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The Prodigal Son: James Blake live in London

25 May 2016, 12:15 | Written by Chris Shipman

'It's like playing in my living room', grins James Blake from behind his keyboards. The North London electro soul star is at Village Underground tonight (23 May) to perform an intimate one-off homecoming show to celebrate the launch of his third full length album, The Colour in Anything. After time away thrilling audiences the world over, he's finally back playing on home turf.

In the minutes before Blake is due on stage, the air is as thick with anticipation as it is with dry ice. As a result the singer has the audience firmly in the palm of his hand from the first rolling chords of "Life Round Here". Despite his tunes being augmented by a backing band of two - heavily processed guitar and drums respectively - there's a naked fragility to his performance, his vocal creaking emotively as he reaches for falsettos.

The set is beautifully paced and fuses the two stapes of the James Blake sound - intimate ballads and bludgeoning alt-floor-fillers. An early set highlight from the former camp is the stripped back piano and voice of his latest album's title track, the singer contained onstage with a single, unwavering spotlight. It's a wonderfully raw moment, and the hushed silence that follows its last dying chord is testament to the tune's power.

Where "The Colour in Anything" soothes however, other tracks pummel. "200 Press" sees battering ram percussion tower above a stretched and scrunched vocal sample. "Gather round the beat like a campfire", it demands, and tonight's sold out Village Underground audience dutifully comply, dancing with abandon. On stage, Blake nods his head in approval, in silhouette amid shuddering green swathes of light.

As the set draws on, Blake adopts a more playful approach, most noticeably seen on an extended rendition of "Voyeur". Although vocally it lacks the breathy menace committed to record, its alarm siren synths build and build, before collapsing exhausted under their own gravity.

Perhaps the evening's most heartwarming moment is the inclusion of debut album highlight "The Wilhelm Scream", dedicated by Blake to his father, reenforcing the intimate nature of the occasion.
Three albums in, James Blake's distinctly British brand of soul continues to enthral. A more extensive UK tour has been promised and doubtless will be one of the year's hot tickets. As for tonight, it's a triumphant homecoming. The prodigal son has returned.

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