Hunched over a keyboard, his head pointed downwards and away from the sharp glances of his audience, James Blake seems slightly startled by the crowd who’ve turned up to see him headline Holborn’s Conway Hall this evening. “You seem like you all genuinely want to be here and it isn’t always the case”, he purrs into the mic.
Returning to the stage after a year spent, seemingly, in utter seclusion Blake seems almost frightened to see anyone standing in front of him. “I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves”, he’ll say mid-set in an attempt to make the audience feel comfortable.
It’s been a year since we’ve heard anything from the north London producer (apart from recent collaboration with Trimbal, Confidence Boost, which even then he only shooed out from under his Harmonimix DJ disguise), but it’s a warming experience seeing him jump back into the live territory, for it’s here where James is at his best. Heart-wrenching intros blend seamlessly into thundery preludes, which in turn develop quickly into off-the-cuff sonic experimentations that wouldn’t sound out of a place at an Aphex Twin show. A rousing 10-minute, dub-tinged take on breakthrough single Limit To Your Love is tonight’s highlight, along with Blake’s familiar, and incredibly subtle Joni Mitchell rework, A Case of You cover.
Keeping his gaze locked firmly fingerwards for the most of the night, Blake seems like he’s concentrating on getting the new material he showcases right, rather than focusing on pleasing the audience. And although slightly cluttered, confused, and unfamiliar the new tunes do have promise. A bass heavy, CMYK-esque number starts proceedings, while a vocal-looping harmonic piece stands out as a quick new favourite. Saying that, there’s a definite level of self-obsession; an oddness that comes with the material he previews. Throwing most of the audience into a state of questioning, it’s of little wonder that when leaving the venue most of our conversations turn to whether Blake’s self-obsessive tendencies mean that any future work might just be as unfamiliar as tonight’s gig felt…