LIVE REPORTWHITE STAGE7/28 SUN
Expert song writing craft
Sunday was a frantic run for many festival goers but many eventually found themselves where they wanted to be. For many, James Blake was their preferred location, an early festival choice circled long ago on a calendar already littered with talent. Blake’s appeal is not just with fans, but others in the music industry as he is the go to producer, arranger, and collaborator to the biggest names in the business. Even the mercurial Kayne West bills Blake as his favorite artist. While his recordings are slick productions which pierce the soul, live is another matter altogether, a full body experience with overpowering sub-bass and delightful on-stage arrangements that highlight Blake’s dramatic delivery.
Early on, Blake emerged from London’s emerging dubstep scene, invigorating the modern jazz with a degree of seriousness and modern aesthetics. His take on dubstep made it more popular with young audiences around the world, achieving fame with minimalist arrangements and clever lyricism. Lights and his simple on-stage formation also highlighted a performance style stripped of every excess. The conscious decision to strip away artifice allow the audience no escape from the sadness and melancholy of his music, a direct confrontation like a slap in the face, which can be frightening to some but comforting to others suffering deeply from their own demons.
Trained in classical pianist, Blake continues to do all aspects of composition and recording in the studio and on stage. He’s a focused songwriter who doesn’t rely upon production tricks to carry a tune. The only exception may be live loops he creates and uses on stage.
As the White Stage filled up for his performance, many were anticipating his first track which was predictably “Assume Form”. After a simple piano interlude, Blake’s powerful vocals hit you immediately, both soothing and unsettling, anchored mainly by a drum beat and Blake’s unusual time signature which includes empty moments to reinforce chorus and refrain.
Today he his performing as a trio with drums and supporting guitar and synth. These instruments are orchestrated to support rather than mask Blake’s primary instrument, his voice. In the second track, “Life Round Here” and the next number, “Timeless”, his voice takes on a haunting, ghostly presence, bouncing around the forest surrounding the White Stage. It’s a contemplative moment, with many hanging their heads and swaying to the downbeat tempo.
Blake’s slowed-down musical style helps resonate specific notes and melodies, but make no mistake he’s about vocal manipulation, creating waves of music which wash over the audience like a slowly rolling wave. His expert arrangements lead to meticulously crafted soundscapes. Commanding the audience from behind a keyboard isn’t easy, requiring full confidence and practice.
“Mile High” had the reckless feel of a party, bringing the audience to different areas where it had never been before. He led the audience into a festival mood, a proper feeling for the final night of this year’s Fuji Rock. The mood continued to get a little wild with “Voyeur” which had a four by four time signature which bounced and fluttered over this night time audience. And then it was time to conclude the show with the highly anticipated “The Wilhelm Scream” which left everyone breathless and fully satisfied.