There is an old rule of thumb for gauging the vibe of a crowd at an electronic music gig. The more people dance, the more they are enjoying the music.
Last night British vocalist/pianist/hypnotist/sorcerer, James Blake, shattered that conception in remarkable style. Selling out an arena show on a Wednesday night in the middle of (the coldest effing) winter, Blake waved his musical wand over 6000 odd Melburnians, who stood all but perfectly still for almost two hours, entranced in his musical wizardry.
British producer, Mark Pritchard, opened proceedings with a tidy DJ set, parading his own brand of experimental electronica and throwing in some ’90s UK rave for good measure. Dropping ‘Lord of Lords’ by Trim was a treat, and I think I can say with certainty the first time a grime anthem has been played inside Margaret Court Arena.
Blake took to the stage with his two musical amigos to rousing applause, opening with slow burner ‘Always’ off his latest masterpiece The Colour In Anything. The set list was exactly what the audience hoped for, a mixture of old and new, covers and originals, bobbing and weaving from strength to strength. Crowd favourites ‘Limit to Your Love’ and ‘Retrograde’ were very well received, but it was the unexpected ones that truly impressed. ‘I Hope My Life’ and ‘Voyeur’ sounded completely different to their album counterparts, showcasing the dazzling percussion of Blake’s drummer Ben Assiter. Blake’s vocals stole the show with his last song, a stripped back cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’.
Returning to the stage for his obligatory encore, Blake performed the brilliant, reverberating ‘Wilhelm Scream’ – a song that launched Blake’s career in 2011, and interestingly is a cover of a song his own father wrote in the ’70s. The band then exited for Blake to put the final touch on a spectacular show. He sung the 16 bars to his hymn-like song ‘Measurements’ in a number of different tones, each time looping the melody until the audience could hear 5 or 6 versions of his voice layered upon one another. After laying down some long organ keys to accompany the melodies, Blake stepped away from the piano and walked off stage, leaving the audience to slip out of their trance and drown out the fading echoes with stirring applause.