REVIEW: James Blake @ O2 Academy Bristol (30/11/16)

JAMES BLAKE – O2 ACADEMY 30/10/16

In the highly anticipated first night of The Colour in Anything UK tour, James Blake played a majestic sold-out set to a crowded audience at Bristol’s O2 Academy. The performance was dominated by songs from Blake’s new album interspersed with fan favourites from earlier records. The 2013 Mercury Prize winner’s minimalist style creates a commanding and enthralling live set; the power and beauty of his voice is the sole focus of the evening.

Blake begins, unexpectedly, with new track Always. Although one of the better songs from The Colour in Anything, this set a somewhat subdued tone to his opening and he would have been better suited starting with a track with more potential for progression. This was quickly recovered however with one of his more lively tracks, Life Round Here, from his second album. Blake continued to maintain this energy by playing an abridged version of one of our personal favourites, Choose Me.

The Colour in Anything sounds incredible live. Blake impressively managed to play the entirety of his set with nothing pre-recorded, a difficult feat for a two-hour set considering the complexity and extensively electronic nature of his music. This evening confirmed the incredible musical ability of James Blake; both his voice and instrumentation are always executed flawlessly. There is a ubiquitous intensity in his performance, that whilst notable does not always create the most up-beat atmosphere.

The first half of Blake’s set shows the extraordinary diversity in his discography. The juxtaposition of new track Timeless with a cover of Feist’s Limit To Your Love creates a distinct contrast. Although the variation in his music is impressive, it sometimes led to a disjointed energy. There were far too frequent shifts in atmosphere, most dramatically the cover of Confidence Boost by Trim, who joined Blake on stage. The inclusion of another genre of music into his set created a fragmented feeling that was ultimately not a successful contrast to the ethereal nature of Blake’s own sound.

This was quickly amended in the second half of his set however, which was dominated by the most popular tracks from The Colour in Anything, as well as a striking performance of Blake’s most notable track Retrograde. One of the most magical parts of the evening was his performance of I Need A Forest Fire. This acclaimed collaboration with Bon Iver received of one the most fan reactions of the evening. Blake’s set was consistently accompanied by dramatic lighting and videos clips, which were paired most successfully with this track to create one of the most climatic points of his set. He finished this section of the evening with older track The Wilhelm Scream, a cover of a song written by his father. James Blake’s encore reveals his beauty as a performer.

Upon returning to the stage, he plays a cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You before ending with Measurements, asking the audience for complete silence so not to disturb his incredible complex loops. For the final two songs it is just Blake and his fans, creating a wonderful dynamic that is just the pure talent of his voice and the people who have admired it for so long.

★★★★