James Blake Brings His Mercury Prize Winning Act to Union Transfer

James Blake made his triumphant return to Philadelphia on Monday night, playing to a sold-out crowd at Union Transfer. I was lucky enough to catch him the last time he was in town at the TLA, and was beyond excited to see him again. I remember leaving that concert in awe; I was a fan before, but it was something in seeing James Blake live that gave me a bigger fascination and appreciation – the man is a true genius.

James Blake Remains Modest, Plays a Breathtaking Show in Philadelphia

When I arrived at the venue, the line was already wrapped around the building, which was no surprise considering Blake was fresh off winning the acclaimed Mercury Prize for Overgrown (awarded annually for the best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland). Once inside, fans crammed tight, getting as close to the stage as possible. I could overhear chatter of people guessing which songs he’d play, hoping it would include their personal favorites.

Opening the show was DJ Nosaj Thing. I’m always a little hesitant when there’s a DJ opening a show; most of the time, they fail to succeed in “warming up” the crowd. They can get dull and repetitive after a few minutes, but Nosaj Thing proved otherwise. The venue was in complete darkness, minus one barely-lit blue light. His set was strangely relaxing, but you still felt yourself bobbing along to the beats. His entire set felt like a cinematic adventure, and was a perfect opening for James Blake.

James Blake Overgrown

Photo Credit: Erika Reinsel

As Blake arrived on stage alongside guitarist, Rob McAndrews, and drummer, Ben Assiter, the crowd grew tighter and louder. The three are childhood friends, and you could tell; they constantly glanced at each other, giggling and cracking a smile. The dynamic between the three was something special – they were calm, collected, yet unbelievably powerful in their performance.

James Blake, a former dub-step producer and DJ, translates similar sounds into his music. Heavy, hip-hop inspired beats, building layers, and repeating choruses have made him stand out in the music industry. When it’s all mixed with his angelic vocals and dramatic keyboard backing, the Mercury Prize winner has created an inventive style of music that cannot be matched.

James Blake remained hunched over his keyboard throughout the night, quiet, only speaking up a few times to say “thanks” and that the crowd was great. He even mentioned recognizing a few faces from the last time he played in the city. Even though he was hidden behind keyboards and synthesizers, it felt like you were in a room alone together. The entire set was intimate; you couldn’t help but smile listening to him play.

Blake’s most recent album, Overgrown, was released earlier this year, much of which he performed including standouts “Retograde,” “Digital Lion,” and “I Am Sold.” He also played tracks off his debut self-titled album, including the Feist cover that put him on the map, “Limit to Your Love.”

The crowd was fully captivated and cordial throughout the night; it seems they were noticeably pleased with Blake’s showmanship and true talent. In between songs, girls would shout “I love you,” to which Blake would awkwardly reply with a shy “thank you.” James Blake wasn’t there to show-off; he was simply there to play good music and put on a stunning live performance. There wasn’t a spectacular light show; instead he created his own flashy, atmospheric performance through his music. Blake himself wasn’t even dressed to impress, only wearing a simple sweat suit, yet none of that mattered. James Blake knows it’s about performing music – and that’s exactly what he did

I usually try to end these reviews saying something captivating, but all I can say is do yourself a favor, see James Blake live.

James Blake Philadelphia

Photo Credit: Erika Reinsel

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Article by Erika Reinsel

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