Sitting at the bottom of an office building in the middle of Koreatown, The Wiltern is one of LA’s most unique venues. Normally you see fans milling about on the corner of Wilshire and Western, smoking cigarettes, loitering in general, etc. Not tonight — not even in the lobby or at the bars — everybody was inside anxiously waiting for James Blake and his band take the stage on the first night of their tour to promote his latest album, Overgrown. On this album, the 25-year old continues to explore the deep, genre-blending sound he is known for. Though I’ve listened to his albums religiously for years, this was my first opportunity to see him live and like the rest of the crowd there with me, I was blown away.
Blake took the stage under a single spotlight and in silence he began the a capella opening of “I Never Learnt To Share” — it was chilling, in the best way. His voice is rich and distinct, though unrefined. Intricate layers of live looping were built as his drummer, Ben Assiter, and his guitar/samplemaster Rob McAndrews took the stage alongside him. Erupting into aggressive, unrelenting waves of low frequency sound, Blake immediately had his unsuspecting audience in the palm of his hand. And it’s right where we’d stay for the whole night. (To be honest, I’m still there days after the show).
Blake’s live show is truly a physical experience. The hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. I forgot to blink more times than I’d like to admit. His live sound is so much more intense than the albums and unlike so many producers today, Blake utilizes seriously heavy bass in intriguing, dynamic ways that tip-toe around the line of perfection and claustrophobia. Previously modest songs are electrified with a jolt of post-dubstep style, low-end frequencies that don’t mean to pummel you. It’s brilliant and beyond innovative.
The set flowed organically. Every song would simmer and build to the perfect tipping point—boiling over into layers of beautiful reverberation. Blake would bring the audience up with hell-raisers like “Digital Lion” and “I Never Learnt To Share”, then bring them back down to earth with delicate songs like Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and the impressive “Lindisfarne”. After humbly thanking the crowd for continuing to support them through the years, Blake gently hummed the opening refrain of his tragic masterpiece “Retrograde”. After the initial wail of excitement, the crowd stood in silence as this beautifully visceral song took its hold. With the audience still in a state of shock, Blake eased into the subdued, but memorable track “The Wilhelm Scream”, the perfect way to wind down a tremendously dynamic set.
James Blake is one of the most innovative and interesting artists of our time. At first his tone sounds profoundly sad, but as I listened I realized that there is something very hopeful hiding underneath the surface. Blake is in an optimistic place and his creativity is at an all time high. After this show, I will forever be enchanted by soul-shaking, inexplicably relatable music of James Blake. You have to trust me — even if you’re “not that into” his albums, give the live show a chance. His Overgrown Tour has just started and with tons of dates left, you may still have time to secure a ticket. I assure you it will be a night you won’t soon forget.
JAMES BLAKE OVERGROWN TOUR
November 2nd – Washington, DC (9:30 Club)
November 3rd – Washington, DC (9:30 Club)
November 4th – Philadelphia, PA (Union Transer)
November 5th – Boston, MA (House of Blues)
November 6th – New York, NY (Terminal 5)
November 7th – New York, NY (Terminal 5)
November 9th – Montreal, QC (Metropolis)
November 10th – Toronto, ON (Kool Haus)
November 11th – Ann Arbor, MI (Michigan Theater)
November 13th – Chicago, IL (Riviera Theatre)
November 14th – Milwaukee, WI (Turner Hill Ballroom)
November 15th Minneapolis, MN (First Avenue)
November 16th – Iowa City, IA (The Englert Theatre)
November 19th – Vancouver, BC (Vogue Theatre)
November 20th – Seattle, WA (Showbox Sodo)
November 21st – Portland, OR (Roseland Theatre)
November 24th – Guadalajara, Mexico (Teatro Estudio Cavaret)
November 25th – Mexico City, Mexico (Teatro Estudio Cavaret)
November 29th – Tokyo, Japan (Electraglide)