James Blake

Virgin Mobile Mod Club, Toronto ON, November 30

James BlakeVirgin Mobile Mod Club, Toronto ON, November 30
Photo: Shane Parent
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Only one week removed from announcing plans for a new record, London musician and producer James Blake had the audience at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club waiting with bated breath for the potential inclusion of new work within his set. Backed by drummer Ben Assiter and multi-instrumentalist Rob McAndrews, the talented Blake didn't let those in attendance down, making a bold move in opening Sunday evening's (November 30) performance by road testing some of his latest compositions.

Blake and his band started the evening with Bill Withers cover, "Hope She'll Be Happier," then followed it with new song "Radio Silence." Sonically, the new track plays to a few of Blake's different musical influences, demonstrating his interest in hip-hop production with tight trap snares and moments of booming sub-bass backing downcast, introspective lyrics. Before too long, the man brought the crowd to life with something a bit more familiar, making a smooth transition into the danceable "CMYK," which was outfitted with an infectious Caribbean-flavoured outro. Live improvisation from all three musicians was a welcome addition to the show, from the extended jam of recently released "200 Press" to the addition of deep dub grooves on "Voyeur," in a moment that had Blake more animated than usual behind his keyboards.

Not one to forget the connections that his back catalogue shares with Canada, Blake delivered both the stunningly minimal, Feist-interpolating "Limit to Your Love," and his emotive solo piano rendition of the Joni Mitchell classic "A Case of You" back to back, to the crowd's delight. Incredibly focused, he did an admirable job of recreating his studio effects live on stage, taking on the demanding process of looping his own vocals and triggering samples with the help of his two bandmates. Closing with "The Wilhelm Scream" was the sole moment in which the execution seemed a bit shaky, but the band was soon revelling in the track's triumphant wall of sound ending before long.

With the audience cheering for an encore, Blake returned to the stage for one final solo piano performance. Seating himself at his keyboard, he played another new track, "Forever," after a polite request that people put away their cellphones. Blake's delicate falsetto was the perfect match for achingly honest lyrics concerning heartbreak and loss, further highlighted by a number of tasteful chord changes. With the crowd transfixed by his tender final number, Blake had undoubtedly prepared the crowd for the arrival of new music, whenever his third studio record may appear next year.

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