James Blake At Metro
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By Ramon Alvarez-Smikle
Selling out concerts never seems to be a problem for the wildly popular English electronic producer and singer/songwriter James Blake, who returned to a sold-out crowd at the Metro in Chicago for a second time in as many years. Blake is touring in support of his second major release, 2013's Overgrown, which represents a masterful display of maturity within his beautiful music.
New York DJ FaltyDL set the mood with a masterful set of hard-hitting deep cuts that readied the crowd for the soulful experience that was Blake. The crowd was noticeably anxious, counting down the moments until Blake took the stage.
At approximately 10 p.m. fog began to fill the stage, the lights dropped and there was a massive roar from the crowd. From the side of the stage Blake coyly walked out and waved. Without much introduction, he rapidly jumped into his set with one of his first songs, "Air & Lack Thereof." The crowd began to sway back and forth, nodding their heads in approval, as Blake created an infectious energy. As he continued to dive deeper into his set, he arrived at "CMYK," the masterful title track from his 2010 EP that was made better live. With each note that Blake hit, there was another shout from the captivated crowd. Not a single person in the audience could refrain from dancing as Blake began to loop his harmonies with deep-hitting drums and synth pads.
As the set progressed, so did the volume of cheers from the audience as Blake soared through a series of crowd-favorites, including "Digital Lion," "Unluck" and the very early, more electronic-tinged track "Klavierwerke," the latter of which prompted even more dancing.
Blake maintained his high energy level throughout the night as he played song after song for a full 90-minute set, culminating with a powerful version of "Retrograde," the lead track from Overgrown. The crowd sang along to every word in what was easily the most magical moment of the evening.
With an even bigger smile than he had when he took the stage, Blake exited to cheers of "encore" from everyone in attendance. After a short exit, he returned to perform "The Wilhelm Scream" and a memorable cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You."
As Blake exited the stage for the final time, the crowd was left marveling at a performance that they, and I, will surely remember for a very long time.
"Air & Lack Thereof"
"I Never Learnt To Share"
"To The Last"
"Our Love Comes Back"
"Limit To Your Love" (Feist cover)
"The Wilhelm Scream"
"A Case Of You" (Joni Mitchell cover)
To catch James Blake in a city near you, click here for tour dates.
(Ramon Alvarez-Smikle is the GRAMMY U representative for The Recording Academy Chicago Chapter. He has interviewed artists such as M83, Toro Y Moi and Porter Robinson, among others. He has been published on many online blogs and websites over the past year, including GRAMMY.com.)