I wasn’t the biggest fan of James Blake when his self-titled debut album dropped a couple years back, save for the singles he released and another track or two. But his sophomore album, Overgrown, has slowly but surely turned me into an admirer of his work. In fact, it’s become one of my favorite albums of 2013 — a deeply moving album that acts like an everlasting forest of beautiful compositions and brooding textures from start to finish. It’s easy to get lost in and, more importantly, easy to want to get lost in.
In the months following my many listens to Overgrown and after a reevaluation of his 2011 debut, James Blake suddenly became an artist I truly admired and one I pretty much needed to see when he toured SoCal, and so I found myself attending his show at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on October 23rd, one of two performances at two different venues on two consecutive days here in Los Angeles.
Having never been to the venue before, I was still able to correctly predict how appropriate his performance would be amongst the graves that eerily scattered the grounds, the serenity of the still ponds that reflected any source of light, and the many palm trees that waved in the chilly October air under black skies. That his music fit right in meant that I was going to be in for an awe-inspiring night.
Photos by David Fisch
Just as he did with Overgrown, Blake constructed a performance that was mysterious and compositionally sound. The gradual layering of live vocal harmonies and instrumental build-ups incorporating his two live band members, Ben Assiter and Rob McAndrews, during “I Never Learnt To Share” reflected the flow of the night, unfolding and revealing a powerful light-show display in a breathe-in, breathe-out fashion, as if to bring back to life those residing six feet under.
Blake’s more dub-influenced tracks, including “Digital Lion” and “Voyeur,” easily had the most complex lighting schemes, and the standing crowd would go from viewing party into dance party. Even the more piano-laden and stripped-down tracks, such as “Our Love Comes Back,” “Lindisfarne,” and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You,” included impactful lighting that hazily spilled into the crowd and onto those residing on picnic blankets strewn across the grass.
The singles “Retrograde” and “Limit To Your Love” seemed to gather the most response from the crowd, not only because they were instantly recognizable, but also because Blake tweaked them enough that they were different from their studio counterparts and very much a part of the live experience. They were longer and twice as explosive in their moments of grandeur, accelerating the artist’s swooning vocals and introspective lyrics to stadium-size heights.
To say they were the show’s highlights would be an understatement, however. I scoped out the setting of Fairbanks Lawn throughout his performance, catching glimpses of an audience in complete captivation during bass-thumping moments and in complete silence during quieter ones, specifically the closer “Measurements,” which ended with Blake’s vocal loops continuing on without his presence. It was eerie hearing his voice amidst a sea of silence of living, breathing people right alongside tombstones belonging to those who no longer could, giving me a humbling visual with which I could remember my first time at the cemetery, an event that has all but swept away every other performance I’ve seen in 2013.
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