I’ve never actually met James Blake but I’m fairly certain that the British singer-songwriter has zero ego. Not only do his lyrics reveal a feeling of self-doubt and his songs a sense of inadequacy, but his stage presence is one of humbleness and general “I can’t believe these people came out to see me” awe.
At his show at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on April 25—midway through a North American tour—Blake appeared quietly confident seated behind his keyboard on stage with Rob McAndrews on guitar and Ben Assiter on drums. From a cloud of smoke, the head-nodding beats from “Air & Lack Thereof” emerged; setting the tone for what would be a chill but soulful night.
The opening meandering vocals of the familiar “I Never Learnt to Share” triggered an excited response from the audience. Blake’s never-flinching tenor-range vocals layered seamlessly over dissonant harmonies and an intense bassy buildup.
More hits from Blake’s 2011 critically acclaimed self-titled debut were performed with new flavour. “Lindisfarne I” and “Lindisfarne II” “Lindisfarne I” got the stripped-down, acoustic treatment. Later, opening chords to Blake’s popular cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” and a slightly sped up rendition of “Unluck” received some of the loudest applause of the night.
Most of the evening, however, was devoted to showcasing new songs from Blake’s month-old release, Overgrown. “To the Last”, with its ‘80s-style bloated synth sound, was an early standout. Meanwhile, “Our Love Comes Back” provided a quiet, tender break before the undeniable dance beat of “Voyeur” took over. The album’s leading single, “Retrograde”, ended the night on a soulful, R&B-tinged note.
Blake’s soft-spoken charm came through in small excerpts throughout the night, but most of his stage-time was devoted to giving each and every one of his song’s his complete attention and dedication. The fact that he’s mad talented but just doesn’t seem to know (or want to acknowledge) only makes those who get to hear him perform live thirsty for more.