On April 16, 2013, fresh from Coachella’s first weekend, James Blake prepared to bare his soul to a San Francisco audience at the Mezzanine. He started off the set with “Air and Lack Thereof,” his first single, released in 2009 under Hemlock Records. Heavy bass vibrated the air particles around us before we moved onto “I Never Learnt to Share.” It was also soaked in electronics, but this time we heard Blake’s singing for the first time that night. Despite revealing that he had spent the day exploring San Francisco with the flu, Blake did not seem to show he was ill. Blake is gifted with a full-bodied timbre that perfectly fits the type of music he makes. Going back to the first time I ever heard him, I thought to myself that he could be the cousin of Sampha, another fellow British singer well known in the electronic scene.
Synths glided over Blake’s lyrics, rich with emotion, while Ben Assiter on drums and Rob McAndrews on guitar and sampler helped create a gorgeous cloud of sound. Being friends for most of their lives (they were old schoolmates) has given them a musical chemistry that is easily sensed. Tracks like “CMYK” got us really dancing, that London-bred combination of soul, future garage, and post-dubstep that simply does it. Playing with loops and samples, “Voyeur” off the new album, Overgrown, was the essential dance track of the night. The songs possess a sort of minimalist fragility and vulnerability that comes with such emotional poetry, but then seem to shatter into a fission of bass and distortion that fills your heart and bones.
Blake’s relaxed, gracious, and exceptionally mature composure (“How old are you now?” a girl shouted. “Twenty-four,” he answered, with a small smile) is that of someone much older. Happily, that boyish grin gives it away. For someone that has been doing this for four years, Blake appears to have been doing this for a lot longer. His comfortableness on stage seems quite natural, whether he is playing to thousands at sunlit Coachella or in the dark of a dance club. “Retrogade,” “Wilhelm Scream,” and “Case of You” were an elegant end to the night. There will be many dreamy nights for James Blake and his fans to come, as well as great achievements that await Blake in the future.
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