Review: James Blake at Margaret Court Arena, Wednesday 27th July by Sean A’Hearn.
Touring the country in support of third album, The Colour in Anything, James Blake has come along way since his first EP releases in 2010.
Initially hailed by journalists as “post-dubstep” following the release of the fragmented electronic sounds of his trio of 2010 EPs, Blake honed his sound with a slightly more straightforward approach on his acclaimed 2011 self-titled debut, refining it even further for 2013’s follow-up, Overgrown.
Third album The Colour In Anything continued the trend, seeing Blake take a less hands-on approach, recruiting legendary producer Rick Rubin, and putting together several high profile collaborations including Kanye West and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
During this time, the London-born singer-songwriter-producer has also built a sterling live reputation and amassed a loyal fanbase in all corners of the globe.
Supporting Blake on this night was fellow countryman and current Australian resident Mark Pritchard, a DJ and producer in his own right. Playing quite a vast mashup of genres, Pritchard’s style is hard to pinpoint but definitely stems from the London underground scene with elements of dubstep and drum ‘n bass.
Spending half of his time staring at his laptop screen and not displaying a lot of energy or enthusiasm, Pritchard nonetheless delivered an enjoyable and danceable set to a largely appreciative audience.
With a perfect view, seated just behind the mixing desk about 30 metres from the stage, I was unsure of exactly how the intimate studio magic of Blake’s albums would translate to a live setting at the 7500 capacity Margaret Court Arena.
As the show got underway, the first noticeable factor was that the three members on stage (guitarist, drummer and Blake himself) were distinctly separated, barely moving from their seats at all.
This brought about an aura of mystery and intrigue, as we were collectively reeled in and gradually lulled into a sort of dream state, our senses both numb yet acutely alert at the same time.
Cutting quite a serious figure onstage, Blake’s crowd interaction was limited early on, but he let his music do the talking, creating a gloriously claustrophobic atmosphere of glitchy beats, layered vocals and stage-generated sounds, coupled with a jarring lighting show that would’ve been an epileptic’s worst nightmare.
Appearing to loosen up as he went, Blake is deceptively charismatic. Quietly confident and obviously comfortable in his own skin, he didn’t need to say a lot to make his presence felt. Throughout the performance, his trademark ethereal vocals were pitch perfect, both subtle and powerful in equal measure – as was his deft, often understated piano playing.
Playing songs mostly from his latest album, it was the old favourites ‘Limit to Your Love’, ‘Retrograde’, and especially ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ that were the most warmly received.
The biggest highlights, however, were the more subdued moments, where it was just Blake and his piano. This was most apparent on title track ‘The Colour in Anything’ and a beautiful, intimate rendition of Joni Mitchell’s, ‘A Case of You’.
It was thus fitting that Blake finished with a stripped-back version of ‘Measurements’, a song taken from his first album in which his vocals are looped over the top of each other several times. Like a ghost, Blake disappeared from sight, allowing the haunting layering of his vocals to sink in as they continued to loop continuously into the night.