James Blake at the Roundhouse, 5 February 2018

Last Monday, James Blake played the Roundhouse in the round. All seating, which was the difference to usual. After all, the Roundhouse is round! It was a concert I just couldn’t miss, so I paid a bit over the odds for two tickets, as they sold out within 24 hours. My friend DC was the lucky recipient of the other ticket.

I really like James Blake’s music. It’s melancholy soul mixed up with arresting electronic diversions, including some pounding bass lines. It’s night music, but has succeeded brilliantly at Latitude in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. There have been three albums so far. The first, “James Blake”, remains my favourite, but the other two are great too.  It’s no surprise he has collaborated with the likes of Frank Ocean. They are both making innovative but recognisable music. Both full of that beautiful melancholy, which, I guess, characterises the music I love the most.

The concert began with James on an upright piano, playing four songs. The first was Don Mclean’s “Vincent”, an early 70s pop classic. Although I didn’t recognise it at the time, another of the songs was a Frank Ocean number: “Godspeed”. It was a lovely start to proceedings.

After that it was a mixture of new material – James told us we were “guinea pigs” – and some favourites. The favourites were spot on for me – mainly from that first album: “I Never Learnt to Share”, “Limit to Your Love” and, in the encore, “The Wilhelm Scream”. James dedicated the latter to his Dad, who was in the audience, and apparently wrote it. Other familiar tunes were “Retrograde” (last song of the main set), “Love Me in No Other Way” and “Timeless”. All given a bit of a going over with the bass and swathes of noise.

The new stuff seemed to hark back to his early days, before the albums. Rooted more in the dance culture where he made his name. There was one out-and-out dance number – all the 20 and 30 somethings, who made up most of the audience, stood up and moved to that one.

There were a lot of voice loops. On the last song, in the encore, it took him a bit of time to get it right. But it was captivating, and the repetition of the simple phrase stuck in my mind for the rest of the evening. Having said that, I’ve now forgotten what it was! Setlist FM says the song was called “Lul Bye”, but the word I still have in my head is Over.

The lights were simple, based on a flashing row of colour most of the time. But when they combined with the thudding bass lines and washes of sound it was a real sensory overload. I thought it was brilliant; DC was a bit out of his comfort zone. Did him good. Payback for Francis Dunnery!

I’m really looking forward to his next album. It could be pretty different to the previous ones. But he is in the zone occupied by the likes of Frank Ocean and Radiohead. Always challenging what they have done before.

Restless, creative minds = brilliant music.

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
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