Photo and review by Caleb Hsu
Last week, English electronic musician James Blake performed at Boston’s House of Blues to honor the recent release of his latest album, Overgrown. Though House of Blues usually attracts a decently varied demographic, this particular night produced a diverse hodgepodge of every ethnicity, age bracket, and gender. The night started off with a questionable DJ performing in the shadows of the stage, lost in the furrows of haphazard live automation. It was unclear whether this was an opening act, or some sort of complacent and trite live performance to stall stage setup. Nevertheless, the inevitable appearance of James Blake served as solace for the eager crowd, which rapidly grew with each passing minute. When the lights finally dimmed, the audience roared with an explosion of unanimous applauses to welcome the man of hour. From this point on, it honestly became quite the struggle for me to hunt for words to adequately describe the musical phenomenon onstage before me. Performances rarely leave me speechless, but from the first delicately sung note, I felt complete adoration for the remainder of this entire show.
Thanks to the combined genius of current technology with the unmatched ingenuity of James Blake, the audience was introduced to the sound a choir of angels would make. James combined various live and prerecorded takes of himself into masterful harmonies and sweetly layered melodies. With such expansive music that allowed space to enhance clarity, there was a sudden shift in temperament of those not on the stage. A silent reverie blanketed the crowd of previously frantic fans, like a seasoned mother calming her distressed baby. The fiery excitement quickly transformed into a mutual peaceful understanding that James Blake is not your typical hyped cliché of a star. Rather, he performs with conviction and unwavering focus, making it impossible not to develop an appreciation for the artistry behind his compositions.
As for the music, though James didn’t really use anything unconventional or totally brand new, the way he utilized technological advancements for live automation were profoundly unique. The level of creativity James can achieve with a few keyboards, microphones, switch pedals, and a pragmatic entourage of fellow band members, only Van Gogh could match with a sheet of paper and a box of Crayola. You don’t have to invent something entirely new to create something unique, you just have to reinvent a new way of using something that already exists. James Blake exemplified this adaptive process by using the same tools available to any musician out there to translate the musical vision he has in a completely fresh way to any audience. Instead of using technology to control or direct his artistic vision, James uses it as an extended representation of himself.
The night was unquestionably sensual, intensely passionate, and unforgettable. James Blake is a man who combines elements from countless genres to create a style of music that appeals to any musical preference. Whether you’re someone who appreciates genuine heartfelt music, emotive and passionate love songs, upbeat dance anthems, wicked dirty beats, or just simply beautiful arrangements, James has something for you. There was just one question I had in mind as the concert was drawing to a close – what planet is he from?