“I may have gone through the motions my whole life,” James Blake crooned to a sold-out crowd while overlooking his Prophet 08 synthesizer. He continued, “I will be touchable, I will be reachable.” Teal lights swirled beneath his Nord Piano 2 as he delicately climbed up and down the chords of his first song of the night, “Assume Form,” which is also the opening track on his most recent album sharing the same name.
The British multi-instrumentalist dazzled New York City with the extensive use of multi-layered vocals, auto-tune, rap samples, and his three-octave soaring baritone during his two sold-out headlining shows at Terminal 5 on West 56th Street. Before Blake seized the spotlight, fellow electronic Brit, Khushi opened the evening. With their new, breakout single, “Freedom Falls,” and other stellar tracks from a forthcoming album, lead singer Kalim Patel debuted his lulling vocals, synth work, acoustic instrumentals, and all-encompassing crescendos.
After Khushi completed their set, the lights faded as the stage transformed into an electronic utopia; keyboards on the right corner, samplers in the left corner, and drums in the center. Dressed in a monochromatic ensemble, James Blake stepped onstage head-to-toe in black, and waved to fans as he settled into his synthesized setup. On an elevated platform above the actual stage, Blake sat in the company of many loop pedals, speakers, and instruments surrounding him, claiming his space as king of contemporary electronica.
Blake’s aching, tenderly sung vibrato, elaborate audio sequencers, and deep basslines echoed through the room as he performed “Timeless” and “Love Me In Whatever Way” from his 2016 album, The Colour in Anything. Vapor in the background emanated from fog machines as the skillful pianist’s hands graced the electric keys.
The first few chords of “Limit to Your Love,” a cover by Feist from James Blake’s 2011 self-titled release, caused the crowd to roar in approval. As beats dropped through the song midway, glowing red lights underneath Blake’s platform flashed into a deeper blue, emulating his silhouette amongst indigo smoke.
From his multi-textured 2013 album, Overgrown, James Blake included the soulful, beat-heavy, “Voyeur,” into the setlist with an extended outro. With pulsating beats, reverberating melodies, and sparking lights, the track, “Retrograde” resonated with the concertgoers, many of whom could be seen swaying, dancing, and throwing their hands in the air. Dubstep-esque rhythm and the sultry lyrics of “Life Round Here,” played live displayed Blake’s unique artistry; a genre-bending, hard-to-define musical product.
In support of his new LP, James Blake turned eight more songs from Assume Form into epic live versions. The raunchy words of “Mile High,” a highly-streamed duet with Travis Scott, were sang by Blake as he played the keyboard chords over a sample of Scott’s vocals. Blake, an accomplished producer, mixer, and frequent collaborator, did the same with his duets, “Where’s the Catch?” featuring Andre 3000, and “Barefoot in the Park” with ROSALIA.
The lights in the venue dimmed once more, reflecting a rose-colored hue in the backdrop as James Blake stood up from the right corner, grabbed a mic and headed over to the stage’s center. “Are you in love?” Blake gently sang with his transcending falsetto, “I try my hardest for you.” With ultra-romantic lyrics, soft acoustic fingerpicking, and lilac lighting, Blake began another love song, “Can’t Believe The Way We Flow.” Directly facing the audience, Blake’s vulnerable lyricism, expressive, heart-rending voice, and cathartic musical style was on full display.
“This is a new song,” James Blake then said as he began, “Loathe to Roam,” a dynamic dance tune that has only been heard live (and has yet to be released). The colors circulating the space turned to black, with a singular spotlight then focusing on Blake. “This is a song my dad wrote,” he said while playing the intro to “The Wilhelm Scream.” From his self-titled debut, it is a re-transformed version of a song by his father, James Litherland.
“I don’t know about my love, I don’t know about my love anymore,” Blake sang, taking everyone around him on a deep-diving journey of introspection and wavering sentiments. After profusely thanking the crowd for attending, Blake swiftly disappeared backstage, leaving the attendees breathless and anxiously awaiting his return.
He emerged from the shadows for the last time, being cheered on as he headed towards the keyboard to the right of the stage. With the beloved sounds of his favorite instrument, he delivered a profound, wholehearted encore of “Don’t Miss It,” a song written as Blake’s outlet for previously struggling with depression and anxiety. The honest and open musician inspires many listeners to shed themes of toxic masculinity and feel comfortable expressing themselves.
For the concluding song of the evening, audience members shouted their guesses as to what it may have been.
“Tell Them!” one fan shouted, “or Forest Fire!” Voices continued to yell out Blake’s song titles as he laughed into the microphone. “It’s not going to be 'Tell Them' or 'I Need a Forest Fire' either,” he said with a smile, “See, only I know what the next song is.” Quiet laughs and giggles echoed through the venue.
“I first recorded this song in silence, so that is what I now what I ask of you all,” Blake said to his devoted audience, “Just silence.” Loud cheers dwindled into whispers, and then slowly dissipated into the quiet Blake needed to perform, “Lullaby for My Insomniac.”
As he exited the stage for the final time, he gave a parting wave and bowed to every section. Looping hymn-like vocals still resonated around the theatre, giving a serene, peaceful goodbye as fans began to depart. Somehow, Terminal 5 was transformed into a church with James Blake’s gospel-inspired harmonies, a rave with his complex beats, and and a concert full of serenades that no one within its walls on February 24 and 25 will ever forget.
James Blake can assume many musical forms, and on this current tour he is assuming the form of a genius. At his NYC stop, we saw elements of trip-hop, folk, R&B, and soul.