The first song begins, loop-heavy, the bass is woozy. His voice reverberates and you get so lost in the echoes that you internalise them; a doctrine that you’ve willingly learnt and are in no rush to forget. When the bass is so strong you can feel your bones rattling, a cramped room of twenty-somethings head-nodding just doesn’t do the song justice; full body participation is required. He’s playing ‘Air and Lack Thereof’ which speaks volumes of the situation and in this moment, it’s almost a shame that he’s so popular. But who can blame him? Blake is a DJ, minus the decks. He weaves samples, loops and synths like a dream and just when you think he’s forgot about one, like the lost sheep, he brings it right back.
Straight into ‘I Never Learnt To Share’ and it’s thick dubstep breakdown, which was followed by the title track of his new record Overgrown, complete with tugging chords and a modal melody. Next came renditions of ‘Lindisfarne’ parts I and II. ‘CMYK’ changed the mood with flashing red lights and a live drum breakdown that had the crowd showing great appreciation. Even the most serious of hipsters were nodding their heads so hard that you could almost hear internal shouts of “Pull up!” and see the invisible gun fingers.
‘Our Love Comes Back’ (a song from the new album) demonstrated hints of reggae and dancehall influences with emphasis on beats two and four and a bassline reminiscent of Chaka Demus & Pliers’ ‘Murder She Wrote’. Another new song, ‘To The Last’ was sickly sweet, despite Blake’s admission in a commentary that “it actually isn’t” a love song.
Of course there were favourites, ‘Wilhelm Scream’ and ‘Limit to Your Love’. The former sounded refreshed and much less dense, but hadn’t lost any of the emotional intensity that the hollow layers and rain-like effects created. Blake is known for creating space in his music, and it’s as if he’s refinined his songs to take it a step further. ‘Limit To Your Love’ brought back a serene nostalgia for the beginning of his career, until thirty seconds in when he played a loop by accident, and the audience broke out into laughter. In his own words, let’s pretend “that didn’t happen”.
People have an affinity to his way with words, which was evident when ‘Retrograde‘ began. Previously, Blake’s songs only featured words in short bursts, packed with an almost indecipherable meaning, but with the audience singing along, word-perfect to a much more openly expressive song, it’s clear that his listeners are okay to leave the dubstep breakdowns and just have a singalong.
‘A Case of You’ was what some would call the game changer. After a much demanded encore, Heaven fell silent and listened to the angel sing (pun very much intended), his band leaving him to it. It was the first release that didn’t feature the herculean production that Blake is so well known for and he performed it with all of the delicacy and earnest that a Joni Mitchell cover could promise.
In short, James Blake performing at Heaven was every bit the spiritual experience that you could expect.