James Blake: 8 May 2010 - Washington, D.C.

Corey Beasley

The addition of live musicians to help Blake recreate his studio trickery brought a sense of analog, human life to these songs.

James Blake

James Blake

City: Washington, D.C.
Venue: Rock and Roll Hotel
Date: 2011-05-08

At his May 8th show at Washington, DC’s Rock and Roll Hotel, dubstepper-turned-singer-songwriter wunderkind James Blake seemed both comfortable with and humbled by his fairly explosive success. His US tour sold out in no time, and when he returns stateside from the UK for his next round of dates, he’ll no doubt be playing bigger venues — much, much bigger. He’ll fill those rooms, too, and not just with fans: in a live setting, Blake’s songs sound absolutely huge.

LA’s Active Child began the night with a blend of synth-pop ballads and thumping club-ready throwbacks, all anchored around frontman Pat Grossi’s liquid voice. Grossi’s vocals moved from easy falsetto to near baritone depending on the track, and he moved himself from behind the keys to behind a harp, using both instruments to create a haze of atmospherics around his rhythm section’s tightly-wound beats. If Grossi’s lyrics at times approached the saccharine, the low-end of his band’s mix saved their songs from lilting too sweetly.

James Blake knows how to hit that balance, as well. He moved through his set with a clear sense of momentum, kicking things off with a straight-forward version of “Unluck”. The track showed off the strengths of his accompanying band: a drummer who used live cymbals to augment a MIDI percussion pad, and a guitarist/sampler (Airhead, who has released a worthy split 10” with Blake). The addition of live musicians to help Blake recreate his studio trickery brought a sense of analog, human life to these songs, one that fits with the narrative of Blake moving further from his dubstep roots and into a radio-friendly, piano-led world. When the band dropped away for a solo cut, like “Give Me My Month”, audience members with closed eyes would’ve been hard-pressed to remember they were in the presence of one of the most lauded electronic musicians of the past few years — on his own and stripped of his gadgetry, Blake sounded like a top-flight pop songwriter. There’s a reason he’s covered Joni Mitchell in the past (and the wonderful new number, “E------ T-----”, Blake played for the encore proved his Mitchell diet hasn’t abated).

Still, Blake’s strongest moments comes when he straddles the line between his synth-addled roots and his more restrained newer material. “I Never Learnt to Share” and “Lindisfarne” gave the set a stone-solid centerpiece. During the former, Blake relied on Airhead’s help to sample and loop his vocals, layer upon layer, until the room practically shimmered with a patchwork quilt of the singer’s uncompromisingly beautiful voice. On “Lindisfarne”, Blake used his Prophet ’08 synthesizer to recreate the vocoder effect of the song’s studio version, the nuances in the live take breathing extra energy into what may have been the night’s strongest moment. Blake shyly ducked behind the microphone during “Lindisfarne’s” lengthy bits of silence, confident in his abilities but never showy in their execution.

“To Care (Like You)” saw the bass notes on Blake’s keyboard cranked to chest-rattling volume. The night’s only real nod toward his earlier material, “Klavierwerke”, turned into a total knock-out — Blake and his band extended the mix, riffing off of one another and working the crowd into a lather. Blake himself seemed more energized when playing this track than on any other; one wonders why he doesn’t dip further back into his catalog, if that’s the case. After he finished with the one-two punch of (a similarly extended, jammed-out) “Limit to Your Love” and “The Wilhelm Scream”, the crowd seemed ready to drop at his feet. With good reason: it’s astonishing to think how quickly Blake has proved himself one of the most engaging and exciting voices in contemporary music. If he continues pushing himself at the level at which he’s been moving for the past year, who knows where he could take us next.



Give Me My Month

Tep and the Logic

I Never Learnt to Share


To Care (Like You)


Limit to Your Love

The Wilhelm Scream


E------ T-----

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.