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James Blake – Heaven, London 09/04/13

12 April 2013, 14:46 | Written by George O'Brien

Endearingly nonchalant, gently mysterious and responsible for some of the most distinctive and versatile songwriting to come out of this country for a number of years, it is very easy to forget that James Blake is only 24.

Evolving from a studious music producer and intuitive dub-step-meddler, into a stand-alone songwriter with a cult-like following, the talented Londoner really emerged into the mainstream thanks to his poignant adaptation of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’ in 2010. A top ten eponymous debut followed, and after a two year hiatus Overgrown was released last week, promptly receiving a rare ten-out-of-ten Best Fit review.

All is set up nicely then for a sold out hometown show at Heaven, the day after this anticipated release. The venue’s dark arches spill out into the bar as the great numbers jostle for the best view. You can feel a certain sense of awe; industrial clunks and stark blue lighting only adding to this anticipation.

Similarly, Blake’s appearance, alongside his two bandmates, is soundtracked by the experimental mix-match of ‘Air Or Lack There Of’, forcing us all to wait for the introduction of his most striking and effective songwriting, and indeed performance, tool – his voice.

And what a voice it is; live, and particularly in the Bon Iver-inspired layering of ‘I Never Learnt To Share’, it really is extraordinary. His use of live looping causes almost shocked screeches, before ‘Overgrown’, ‘Our Love Comes Back’ and the aforementioned ‘Limit To Your Love’ strip other elements away to highlight the power and complexity of this vocal: “This one we know a bit better”, he smiles before embarking on the most popular rendition of the evening, that comes complete with amped up dancing beat.

It is this versatility that makes the performance so watchable. One minute the venue is in almost complete silence, transfixed by a tranquil man and a piano with tracks like ‘Retrograde’, the next it feels like we are lost in a wonderfully late night club environment, emphasised best by the dub-step sambles, eye-catching percussion and beeping guitar of ‘CMYK’ – a massive highlight.

The encore too demonstrates maleable talent; the hypnotic ‘Voyeur’ with its sirens and unnerving, relentless rhythm is immediately juxtaposed with Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’ – the second of his carefully picked covers demands complete attention.

Words of genuine thanks wrap up a performance of real class, diversity and poise, and with cult status legitimised, we are offered a characteristically courteous bow from a young artist that has set his stall out for a magnificent future.

Photograph by Howard Melnyczuk

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