James Blake exhibits many sorts of dualities. Within his post-dubstep reign, the singer pairs booming bass thumps with the soothing calm of his chillingly cool croon, yielding an intense electro/soul atmosphere that swallows up the listener. And live, it seems that critics and fans alike have split into two opposing sides where one leaves a James Blake show in disappointment and boredom or in awe, trying to scrape their jaw off the ground.
I am forewarned ahead of time by some that I will fall asleep mid-show due to the lack of excitement onstage and by the lethargic tunes (even though the aforementioned bass is amped up enough to shake up the entire venue). But as a whole, it seems like everyone at Lee’s Palace on Saturday night is more lively – and ready to dance – than ready for bed.
It’s almost impossible to demand a quiet audience even if your music demands silence but Blake’s audience is again divided into two categories: the silent dancers and the vocally appreciative. Cheering for everything from vocal loops to Blake’s rendition of Canadian songstress Feist’s ‘Limit to Your Love’ (one fan screams “YEAH, TORONTO” in relation to Feist’s hometown), the crowd don’t hold back when it comes to showering Blake with love as this is his only Canadian tour stop.
The love is returned as Blake explains, between songs: “We got past border control which is good because I really, really wanted to come here.” He even ends the night with an encore performance of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’ where the crowd cheer extra hard as Blake croons, “I drew a map of Canada,” even breaking out in laughter himself.
Although chatty concert-goers ruin special moments like the two-part opus ‘Lindesfarne’, other songs such as ‘I Never Learnt To Share’ and set closer ‘Wilhelm’s Scream’ are as sonically appealing and perfect as they are on his debut album. Whether one likes Blake on record can dictate whether you’d be a fan of his live performances but I’d beg to differ; his live show can easily win anyone over, “post-dubstep” label or not. Ultimately, James Blake does result in a very polarized “love or hate” opinion though.
Yes, the heavy embellishments of Blake’s music is what gets a crowd moving but let’s not forget what lies underneath it all – a talented pianist and a soulful voice that, at many points tonight, commands people’s attention. To call him a pioneer of an entire musical movement is a tad of a hyperbole but as a friend puts it best: “Blake is a Piano Man for the digital generation.”