James Blake assumes many forms at The Fillmore - WXPN
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James Blake | photo by Isaiah Spicer for WXPN | iospicer.com

James Blake has come a long way since he first introduced himself to the world through a series of gorgeously glitchy EPs back the start of the decade. From there, we’ve seen him undergo subtle but significant evolution. That early glitchiness gave way to dubstep-infused piano balladry, Mercury Prize-winning R&B, and elegant experimental soul, all anchored by Blake’s smooth, syrupy vocals.

This year’s Assume Form saw him adopting a different kind of shift, abandoning his trademark interiority in favor of collaboration and songs about romantic contentment. I’d dare say it’s the happiest collection of songs he’s put his name to yet. That happiness was both obvious and contagious at last Friday’s show at The Fillmore. Attendees were treated a generous, joyous selection of songs from his career, one that both properly showcased his new album and infused his past highlights with its positive vibes.

James Blake | photo by Isaiah Spicer for WXPN | iospicer.com

This was an impressive feat, especially considering that Blake was performing without his murderer’s row of Form collaborators. His success at bringing those songs alive proved a testament to their viability.  “Barefoot in the Park” proved just as swoon worthy and cinematic even without Rosalía’s intoxicating vocals weaving in and out of Blake’s, while the pre-tracked verses from André 300 and Moses Sumney on “Where’s the Catch?” and “Mile High”, respectively, barely felt necessary.

All of the above were anchored by Blake’s confidence and earnestness, which flowed over the audience in sequence with his blood red stage lighting, serpentine beats, and cascading pianos. That earnestness carried over to his banter as well, which was gracious and good-spirited.

James Blake | photo by Isaiah Spicer for WXPN | iospicer.com

The confidence, meanwhile, lent his legacy songs a newfound urgency. The Colour in Anything cuts “Love Me in Whatever Way” and “Timeless” seemed to transmogrify from ballads to bangers in real time on stage, while his classic cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” conveyed resolve where there was once remorse. Best of all were the meatier versions of highlights from his award-winning sophomore opus Overgrown. “Retrograde” remained the requisite crowd pleaser with its new finger of god percussion, while dancefloor filler “Voyeur” became even more dizzying, and left me waiting with baited breath for the day that Blake finally decides to go full tilt in that direction on a whole album.

But there’s no rush. Time and again, Blake proved with his performance that he knows what he’s doing, and is 100% happy with where he is, both in life, in his career, and on stage. Everyone else was just as happy for him, and for such a memorable night.


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