Recap: James Blake at The Trocadero
British dubstep musician James Blake has made a name for himself crafting his own beat-driven version of singer/songwriter ballads. The digital composer received ample critical acclaim for his self-titled debut album. As the cover art would suggest, Blake’s music relies on spooky musical effects that give all his songs eerie, almost uneasy tendencies. His follow-up EP, Enough Thunder (released earlier this month), is much more evocative of the singer/songwriter genre than Blake’s first album; the new tracks are more lyrical and instrumental. To further his adoration for folk and instrumental music, he officially released his cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You.” Blake’s particular version of the celebrated folk tune, which has ultimately been one of his most popular songs, is especially warm and impassioned—atypical from his entire discography. It has been speculated that this cover might be indicative of his future work. However, judging by last Saturday’s performance at The Trocadero, James Blake plans on pursuing electronic music while still maintaining a singer/songwriter persona.
James Blake entered the stage alone and, after briefly introducing himself, solemnly took to the piano, starting the show with a solo performance of the title track “Enough Thunder.” Then a band, consisting of just a guitarist and drummer, joined Blake as accompaniment for the following songs. Blake and his bandmates moved from one song to the next with remarkable ease. Throughout the show Blake would interject the occasional aside about specific songs or his tour, but the crowd seemed to just anxiously await the start of a new song. The audience remained firmly engaged for the entire performance. There was frequent swaying and bobbing, but mostly people were mesmerized by the mellow beats and soothing vocals.
Obvious looping dominated “I Never Learnt To Share,” as Blake sang each part and affected the vocals live. Blake is one of few electronic producers who mixes his songs live (instead of having it premixed on a laptop). This artistic control and dedication was clear in all the subsequent songs performed. “To Care (Like You)” involved various computerized versions of Blake’s voice, implying a hint of otherworldliness. But it wasn’t until “Limit To Your Love” when things became strictly supernatural. Cloaked in gently colored smoke, Blake and his band haunted the crowd with unearthly sounds—noises that would make a horror-flick soundtrack seem like child’s play. Bass shook the venue and eardrums, furthering the paranormal nature of Blake’s compositions. He wrapped up the set with his well-known “The Wilhelm Scream.” Murky, golden light enveloped the stage (visually reminiscent of his debut album cover art) as Blake sang the weary lyrics, “I don’t know about my dreamin’ anymore/All that I know is/I’m fallin’.” The echoing words seemed to resonate with the ever-captivated crowd as James Blake and his band humbly exited the stage. They returned to play a two-song encore, ending with “A Case Of You” which was performed alone by Blake—who commented that the show had been “the most fun he’s had in a while.”
There is no denying that James Blake’s music is recognizably distinct. Dubstep that relies on singer/songwriter influences with spooky melodic undertones is almost a genre unto itself. Despite contributions from singer/songwriters like Bon Iver and Joni Mitchell, the new EP, Enough Thunder, does not abandon its beat heavy, digitized roots. Instead the EP furthers Blake’s unmistakable musical style and represents artistic growth. With such critical acclaim and only one full-length album, the phantom folkie of dubstep has little restraint and endless musical possibilities. —Caitlyn Grabenstein