by / March 30th, 2011 /

James Blake – Whelan’s, Dublin

Through a series of EPs a young British producer by the name of James Blake forged an evolving new sound in 2010 – blending R&B samples, quick-click dubstep rhythms, cavernous bass lines and Auto-Tuned choruses. Named checked by the likes of Burial, Giles Peterson, Jamie xx, Mount Kimbie, Joy Orbison and Ramadanman, Blake was an artist’s artist. Less than a year ago he played a reportedly unremarkable DJ set in Dublin’s Twister Pepper to a few dozen chin-stroking dubstep purists, leaving the reverence of his performance and production skills to debate on the message-boards and forums these same pasty creatures occupy. In short, James Blake was as nerdy as a HTML t-shirt.

However, there was a seismic shift in the aftershock of an earth-shattering Feist cover, propelling Blake to the top of everyone’s 2011 list – even making the pages of glossy fashion magazines alongside “Jennifer Anniston’s Night of Hell” (presumably when she discovered that Branjelina adopted a new Border Collie and named it Rachel). With that Blake’s eponymous debut LP was somehow burdened with both critical and commercial expectation long before its release. Thankfully, from the epicentre of its own hyperbole, the record floored critics across the board and found its way onto everyone’s iPod or playlist and, more shockingly, daytime radio.

With barely a month’s notice, Blake announced a live show in Whelan’s, Dublin which promptly sold out in 20 minutes. You can be sure as eggs the promoters tried to shift it next door to a larger venue (The Village) but smartly Blake stuck to the more intimate setting. This intimacy meant the audience could see the intricacies of Blake’s performance and could feel the music – every rib rattling note of it.

Seeing Blake’s honest use of Auto-Tune and effects pedals is exhilarating. Far from hiding or disguising his voice he uses technology to bend and pitch it with affecting talent – morphing his soulful croon to a heart-warming female-sounding vocal on ‘To Care (Like You)’ or the alien robot choir on ‘Lindesfarne’, which paradoxically flits between cutting-edge future music and traditional song complete with lilting guitar and simple percussion. Blake can sing, this is more than apparent. Especially on ‘Why Don’t You Call Me’ which also showcases his classical training where the breaks and pauses are as breath-taking as his piano playing.

‘I Never Learned To Share’ was met with whooping recognition and in return the room was filled with a wash of intoxicating sine waves, excelling it far and beyond the recorded version with a dizzying electronic crescendo. Of course ‘Limit To Your Love’ lifted the roof – almost literally. The shuddering bass shook the foundations of the building, winding the audience with a sonic punch to the chest punctuated by silences, and as the buzz acoustics faded out a hit-hat solo carried the song to a glorious close.

Being gracious in character Blake pleased his fans by playing ‘Klavierwerke’ from one of the aforementioned EPs. While the minute cymbal hits and rhythmic clicks might have bewildered the Grazia readers, the nerds in the crowd were beaming with glee. To boot, there was a new song in the form of a crashing experimental piece with trombone, looped vocals and sweeping guitar strings.

‘The Wilhelm Scream’ closed the set with bluesy soul vocals that was swallowed by static and white noise in a song the inverts, turns inside-out and returns to form lodging firmly in the psyche in the process, as all great songs should.

While all eyes are on the charts for dubstep’s great cross-over act (Magnetic Man, Katy B), James Blake is sneaking in the singer-songwriter door with something ultimately less throwaway than mere “popstep”.

Photos by Luis Faustino.
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  • RonanC

    Great review to a stunning show

  • gareth sharkey

    sound was fairly poor i thought overall. whelans sound desk seem to lose blakes voice a lot of the time in the bone shaking bass.
    ignoring the limitations of the venue ,it was a great performance ans a credit to a talented young mans career. was chuffed they dropped the ep track too ,total bonus.

  • Cool musician.

  • Stacks

    “Less than a year ago he played a reportedly unremarkable DJ set in Dublin’s Twister Pepper to a few dozen chin-stroking dubstep purists, leaving the reverence of his performance and production skills to debate on the message-boards and forums these same pasty creatures occupy.”

    That’s pretty insulting to the promoter and the so called ‘dubstep purists’ who were ahead of the curve. Maybe you should head down to these DJ sets and figure out what you’ll be writing about next year.

  • pasty creature

    ^

    2 years tbh

  • niamhin

    I went to see what all the fuss was about, & to judge with an open mind. What I heard was breath-taking. Like Laurie Anderson crossed with Anthony & The Johnsons with dub beats thrown in for good measure. It’s fantastic to see someone on an upward curve for such good value. Well worth it on a school night. I felt sorry for the support act Cloud Boat, whom i thought could have benefited from little more reverence. Such is the pity of Support Act Syndrome…

  • Alan’s actually fairly “ahead of the curve” himself. He was just reporting what he heard about the gig.

  • Harrold

    ”Less than a year ago he played a reportedly unremarkable DJ set in Dublin’s Twister Pepper to a few dozen chin-stroking dubstep purists”

    L-O-L!! Get your fact right fella.. tut tut

  • Hi Guys,

    Thanks for your comments. I find it a bit odd that I need to defend this particular review, it was written with nothing but good meaning and I think you really need to be dissecting it to find any mal intent.

    James Blake is one of my favourite artists of the last couple of years but that’s of little or no interest to anyone, the point of my review is to underscore Blake’s rise from niche artist to continuing mainstream interest.

    The reason for mentioning last year’s DJ set was to highlight that less than a year ago James Blake’s draw was still relatively small – the show was far from sold out – compared to how quickly he sold out Whelan’s and could have probably sold out The Village or Vicar St.

    I didn’t make it along to Twisted Pepper myself but I stand by my comment, I was told I didn’t miss much by friends who know their stuff and I never heard otherwise – I still haven’t. In saying that no one said it was bad either. I can’t see how any promoter would be upset and the purist jibe is just a bit of ribbing at mates, that simple.

    Of course there was some exaggeration, on both ends of my argument, but purely emphasize a point – last year mole-men, this year Xposé! All in good jest.

    But back to the whole point, James Blake is a remarkable artist with genuine talent that deserves every success. In my mind his music and performances are a perfect measure of a truly modern artist – a perfect snapshot of 2011.

    Cheers

    Alan

  • Ross

    Thanks for your response, Alan. You may have intended it be ribbing mates, but it reads like a diss of whoever was there and indeed anyone who was ‘nerdy’ enough to be into his music prior to him singing on his records. It’s not really surprising you got a bit of a backlash tbh. Anyway, it was a pretty great set from my point of view – as surprising and stealthily weird as his records. I suggest you hunt down the Harmonimix 12 he did for a taste of what it was like.

  • Cheers Ross, I’m only familiar with the Lil Wayne and Destiny’s Child reworks he did – great stuff. Further shows the diversity he’s capable of.

  • Mícheál

    just to clear something, he doesnt use auto tune, he uses a vocoder (you cant sing chords with autotune)

  • Ah, cheers Mícheál. Thanks for clearing that up.

    Alan

  • Mícheál

    sorry about that im just in awe at how good his vocoder sounds

  • Not at all, it’s good to know – particularly when it is one of the most striking things about his performance.