ACL Live Review: James Blake

If you make a duets album, better enlist a guest or two live

In some ways, James Blake provided the perfect interlude between Billie Eillish and the Cure on the neighboring Honda stage Saturday night. The English producer/songwriter hollowed out an otherworldly vibe on the Miller Lite stage, at times intricate and mesmerizing. Still, the moments that seemed to actually connect with the crowd were rare.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Part of the challenge lies in Blake’s biggest songs from this year’s Assume Form LP featuring guest singers. There’s something lost in Blake’s ephemeral vocals when accompanying the taped verses of Travis Scott on “Mile High” and Andre 3000 on “Where’s the Catch.” “Barefoot in the Park” faired better, with ACL act Rosalía’s trembling Spanish already swimming with a gossamer gloss on the song.

Nevertheless, the set rolled through an intoxicating movement for those willing to simply let the music wash over them. Judging from the wafts of smoke in the crowd, plenty were. The trio opened with Blake ensconced behind the keyboards and wading through the ambient pull of “Life Round Here” to build into “Timeless,” the singer’s voice rising in tripping falsetto to a maddening pulse.

“Limit to Your Love” provided an early highlight as band lulled with the gloaming light, and Blake’s gorgeously haunting wail rang out on “I’ll Come Too.” With the night, the strobes and beats intensified before settling into the recognized hum of “Retrograde.”

Introducing “The Wilhelm Scream” with one of the few moments he addressed the crowd, Blake acknowledged the song’s origin – his father, prog-rocker James Litherland’s “Where to Turn.” The son let his croon warp around the slow beat, and finally stepped out to the front of the stage for the first time to close with “Are You In Love.”

James Blake

Saturday, Oct. 5, 7pm, Miller Lite stage

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James Blake, ACL Fest 2019, Travis Scott, Andre 3000, Rosalía, James Litherland, ACL Fest 2019

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