Review: James Blake at Lincoln Theatre

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The first time I saw James Blake live was three years ago at First Avenue in Minneapolis. I had never experienced anything like it before. The lights so connected to the music, the bass so strong I could feel it in my bones. I was in awe of his ability to bring his unique blend of organic instruments, synthesizers, and loops to life on stage. In the short three years since I saw him last, James Blake won the Mercury Prize for “Overgrown,” collaborated with the likes of Frank Ocean and Beyonce on career-defining albums, and recorded his third studio album, “The Colour in Anything.” Saturday evening at a very sold out Lincoln Theatre, Blake displayed his growth over the years as a live musician and showman and his inimitable ability to bring complex compositions to life.

James Blake has demonstrated the power of meticulous attention to detail in creating a memorable audience experience through minimalist effects. From his lights and visuals to his stage setup and setlist, Blake’s overt attention to the pieces that make up a live show resulted in a captivating show for the lucky souls in attendance. In an intoxicating set that spanned 90 minutes, James Blake took the audience from church to nightclub and everywhere in between. With help from drummer, Ben Assiter and guitar/synth player, Rob McAndrews, James Blake brought songs spanning all three of Blake’s albums and beyond to life. The three instrumentalists on stage were completely in sync with one another and even seemed to have their own way of communicating with each other through looks and gestures. James said that after five years of touring his set finally felt like a live show and was grateful for his ability to perform sans laptops-an impressive feat for a heavily electronic act.

Throughout the set, the bass infiltrated the bodies of everyone in attendance. The vast majority of the set featured songs from Blake’s latest LP, with standouts being “I Need A Forest Fire,”Timeless,” “Radio Silence,” and “Modern Soul” when Blake was joined by his opener, Moses Sumney. “Retrograde” was received with excited applause as was “Life Round Here”--two tracks from Blake’s Mercury Prize winning album, “Overgrown.”  Many of Blake’s songs called for quiet, almost spiritual moments but he sprinkled in night-clubby moments as well during “I Hope My Life-1-800 Mix” and his remix of Untold's “Stop What You’re Doing,” both of which crescendo-ed into massive renditions that made the venue feel less like a theatre in DC and more like a dark nightclub in Germany. 

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As time passed throughout the set, the crowd grew increasingly raucous as BAC levels rose. The peak occurred as Blake performed his cover of Joni Mitchell’sA Case Of You,” (ironic, am I right?) during which an enthusiastic female screamed the words with him, loud enough for everyone, including James Blake to hear. Her drunken rendition was met with anger as people screamed at her to stop singing. Blake had a more lighthearted approach to her though, letting out a laugh as he was singing. And as he introduced his final song, he told the unidentified female that he had sung the Joni Mitchell cover to her and that it was a shame she couldn’t hear him.

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For his final song, Blake took to the stage sans Assiter and McAndrews to perform “Measurements,” a standout track from his 2011 self-titled debut album. As he introduced the song, he told the crowd he would have to make a loop which he said was “easy to mess up.” But amidst the drunken heckling, James Blake created a flawless loop as he hypnotized the crowd into absolute silence.

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The Breakdown:

The Crowd: Very hip, very diverse.

Overheard: “OMG Purple Rain!?" During the intro to his cover of ‘A Case Of You.'

Thought: The fact that his entire tour isn’t sold out is beyond me.

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All photos taken by Lydia Mitchell for Capitol Sound DC.