(Editor’s Note: This piece will appear, slightly edited, on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)
Much is said of the “special relationship” between the US and the UK. We share history, culture, and, politically, it feels as if we’re each other’s last allies. But, perhaps most affectionately, we embrace each other’s music. Blues music from the Deep South inspired British rockers, from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin, and subsequently we’ve traded sounds, forging today’s pop landscape. One genre in particular though, which is being disproportionately received rather than sent, is dubstep, a form of electronic dance music originating in South East London. Many extol its greatness, few genuinely understand its properties, but most on these shores have come to regard James Blake, the 21-year-old prodigy based in London, as the poster child of the movement.
On Monday, Blake landed upon the Music Hall of Williamsburg, his first trip to and performance in the US. While some still have not caught onto the critically praised producer, the show sold out tremendously fast, leaving behind those with only casual interest. Such overwhelming support however continues to build from Blake’s string of EPs, released in 2010, to his newly minted debut album, the self-titled LP James Blake. The record showcases the soft-spoken 20-something’s soulfulness, matching his delicate yet emotive voice with sparse electronics and varied rhythms. But whereas his debut is the work of a single mind, last night’s concert featured Blake on keyboard and lead vocals, aided by schoolboy pals, Rob McAndrews (also known as UK producer Airhead) on guitar and sampler and Ben Assiter on drums. The cumulative effect both brought to life the solitary sounds on the album and revealed the wizardry of Blake’s production.
At the workday-respectable time of 10pm, Blake sat down at the keyboard, with band in tow. The three musicians, positioned closely to one another, barely communicated but, over the course of the show, their coordination brought complex studio arrangements to life, carefully and powerfully. The set began with James Blake opener “Unluck,” met with tremendous applause and, from there, the group used most of their time to explore the rest of the album. Blake’s craft, expert piano work and deft vocal manipulation, figured prominently, especially on his enthusiastically received single “The Wilhelm Scream” and “I Never Learnt To Share,” where Blake constructed three part harmony by layering his vocals. And, in addition to what was played, it was also fascinating to experience how the band used silence, creating minimalism with negative space. During one such pause, Blake rather comically took a sip from what looked to be a cup of noodles and grinned. This humble and affable attitude, crystallized in a breathtaking solo encore performance of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” endeared fans to Blake throughout the night. This looks like a relationship we ought to nurture.
Additional photos, taken by Diana Wong, after the jump: (more…)
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