James Blake at the Ogden Theatre, 4/28/13
The last thing James Blake wants to be is the center of attention. He took a seat stage left last night at a crowded Ogden and barely moved or acknowledged the crowd of adoring fans gathered together to see him. Not a surprise. Blake is known for his smooth, dubbed out blue-eyed soul, not his engaging stage presence. He was accompanied by keys/guitar and drums placed center stage. The band's appearance elicited restrained cheers, which will be blamed on the Tangerine Dream-esque interstitial music.
Blake and the boys immediately slammed down some good deep bass with "Air and Lack Thereof," from Blake's earliest days, waaayyy back in 2009. Considering the mists of vapor and smoke in the room, the crowd's response was "enthusiastic." Blake and company didn't seem to mind as they silently cued up "I Never Learnt to Share" from his eponymous 2011 album. It's still as hypnotic and singular as it was in 2011, maybe even more so, and it benefits nicely from a Trap-y outro tacked onto the song's original end.
This was followed by "To The Last," which he advised from the stage, "You would know, if you have my new album" -- an album which, by the way, he doesn't even care if you download for free. If and when Blake spoke between songs, the entire crowd was silent and respectful; no one was hooting, or yelling the things people typically yell between songs at a show. Finally, someone from the crowd screamed, "I Love You!" into the silence. Blake didn't acknowledge her, and instead went into the excellent Kelis sample that fuels his early "CMYK" wobbler.
The energy was definitely there from the stage, instrumentation wise; his admittedly sparse arrangements got beefed up nicely with added percussion and keys. The audience was ebullient at this point, switching between puffing, bouncing and capturing events on their phones. For its part, the audience was diverse and lovely: Seriously sharp hipsters with dynamic hair and skinny everything, intespersed with Beardos, cutting edge hip-hop kids, and lots of gorgeous girls wearing their best.
"Our Love Comes Back" from the new album, went down a storm with the crowd and even though he had yet to really look up from his keyboard, we were all under Blake's spell. He wasted no time launching into his cover of Feist's "Limit to Your Love," the record that made him famous. The tune felt lilting and not as heavy as it did a couple of years ago. Maybe it was his vocals, or the Lee "Scratch" Perry dub outro. You better believe Feist is still envious of his take on her song.
All the new material sounded especially dope. "Overgrown" absolutely kills live, and "Voyeur" becomes a four-on-the floor stormer that threatened to outshine every other number. After that short workout, Blake announced that "the next song will be our last." As the moaning strains of "Retrograde" filled the room, it was hard to believe how quickly the show had flown by. "Retrograde" is just an undeniable pop hit and shows a lot of promise of what is to come from Blake.
The band left the stage to loud applause and what has to be the shortest turnaround before an encore in recent memory. A good friend barely had the chance to say she was sneaking out "before the encore" before the encore had started. Of course "The Wilhelm Scream" (his brilliant re-tooling of his father's song "Where to Turn") left fans feeling like they got their money's worth.
In a pseudo double encore, the real last song of the night was Blake's cover of Joni MItchell's "A Case of You." If this is not one of your favorite songs of the last six months, I don't know what you are doing with your life.
Personal Bias: It was fun to watch people who were probably not familiar with Blake as an artist thrown their hands up and head to the bar or out the door throughout the show. If you are not "into" his music beforehand, nothing about his show is going to grab you.
Random Detail: Lots of purveyors of Denver's better selection of beats were spotted sprinkled throughout the crowd. It's good to see Denver's elite DJs and beat makers are up on James Blake.
By The Way: There were a lot of stylish, affected and generally awesome people in attendance. Seriously I couldn't help but think: "IKEA must be fucking dead right now."
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