James Blake @ O2 Academy, 02/11/16

Somehow the crisp cold and clear night sky seemed an appropriate welcome back for James Blake, fresh from a lengthy American tour. If we were chilly at the start of the night, we emerged buzzing and our hearts filled with joy.

James Blake is one of the most genuine presences, from his modest three-man set-up to his promise to give the audience “the show you deserve to hear”. The album sound was recreated perfectly, without the need for pre-recorded material; with the exception of ‘Always’, everything was live. Extra layers were added with every song, and the cherry on the cake came from Trim’s guest appearance to perform ‘Confidence Boost’ live.

It’s undeniable that on the album, James Blake’s voice is stunning, to say the least. Live, it floats dreamily across radio waves, crystal clear. On songs like ‘Life Round Here’, ‘I Need A Forest Fire’ and ‘Love Me In Whatever Way’, it was insistently lamenting, able to break your heart with the most minute change of note.

His versatility is unbelievable, both physically and musically. On ‘Timeless’ he deftly managed two synths at once; ‘Voyeur’ swelled uncontrollably from the soft beginning into the most overwhelming live drop, at which Blake said afterwards, “It puts me in a bit of a state, that tune.” He moved easily from the dirtiest grime tune straight into ‘Forward’, his goosebumps-inducing collaboration with Beyoncé.

The highlight of the night was easily the encore. He could have gone; we were all left satisfied and full, having just been serenaded with ‘The Wilhelm Scream’. We were not aware what a treat we’d be given. James Blake came back alone and proceeded to run the chords for his achingly beautiful version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’. At that moment, he made everything right with the world.

James Blake cast a spell that will hold his audience for weeks to come. That night, he answered prayers, realised dreams and inspired confidence. Is there nothing he can’t do?

Jemima Skala

(Image: NPR)

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