After playing an excellent lunchtime set live on KEXP, British dub pioneer James Blake moved down to the Neptune for a sold out gig in support of new record Overgrown. Fans were lined up more than an hour before the show and the place packed out quickly once doors were open, and all for good reason. Blake and his band have a knack for creating a totally unique live experience akin to but not identical to Blake’s records. The live interpretation of the sketches on the album are living organisms, and the sheer size and scope of Blake’s undertaking on stage is pretty intense. If you blink, you probably missed something, whether it be an added synthesizer, a looped vocal line, or an additional sample. Blake’s set was brilliant, and not a person in the room left disappointed.
Connecticut born electronic artist FaltyDL opened up the night with a heavily atmospheric DJ set. Ranging from the quiet whisper beats of new Gold Panda to the retro funk chaos of Daft Punk’s “Short Circuit”, FaltyDL spun a diverse mixture of sounds and songs that made for a pretty fitting introduction to the diverse and contradictory nature of Blake’s set.
On the record, Blake’s music walks an interesting tightrope balance between mellow as can be piano soul and skull-crushing bass driven dance music. The trouble with the record is, when you dwell on the quiet beauty of tunes like “Lindisfarne”, you rarely remember to crank the volume to 11 for the face melting ending of “Never Learnt To Share” or the ecstatic chaos of “Digital Lion”. The beauty about Blake’s show live is, he doesn’t give you a choice. Opening with a fully rendered “Air & Lack Thereof”, Blake proved that, given a massive sound system, his tunes can rattle the building to its foundation. Then, looping his voice to infinity for “Never Learnt To Share”, Blake upped the ante until the crowd was dizzy. But then, backing off the energy he’d just mustered over the first 10 minutes, Blake brought out Overgrown track “To The Last” and self-titled classic “Lindisfarne” before returning to the noise with “CMYK”. Live, the stark difference between Blake’s two sides is more apparent than ever, but it plays into his mystery as a performer and as an artist all the more. Trailblazing through the insane twists and turns of “Voyeur”, “Digital Lion”, and classics like “Klavierwerke”, Blake proved that he is one of the most progressive voices in electronic music today. But then, when he finished setting the bar up and beyond any reachable point, he backed off for “Overgrown” and “Our Love Comes Back”. This was emphasized perfectly one last time in his encore, playing back to back “The Wilhelm Scream” and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”. Blake is a living, breathing dichotomy, but just like all of electronic music’s greatest, this plays into his strengths more than his weaknesses.