Review and photos – James Blake at the Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, Nov 19, 2013
– review by Ria Nevada/photos by Robyn Gerry
Only eight months have passed since electronica prodigy James Blake’s last Vancouver appearance, but it already seems like a lifetime away. Since April, his critically acclaimed record Overgrown has earned him the highly coveted Mercury Prize for Best British or Irish album of 2013, making him one of the most sought after artists in the industry. He can also add the distinction “Kanye’s favorite artist” to his growing list of accolades – which beats being one of the infamous rapper’s Twitter adversaries.
So it came as no surprise that Tuesday night’s show at the Vogue had sold out far in advance. Yet some desperate fans still waited on the frosty streets, praying some kind scalper would cut them a decent deal. Meanwhile, inside the theatre, all seats were already filled (or spoken for) by the time opener Jason Chung aka Nosaj Thing hit the stage.
Nosaj Thing opens
Based out of LA, Chung has built an impressive reputation as a DJ and a producer, championed by artists like Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi. Interlacing airy female vocals and trip-hop dance beats with a MacBook Pro and MIDI controller, he revamped popular tracks from artists including Twin Sister and The xx and managed to keep the crowd completely entranced.
At exactly 10:30, James Blake settled himself behind his three keyboards and immediately captivated the room with the haunting vocal layering of “I Never Learnt to Share”. His polite interjections between songs and easygoing presence only scratched the surface of his magnetism. His voice was lush, pristine, controlled – completely loyal to his recordings. Accompanying drummer Ben Assiter and guitarist/sampler Rob McAndrews added magnitude and density to Blake’s trademark R&B sound.
A wide range of fans in attendance couldn’t get enough of the mild-mannered heartthrob. One young, gutsy lady seized the rare opportunity to be closer to Blake by leaping onto the stage during “Life Round Here”. While security hastily escorted her off the stage, Blake’s reaction was more a combination of amusement and confusion. He calmly acknowledged her valiant effort and continued with a series of poetic, sultry tunes that you might file under the “baby-making music” category. The slow wash of synthesizers on “Retrogade” and “To the Last” were especially hypnotic when paired with warm lighting that were cued to dim and brighten with the echoing drum beats.
The crowd favourite was Blake’s deconstructed cover of indie darling Feist’s “Limited to Your Love”. He also won several maple brownie points for his stripped-down version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”. His thoughtful, intelligent innovations to these iconic tracks are what distinguish him from the countless cover artists and remixers in the musicsphere. He manages to pick apart the subtle but essential components of each song, draw out and expand them with his vocal flourishes and synth loops, and reinvent these anthems in an original, but completely respectful fashion.