Live Review: James Blake with Nosaj Thing @ Showbox SODO 11/20/2013

Live Reviews
Victoria Holt
all photos by Victoria Holt

"Every time they scream I stop. You think they'd see a pattern."

James Blake wants the Showbox SODO to shut up. It's the last song of his set and him and his bandmates are trying to recreate the beautiful, gospel style a cappella song, "Measurements," but they can't get through the first four lines.

  • "Please fall down, testing sounds
  • For the deaf and the forest cold
  • Trees in clouds, testing doubts..."
  • At first it’s the usual swell of screams interrupting, to which Blake jokes, "Well, I've got all night." But during the third full attempt, a man at the back of the room let out a boisterous, "YEAH!" Blake sighed, "Wow. That's the first time ever that that's happened three times." At that, the crowd went dead silent.
  • "...Trying hard not to be too bold."

The crowd held their tongues. The band ventured onward, their harmonies growing slowly in volume and complexity, and it was so quiet that you could hear the faucet at the bar squeak. Blake held the hymnal piano notes long, like a slow inhale and exhale. Everyone was enraptured, hanging on as the lights slowly faded to black, staying quiet until the very last line when they could hold it no longer, erupting into a cacophony of admiration.

Despite the crowd’s behavior during “Measurements,” James Blake had no problem holding the attention of his audience.  From the very first moments of his set, with the familiar notes of “I Never Learnt to Share” off his self-titled debut, the crowd couldn’t control themselves. Their screams lingered in his looping vocals, swelling and falling at the start of every measure. Blake was impeccable, floating between a few keyboards and delivering pitch perfect vocals.

The most striking aspect of Blake’s live show is his ability to balance his delicate and angelic voice with the deafening crush of bass. Tracks like “CMYK” and “Limit to Your Love” embodied this perfectly, wrapping the listener first in lilting harmonies and introspective melodies, then dragging him/her down into a sensory overload of oscillating bass and stroboscopic lights. There were a few moments where his voice was lost in the fray, but the experience was so immersive that it was hardly noticeable. Songs flowed into each other seamlessly as well, such as from his stripped down solo cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” to the slow introduction of his band during “Lindesfarme.” Other songs satisfied the urge to dance, like “Give a Man a Rod (Second Version)” with its off-kilter cowbell beat, or the dubbed out live ending to “Limit to Your Love,” where the drummer busted out a solo layered with a tin can delay.

It’s no mystery — James Blake is a multifaceted creative force to be reckoned with, and he’s only getting better as he grows and collaborates with heavy hitters from multiple genres. A personal bummer was the absence of “Take a Fall for Me,” Blake’s gut-wrenchingly beautiful collaboration with Wu Tang’s RZA for the new album Overgrown. He did deliver on “Retrograde” and the Brian Eno graced track “Digital Lion.”

LA’s Nosaj Thing (Jason Chung) opened the night on a nearly pitch black stage. Lit only by the light of his sampler, his lack of visual stimuli left the crowd to ruminate on his music alone. His beats rolled over the crowd like a juggernaut, a sonic wash of ocean spray offset by high pitched wraith like vocals. The track “Eclipse/Blue,” from his new album Home features Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, and sounded great live, though her vocals had to be piped in. Another favorite was “Aquarium” from his Views/Octopus EP. An intense minimalist in his stage presence, Chung said only a few words before leaving the stage, thanking the crowd for their “love and energy.” His heady, ambient electronica was the perfect primer for Blake, getting feet moving and heads bobbing.

More photos of James Blake:

See more photos from the set here.

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