Nearly six months after his last tour stop in Vancouver, James Blake was back in town. With no new album to promote, a part of me wondered what the British singer-songwriter was doing here, but after the opening two songs, Blake made it clear: “We’re going to play a bit of everything”.
It was obvious even before Blake made it onto the stage at the Vogue Theatre on November 19 that the crowd wouldn’t mind what he was planning to play. For a Tuesday night, the young audience speckled with James Blake look-alikes was roaring to party.
After opener Nosaj Thing, Blake and his two bandmates walked on stage amid a cloud of smoke and ripped into “I Never Learnt to Share” off his 2011 self-titled debut. With each repetition of the song’s opening lines, audience cheers grew louder, as if echoing Blake’s harmonic loops. Moving right into “Life Round Here” from Overgrown, released in April, Blake’s falsetto vocals floated above the song’s arpeggio riff before settling into an R&B groove.
The steady “Too the Last” was an early highlight, with its head-nodding synthetic chimes and Blake’s record-matching vocals; while “Air & Lack Thereof” satiated any hardcore electro-dance fans immediately after.
Performances of newer songs, “Overgrown”, “I Am Sold”, and “Digital Lion” flowed from one to another before a quieter portion of the hour-and-a-half-long set. “Our Love Comes Back” proved Blake’s ability to capture an audience without all the bells and whistles usually used to create his sound. Then, a stripped-down cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Case of You” brought the room to a standstill.
The last half featured favourites from Blake’s first album. The heady “Lindisfarne I” and “Lindisfarne II” were played back-to-back as they appear on the record, and was followed up with another one of Blake’s popular covers—this time, Feist’s “Limit to Your Love”. A few songs later, a performance of “Retrograde” sounded particularly groove-worthy.
Blake’s talent is undeniable. His music has a way of making a sold-out show feel intimate and uncalculated. He may not have had a specific reason for visiting Vancouver this time—besides to just share his songs—but if last night’s crowd was any indication, he’s welcome back anytime.