Back in town for the first time since his Splendour sideshows in 2011, the fact that this gig sold out in a record breaking 60 seconds flat is a testament to the Brit’s surprising rise in notoriety.
His show at the Corner Hotel was a testing ground for his forthcoming sophomore release, Overgrown.
Providing a half-hour warm up was the Sydney via South Africa beat maker Jonti. Playing mostly new material, his Ezra Koenig-esque vocals swayed irregularly through his off kilter ambience.
The multi-instrumentalist’s sonic textures more often than not matched that of his quirky bodily rhythms.
Closing his set with an acoustic number from his gasoline tin guitar, Jonti may have been involved in the Australian music scene for some time now, but he showed that there’s still plenty to look forward to from the producer.
When Blake’s eponymous debut landed in early 2011, he embodied the overused term, ‘buzz act’. His distinct style garnered him acclaim and fans from around the world.
This performance though, was more about where Blake was heading, rather than focusing on the past. His set was bolstered by an array of new tracks that instantly sounded all the stronger than some of the songs from his debut album.
For most at this (extremely) sold out gig their view of the three-piece band was limited to screens on either side of the stage, or to fellow punters’ heads.
Yet never has the view of the back of someone’s head or the couple making out next to you been so tolerable. The futile efforts of iPhone photographers were bound to make one grin though. Thankfully most gave up on that idea early on.
A tantalizing, drawn out opening song of distortion and ambience had the crowd yearning for the sound of Blake’s vocals. But as the group began to play ‘I Never Learnt To Share’, the crowd yelped and cheered with every loop of the singer’s majestic voice.
The second song was the beginning of Blake’s transportation service that would take punters beyond that of the physical annoyances of having such a large crowd in a small space.
“We don’t really know what we’re doing,” admits the musician in his soft British accent, speaking of the band’s fatigue after having just got off a plane from SXSW in Austin.
But for the early moments of the set, the audience was none the wiser to Blake’s jetlag.
Pushing forward into a new unheard song, dark and ominous beats protruded through the speakers as the difficulty of ascertaining just exactly what the 24-year-old was singing about became clear. Not that it bothered the largely adoring audience as they lapped up the more club-influenced beats of his new number.
The musician’s voice is most at its most digitized during the two-part ‘Lindesfarne’. Obscure, yet exquisite, he led the song – playing one of the many keyboards that surrounded him, with his stick-long fingers.
What followed was a short dalliance into Blake’s pre-album history with ‘CMYK’. The title track from his 2010 EP, which takes samples from Kelis’ ‘Caught Out There’ and Aayliah’s ‘Are You Somebody’, had some members of the audience singing along.
It was a rare moment for those attendees, with seven songs out of thirteen coming from the forthcoming Overgrown; its themes of love notable in Blake’s set as during one cut he serenaded, “our love comes back in the middle of the night.”
Although some punters clearly weren’t as moved as others. The restlessness amongst the crowd was evident; with chatter being heard against the three-piece’s efforts.
It died down eventually, but not before one punter gave the audience an important piece of advice. “Shut up and listen,” he yelled while the band prepared for the next song. It was surprisingly and thankfully effective.
As the three-piece continued with ‘Digital Lion’, one of the more recent cuts that has appeared online from Overgrown, Blake halted in the opening verse, noting that he’d “fucked up.”
“Next time I come back I’ll have it down,” he jests, before revealing that it was the first time they’d played the song live.
If the gathered hadn’t forgotten the fault by the end of the song, they immediately did as they heard the opening keys to his cover of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’.
Blake hit the impeccable heights that the crowd yearned for. But it wasn’t until he played another new track, where he repeated the same word for the whole song that the singer demonstrated the ecstatic heights his vocals can reach.
Before delving into ‘Wilhelm’s Scream’, Blake in all his modesty, described the fact that he could sell out his two date Australian tour as “really beautiful;” assuring that he “doesn’t take it for granted”.
The musician’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s gorgeous ‘A Case Of You’ was interrupted twice by Blake asking for more reverb; “I can’t even sing my favourite song!” He laughs.
While it may not have sounded perfect to the singer, he slightly ruined the emotional intensity of the track, when the rest of the audience was content with what he was serving up with the piano number.
Blake’s set may have had a few mishaps along the way, but his encore closing rendition of his latest single, ‘Retrograde’, demonstrated why he’ll have another big year on his hands.
What is fast becoming his best song, the single – just like most his set – sounded exceptional under what was not the most ideal of gig-going circumstances. There are few acts that (without the help of alcoholic intervention) sound marvelous enough for you to forget your surroundings.
That is why James Blake’s show was unforgettable and most certainly another reason to anticipate his sophomore release.