James Blake: The Academy, Bristol – live reviewJames Blake

The Academy, Bristol

24th Sept 2013

Having released one of the best albums of the year so far it was no wonder that James Blake’s tour last month sold out pretty swiftish. We managed to blag an “in” at his Bristol date and below is a review of a genius at work.

Mercury Prize nominee James Blake music has often been given the title of, ‘Hipster R&B’ which, when considering his style of soulfully obtuse lyrics and cutting edge deconstructive production, seems rather apt. I don’t think most people use the term politely though. It is meant as a dismissive derogatory title in which people can feel free in disregarding him because he doesn’t fulfill the criteria they have or, more often, the peers they are trying to impress. What is obvious is that he pays little attention to such criticism and has continued to produce some of the most incredibly affecting songs, whilst astounding the listener by the way in which he builds his skyscraper soundscapes. He is essentially a ‘singer / songwriter’ but has managed to avoid the tedious cliches that they tend to possess.

Tonight’s show is a sell out, as is the whole tour. James is a popular guy and this rarely goes down well with those looking for underground chic. I feel those critics might have made their judgements without fully experiencing James’ talent first hand. The stage has been transformed into a minimal futuristic set in which the lights become the space. A stylish space in which James and his band members can work their magic, and from note one the audience is beguiled. This is where the sonic possibilities of his music can be realised to their true potential. His lyrics float like clouds among a sky of fizzing synth and dripping keys whilst the rumble of sub-bass thunder forebodes the darker landscape he likes to envelop his songs in. Tracks like, ‘Life Round Here’ and ‘Retrograde’ shimmer like R&B jewels, showing that a white man can have soul, even in the digital age.

His band recreates the tenuous tones of his second album showing incredible musical abilities. James builds up layers of his vocals forging a sound bursting at the seams with feeling and intent on, ‘I Am Sold’ as he does throughout the set. The air between the words, the pause between the notes, seem as intrinsic as the music itself. The release from the delicate, heart-breaking qualities his voice exudes. When he covers Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’, the feminine undertones to his vocals come to the fore and it makes perfect sense that he would cover someone who mirrors his minor key play but yet has the ability to reach those high life affirming moments.

What I experienced this evening is one of the most profoundly talented songwriters, who challenges and twists the genres he is forced into. An A* performance and light show befitting an artist as evocative as James. His critics may flippantly denounce his music, but as long as he is making music that is this full of impressionistic ideas and with such heartfelt delivery, I feel he will outlive those critics to become the innovator he so obviously is.

All words by Philip Allen. More writing by Philip can be found here.

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