James Blake has all the clout a performer could ask for right now. Mere weeks after his stunning performance at the Grammy’s, just over a month removed from the release of his 2019 album Assume Form, and a few days into his 6 month tour, Blake has more eyes on his work than ever before. If his trip to Boston’s House of Blues on that aforementioned tour reaffirmed anything, it’s that the British singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer had reached a new level of fame.
Leading off the night was another British producer and songwriter known as Khushi. As the solo project of Strong Asian Mothers‘ singer and keyboardist Kalim Patel, Khushi had limited content to his name and modest expectations for his performance. He immediately addressed his timidness by admitting his anticipation that the few early concert-goers would be leaning against the adjacent bar and watching inattentively from a distance. The venue was packed long before James Blake’s set however, and the young kid was perceptibly nervous. While his drummer seemed confident and unmoved, Khushi’s voice seemed uneasy. He continually raised open palms next to his face while he sang as if to mimic Ricky Bobby’s infamously quoted interview confession “I’m not sure what to do with my hands”.
It wasn’t until Khushi sat down in front of his piano that his timidity began to fade. He seemed to will the crowd’s intimidating presence away as if to mentally transplant himself back in the serenity of his personal rag-tag studio. He went on to explain away his discomfort, letting the crowd know that “It’s my first time on a stage of this size, so it makes it extra intense but extra special.” Song after song, Khushi’s escalating comfort resulted in his performance’s paralleled improvement. He was talented, it just took a few flustered takes for him to prove that. It’s no accident that James Blake promoted him as his opener either – Blake is actually mixing Khushi’s debut album set to release later this year.
Something about James Blake’s entrance and appearance gave off the aura of unfiltered eminence. His all black attire, towering 6’5″ stature, and complicated instrumental setup were intimidating to say the least, but that intimidation quickly morphed into an authoritative warrant to figuratively melt each audience member’s face off. Songs like “Life Round Here” and “Voyeur” overwhelmed the innocent crowd’s unsuspecting ears, blasting startlingly powerful synth and bass combinations that occasionally crossed into the realms of trance and/or deep house. The accompanying lighting patterns were paralyzingly complex for a venue of that size. They provided mind-boggling visuals that truthfully should have come with a warning of potential epileptic triggers.
Nevertheless, James Blake’s “wow” factor is not limited to a light show and a few earsplitting synths. Just as quickly as he’d raise your heart rate with red-blooded intensity, he’d serenade you back down to solacing contentment with his luscious piano and impressive vocal range. His voice in itself is so unique to the industry that any slight vocal variation from his studio work was applauded as a welcomed treasure. While the crowd unrealistically wondered if and when Blake would bring out one of Assume Form‘s features like Andre 3000, Travis Scott, or Rosalía, their sampled presence alone made for a wildly more engaged audience. After all, the crowd’s involvement during songs like “Mile High” proved what including big names like Travis Scott in 2019 can do to markedly boost an artist’s broader popularity.
The only blotch on James Blake’s performance was his finale. Blake chose to play Assume Form‘s closing track “Lullaby For My Insomniac” in response to a discreditable critic saying that his show “put them to sleep”. To perform the song live, Blake had to tell the crowd to quiet down while he electronically stacked different vocal octaves on top of each other to make a personalized a capella. Although that may sound interesting in concept, it was genuinely boring and influenced a sizable percentage of the crowd to duck out early in the hopes that they would be first in line for the coat check. When other crowd members were heard grumbling on their way out the door that Blake had performed his renowned cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” at his last show in Atlanta, the disappointment ballooned into annoyance. Regardless of the salty taste most of the crowd walked out with, the bulk of Blake’s performance entranced the audience and successfully sectioned off every crowd member into their own world of consumption. If anything, it was that level of characteristic intimacy that rose everyone’s expectations so high for the finale in the first place.
Below is a playlist featuring part of Khushi’s live set and the full setlist performed by James Blake during his 2019 trip to Boston’s House of Blues.
Favorite Live Tracks: Are You In Love?, Voyeur, Life Round Here, Limit To Your Love, Mile High