Published May 15, 2011"Thanks for waiting in the rain. It's to avoid scalpers," murmured James Blake as he took the stage. No kidding; the process of getting into Lee's Palace was so meticulously set up to deny scalping tickets that openers Active Child were denied a full venue, as most of the fans were stuck in the snail-paced lineup outside. Was it worth it, though? One hundred times over, yes.
One had reason to think Blake's sparse, methodical songs might not survive the trip to a live setting, and the opening 30 seconds of first track "Unluck" seemed to confirm that fear. It was a false start, though; he was laying down the lower-register vocals to loop later in the song. When the results came to harmonic fruition less than a minute later, the outcome was magical, thanks in no small part to the lilting and skittering drum work of Ben Assiter, who helped Blake and guitarist Rob McAndrews bring the night's songs to life.
Indeed, it was when all three musicians were playing at once that Blake's songs truly shone. Along with "Unluck," album tracks "I Never Learnt to Share," "The Wilhelm Scream," and both parts of "Lindisfarne" were hands-down standouts, as Blake brought out all the vocal effects and other sonic treats that make his LP so engaging. "I Never Learnt" was especially impressive, so much so that the crowd's appreciative screams were later audible in Blake's honeyed, pitch-perfect vocal harmony loops.
Blake's already-transparent affection for dubstep is amplified live, literally. The bass to pre-LP favourite "Klavierwerke" was unsurprisingly skull-rattling, but even slower numbers like Blake's beloved cover of Feist's "Limit to Your Love" shook the venue's foundations.
Following a round of raucous applause uncharacteristic of often too-cool Toronto audiences, Blake returned for a two-song encore. An upbeat, stuttering new track, which featured uncharacteristically conventional 4/4 timing and desperate, wailed vocals -- and frustratingly titled "E----- T-----" on the setlist -- was followed by Blake's cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You." It was a fitting and masterful way to end a superb set; Blake got the audience giddy at the mention of "Canada" in the song's lyrics, and then in his typically wordless way, gave a gracious bow, leaving the stage to intense and well-deserved awe.