James Blake

SXSW showcase reviews

Live Shots
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

James Blake

Stubb's, Wednesday, March 16

Beware the foul beast that shows up to a gig, plants himself and his buddies in a plum spot, and begins a never-ending conversation that rises in volume and intensity in competition with the music. Such vile creatures populated the crowd as James Blake took the stage 15 minutes late, allowing us only 30 minutes to soak in his ambient marriage of Portishead-style trip-hop with Teddy Pendergrass-style slow jams. Kicking off the set, drawn almost entirely from Blake's eponymous February release, with contrapuntal tick-tocker "Unluck," the electronic textures of Blake's buttery falsetto paired with the chest-rattling bass was both unsettling and mesmerizing. Songs like "Limit to Your Love" and "The Wilhelm Scream" explore the tensions between unmediated, raw emotional authenticity and the chilly intervention of technology. "Wilhelm" was easily the set's highlight, the mix and lighting reinforcing the sense of falling that Blake sang about, eventually making him sound like he was singing from the bottom of a damp cave. It was enough to make even the chattiest bastard shut up and listen, even if just for a minute. Distinctive yet disjointed, tonight's set spoke to Blake's promise as the next great dub-step pioneer.

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