgrown. And Blake has seemingly assimilated some of life’s lessons that comes with the territory of entering your twenties, falling in love, stepping out of those shadows – becoming James Blake. A name that carries a lot of weight, but boy he’s learnt to wear it well.

Five-and-a-half months have passed since the release of the second album and subsequent blanket coverage – so at tonight’s sold-out show at Oxford’s O2 Academy, it’ll be intriguing to see how time has treated the tracks. And it is ‘I Never Learnt to Share’ that opens, Blake with precision looping his own live voice multiple times, building from a stripped-back beginning to a frenetic end. At the start of each ‘My Brother and my sister’ loop, I hear huge fan-girl ‘whooping’ that’s so on-time and consistent, I start to think Blake has thrown it in as a sample. I realise he hasn’t once I stand on tippy-toes and observe the crowd at the front, but still the intensity of it takes me aback (I’m used to the whole eremitic arms-crossed London affair I guess). A pleasure to hear though.

James Blake @ Koko, Camden 14/06/11

Blake is sporting a 1-800 Dinosaur t-shirt; posters hang around all around Oxford with the same logo, and a merch stall inside the venue. For those not familiar with, it’s the ‘dance arm’ of Blake that started out as a club night/DJ collective featuring Airhead at Plastic People and has now developed into a label – and Airhead is present in Blake’s live set-up tonight. We get a glimpse into the spirit of 1-800 Dinosaur via a super extended version of ‘Voyeur’ – an all guns-blazing, strobe-light-toting ravetastic affair, with CMYK providing a similar deal. It may be Sunday night, but Blake’s not afraid to bring the party.

“Suddenly I’m Hit”

An even mix of old and new is present, from the trenchant sing-a-long times of ‘Limit to Your Love’ that he can now afford to casually drop-in midway, to the zeitgeist catching ‘Overgrown’ that has the audience enthralled in a mellifluous sea of humming. See also: The delightful cheese of ‘To The Last’, to the weirdo pulsating fabric of ‘Digital Lion’ where the bass does insurrectionary things to my internal organs.

Ultimately this bricolage of sound, and variety in tone, makes for a riveting live experience – crafting a fecund electronic journey through Blake’s engaging sonic palette; rarely sitting too comfortably in one dimension for too long. As you’d expect a great deal of musical subtraction is evident throughout – the pauses, the holding back, the sparse reverberating drums. And it all works and flows beautifully. No Chance The Rapper however.

In case enough minimalism hadn’t been aired; for the encore Blake returns sans drummer and Airhead to perform a hugely delicate rendition of ‘Measurements’. Quiet is asked for, and after a cacophony of shushing the silence that the track deserves is granted (eventually). Just piano, vocals, no more. It’s devastating, and a fitting end to an evening that underlines Blake’s growing maturity.

With thanks to O2 Academy – check out O2 Academy TV

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