Live Review: James Blake @ the Showbox at the Market, 9/24

photos by Dave Lichterman

When you’ve ridden the buzz for as long as James Blake has, sometimes it’s easy to forget that behind the hyperbolic review quotes and shrieking fandom lies an extremely talented artist who’s not even close to realizing his full genius. Following a packed performance earlier this year at the Tractor Tavern, Blake has upgraded to a venue more fitting to his sizable and diverse following. The Showbox at the Market was packed with an array of different people, including ravers, hipsters, and dolled-up older folks. Everyone was united by the same goal, however; to get their melancholy, bass-fueled groove on.

Openers Teengirl Fantasy had plenty of energy, but unlike their seizure-inducing website, it wasn’t hard to ignore the duo. In an age where everyone with a laptop and Ableton Live can mimic the luminaries of the already-decaying chillwave movement, the young pair simply had little new to offer but some crossed arms and a few courtesy head-bobs. Still, it’s clear that the band has a load of potential, and it’ll be interesting to see where they take their sound on later recordings.

After a shortened wait time between acts (thanks, all-ages shows!), the man himself took the stage, supported by a drummer and a guitarist who also doubled as a bass manipulator. The sheepish young Blake seemed to take the enormous crowd roars all in stride, and lurched right into his set. The lighting was as minimal as Blake’s music, shifting reds and blues with the occasional burst of strobe to coincide with the signature bass rumbles that Blake’s so good at unleashing. During the cathartic release of the final quarter of third song, “I Never Learnt to Share,” the crowd finally got to moving, as the walls trembled and the strobe lights went absolutely berserk, drawing more than a few appreciative screams from the crowd.

Of course, this was nothing compared to the bass explosions of “Limit to Your Love,” which alone are impressive. But Blake took it to the next level, turning “Love” from a four minute pop song into the realm of a ten-minute dub remix, a pleasant surprise that saw Blake’s minimalist house tendencies peeking to the fore. Following all this was the somewhat quieter “Lindisfarne” and “Lindisfarne II”, which, followed by “To Care (Like You),” showcased Blake’s talent for intense and gender-defying vocal manipulation. Complete with self-sampling and dual keyboards, Blake turned both tracks into a single tour de force of experimental electronica.

Blake then closed the show with the rollicking fifteen-minute acid jam “ADWD,” a sprawling psychedelic house dub that saw the most inspired dancing of the night. Alternately minimal buildup and techno-jam, Blake proved he’s still got miles ahead before his talent for songwriting runs dry.

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