Photography by Yaya Stempler @ Sydney's Hordern Pavilion @yayastemp
I am heart broken, and I blame James Blake.
I generally consider myself a rather cold hearted person – not even Bambi makes me cry – but on Wednesday evening he took to the stage at Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena and taught me a lesson about sorrow and longing.
Mark Pritchard opened the show with a set that inspired intense and diverse feelings in me. While I appreciated his sampling of ‘Red Light’ by The Banshees and ‘Dream Baby Dream’ by Suicide – a homage to the recently deceased Alan Vega – the majority of the set catalysed flashbacks to 3am at a bush doof (for non-Australian’s, a bush doof is essentially a rave festival out in the bush largely exhibiting psytrance and dubstep). That being said, there were certainly members of the crowd who vibed it, and James Blake himself later expressed his adulation for Pritchard’s new album.
Shortly after, the room goes dark and a hush falls upon the crowd: piano and space sounds creates a palpable excitement before James Blake ethereally emerges through smoke and blue light.
His voice is absolutely unmistakeable. Working the loop machine like no one else can, a regular theme of the show was to harmonise with himself. This, along with the often slightly off-beat drum pad (which I have never before seen utilised to magically), created a unique texture to each of the songs which matched the complexity of the lyrical themes of his freshest album. The fact that they managed to pull this off as a completely live set – not a laptop in sight – is simply incredible.
He offered us a revised version of ‘Part Time Lovers’ from 2013’s Overgrown album, which transpired into a mosaic of sirens and terrifying lights, and played a hyped up rendition of ‘I Hope My Life’ which went well on the dancefloor. There was also the notable influence of dub step throughout his songs which earned him his place as the forefather of post-dub, including one in which he sampled ‘What A Job’ by Devin The Dude.
His inter-song banter showed his humility and appreciation for his audience and success, which he particularly attributes to Ben Assiter on drums and Rob McAndrews on guitar. The last time he toured Australia it was just him on stage, but they have spent years honing in the live set between the three of them, and it really is something mind boggling. What is even more mind boggling is how Blake manages to go from jovially chit chatting with the audience to seconds later creating remarkable, magical and mystifying noises with that very same mouth as he sings.
He teased the audience with a long, slow introduction to ‘Retrograde’, and as the crowd realised, they roared – thus all of our cheers and woos were recorded into the loop and we, mere mortals, became part of the song that James Blake belted along with.
Assiter and McAndrews vacated the stage as James finished up with a heart-wrenching cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’, before they rejoined the stage together for an encore performance. Together they played ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ – which he told us was actually a song his father wrote called ‘White Time’ which Blake adapted. Finally, he requested the cooperation of the audience to be quiet as he recovered multiple layers of ‘Measurements’ on loop, and left them to play out as he snuck off stage while we were left awe-struck and heart broken.