Coincidentally, the first and last time I saw James Blake live was during his Splendour in the Grass 2013 performance. It was cold, raining and mud was everywhere but I was determined to see one of my favourite music ‘sad boys’ in the flesh – because I envisioned there was going to be a moment in his set where he would directly sing ‘Overgrown’ to me after singling me out in the crowd with my Doc Martens and poncho on. Alas my dream never came true, but his performance still stayed with me for years – the same can be said for last night’s performance.
A lot has happened in six years – in the world but especially within the music world. My early 20’s was spent drinking at a friend’s Kent Street apartment, with a skyline view of our beautiful city, playing James Blake endlessly. His voice always matched my mood and the environment. Whether it was a bright and sunny early Sydney morning or various pastel colours in the sky and a sunset reflecting on the skyscrapers of the CBD to indicate the evening. I was taken back to those memories last night when James opened the show – still a humble and mysterious character that I felt like I’ve grown up with after all this time.
James Blake has a commanding presence. Although he doesn’t speak much and might have a limited reaction to the audience and their hearty cheers and woos – you can still feel him. You feel his music; everything he sings and the instruments he plays, it’s inside you to your core. I’ve been to a lot of concerts at Enmore Theatre but the detail of his music and set design really emphasised how the Enmore Theatre is truly a classic Sydney venue and how he just matches with it perfectly. The usage of lighting in his sets matched the ceiling of the Enmore and it’s Art-Deco design, something I had never noticed before. I truly felt at peace, like I was somewhere else – I was in James Blake’s mind.
Starting his set was a powerful performance of the title track of his latest album – “Assume Form“. The lyrics captivating the audience with the end of the second verse “When you touch me, I wonder what you could want with me.” James sings softly and effortlessly as the spoken word part of the song continues in a completely different tone continuing with “It feels like a thousand pounds of weight holding your body down in a pool of water, barely reaching your chin.” These conflicting lyrics alone emphasise the power in his performance – as gently as he sings, the impact is overwhelming.
Continuing with more tracks from his new album including ‘Mile High (feat. Travis Scott & Metro Boomin)’ which got an electric reaction from the audience as they danced erratically once they heard Travis Scott’s voice echo throughout the theatre, James Blake had us completely captivated. There was a stage at the night where I realised the majority of the audience just wanted to close their eyes and listen to him in their element swaying along to his sounds with perfect rhythm.
As he covered the majority of his new album’s tracklist he also included the classics – ‘Timeless’ and ‘Love Me In Whatever Way’ from his 2016 release “The Colour In Anything”, ‘Retrograde’ and ‘Voyeur’ from his 2013 release “Overgrown” and of course some of his most famous songs of all the time from his 2011 debut album – ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ and ‘Limit To Your Love.’ Each transition between songs and having him utilise the stage effectively brought on intense cheer from the crowd with a girl constantly yelling “I LOVE YOU JAMES!” which seemed to make the English musician appreciative of the compliment but also nervous at responding to her.
After over an hour, the reality set in and we knew his emotional fuelled performance was coming to an end. He farewelled his beloved crowd and thanked his band for their performance and walked off stage. The cheers continued and some of the audience left, not realising that James would confidently come back onto the stage to perform a final encore. Encouraging the audience to always take care of their mental health and be true to themselves, have more conversations and be honest with everyone he jumped into a deep rendition of ‘Don’t Miss It’ followed by a cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic ‘A Case of You.’
It’s been eight years since I first heard about James Blake and heard his iconic song ‘The Wilhelm Scream.’ The years have passed, my life has changed – I’m no longer the 21-year-old girl who spent her train trips daydreaming to his debut album on repeat but his Tuesday night performance took me back to those moments, and took a fair amount of audience members back to that time in your life when you weren’t surrounded by the responsibilities of adulthood. His new album moreso a reflection on becoming older and growing up.
James Blake is definitely an artist to remember for the ages.
Words and photography by Talica Tamanitoakula.
23 July 2019