It’s hard to put a show into words when it left you completely speechless.
Making his second trip to our shores in the short space of five months, James Blake’s Splendour sideshow at the Palais was one of those rare performances that simply makes you feel lucky to have been there to see it.
“Thanks for coming down early, I’ve looked up to James for a long time now and it’s an honour just to open for him,” says an ecstatic Oliver Tank midway through his support set. The singer-producer was clearly in his element, smiling from ear to ear as he performed tracks from his Dreams EP in a flawless set that definitely honoured his idol.
Standing alone on stage dressed casually in a Nike hoodie, the multi-instrumentalist conjured a truly dreamy atmosphere with his delicate electronic loops bouncing off the high-arch walls of the picturesque Palais Theatre.
Highlights of his regretfully short 30-minute set included ‘Last Night I Heard Everything In Slow Motion’ and his remix of Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg’s ‘Beautiful’. Consistently putting on exquisite performances around the country, Oliver Tank is an Australian artist deserving of much more attention.
After a half hour intermission, the house lights dimmed to black. Before James Blake emerged though, a suspenseful two-minute intro of deep, looming bass made the anticipation in the air denser by the second.
Finally strolling out on stage with his two live bandmates in tow, the Englishmen sat down in his booth surrounded by various equipment and immediately dropped the beat for ‘Air And Lack Thereof’ from his stunning 2009 debut record.
It was the first of an impeccably crafted setlist which encapsulated the highlights of his vast back catalogue. Throughout the night recent additions from this year’s acclaimed record Overgrown were balanced with nostalgic trips from his past.
The seated crowd only had to wait until the second song, ‘I Never Learnt To Share’, to hear his signature voice which somehow managed to sound even more beautiful in the flesh. From the falsetto of ‘Life Round Here’ and even to the heavily distorted ‘Lindisfarne’, his vocals never faltered over the expansive 17-song set.
Bass is undoubtedly another key element of Blake’s sound, and it needs to be noted just how loud it is live. From the very first drop, titanic walls of bass rippled through the venue and really allowed for his tracks to translate onto a level that can’t be achieved through headphones.
Typically performing alone on stage, the rare inclusion of a live drummer and another on guitar/synths made the performance even more powerful and enthralling. It brought out the underlying subtleties in sparser tracks such as ‘Limit To Your Love’ and ‘Overgrown’ to shine through in a brand new light.
On that note, even the lighting was a drawcard. Connected by trigger cues in the production, it created a series of dazzling and borderline epileptic light shows during the high tempo, club-like breakdowns of ‘CMYK’ and the ‘Voyeur’ remix by his own dance-oriented side project, 1-800-Dinosaur.
The tempo shifted multiple times throughout the night between these captivating dance moments and his soulful ballads. Truly a master of versatility, Blake would be bouncing in his seat to the soaring BPM of one minute and belting out a hyper-emotional serenade the next. At either end of the spectrum, the multi-talented musician seemed completely in his element.
“Every person I meet and every crowd I play to make me want to come back more,” a humble Blake says after returning to the stage for an encore of ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ and his cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’.
The night ended appropriately with the entire Palais Theatre joined in standing ovation, desperately trying to give the musician in front of them the level of applause he deserved. James Blake might’ve left us speechless, but it’s a performance that’ll be talked about for a long time to come.
James Blake Setlist
Air & Lack Thereof
I Never Learnt To Share
Life Round Here
To The Last
I Am Sold
Our Loves Come Back
Limit To Your Love
Voyeur (1-800-Dinosaur Remix)
Once We All Agree
The Wilhelm Scream
A Case Of You