We Went To A Show | James Blake @ the Orpheum Theatre


Review Colin Crawford    Photos Nicole Jorgenson  

On a stormy night in Vancouver, a few thousand lucky souls found shelter in the Orpheum Theatre for a phenomenal night of alternative electronic music. Taking the stage first was the experimental electro-folk artist Moses Sumney. Opening the show with an acapella version of the track “Incantation” from his latest self-released EP Lamentations, Moses captured the attention of the theatre with his voice alone. This independent artist hailing from Los Angeles crafts layered soul tracks with a loop station, heavily-affected microphones and occasionally an electric guitar. Sumney is his own band and choir; looping beatboxing, stomps and snaps for a rhythm section, and harmonizing an impressive range of vocals to create immersive waves of sound. From the vocoder on the track Worth It, to getting the crowd to scream with him and then looping it, Sumney exemplifies the potential of the human voice as instrument through his equipment. With just two self-produced EPs and a few singles, he is surely a rising star to keep an eye on.

After Sumney’s enchanting performance, what remained were three raised platforms arranged with keyboards, synthesizers, sample pads, guitars and a half-electronic drum kit on an empty stage, as the crowd anticipated James Blake and his live band. As the house lights dimmed, a simple glowing dot glided back and forth on the stage screen alongside a tense ambient intro track. James Blake and touring bandmates Rob McAndrews and Ben Assiter took the stage, and the intro track was drowned out by applause. Opening with “Always” from the new record The Colour in Anything, the stripped down track began things on a minimal note. The simple lighting and geometric visuals for this track subtly foreshadowed the journey that this setlist would take us on. Over the course of the next two hours, Blake and company expertly meandered back-and-forth from minimal to maximal, captivating the audience in the complementary contrast with everything in-between. Accentuating these themes was the visual accompaniment by the British design group United Visual Artists, as seen in the music video for “I Need a Forest Fire”. Motifs of 3D-rendered geometric shapes and a burning star-like dot accompanied the stunningly coloured and timed light show, tying together the broad range of song choices from Blake’s discography.

Seeing James Blake live showcases the diverse range of influences he uses to create something entirely unique. Who else could recreate a remix of early Dubstep artist Untold’s “Stop What You’re Doing” and then go on to flawlessly cover Joni Mitchell? Or better yet fuse both styles on his infamous Feist cover? Whether we were being swallowed by waves of synth-bass, sirens and strobing light, or fighting back tears to harmonizing acapella loops, this show exemplifies why Blake continues to rise as a singular talent in music today. Nearing the end of the set, James took a few minutes to extensively praise his touring bandmates, Moses Sumney, the artists behind his visuals, his fans and his parents. (Fun Fact: his hit Wilhelm Scream is a cover/sample of a song by his father.) Returning to the stage alone for a double encore, Blake concluded with “Measurements”, sneaking off stage after the lights faded to black and the looped harmonies of his voice continued on.

Thank you to Timbre Concerts, Republic Records and The Orpheum Theatre for hosting us.