Updated: Tuesday, 7th July 2020 @ 8:18am

Review: James Blake @ Manchester Academy

Review: James Blake @ Manchester Academy

| By Sandy Thin

Never has vulnerability sounded so confident.

As James Blake returned to Manchester as part of his first UK tour since releasing The Colour in Anything in May, there was a supreme yet understated air of self-assurance about his set.

He is undoubtedly the man of the moment in the music industry. Madonna loves his song-writing, he’s Kanye’s favourite artist, and he collaborated with Beyoncé on Lemonade earlier this year.

Despite all of this, there was a calmness about his set at Manchester Academy last night which suggested a singer-songwriter in complete control of his art.

In an interview with The Guardian in May, Blake declared: “I’m the opposite of punk. I’ve subdued a generation.” And observing the sold-out crowd at the Academy it was hard to disagree with him.

From the first beats and haunting notes of his opener, Always, it became clear that for the next two hours the audience were to hang on his every syllable.

The first three songs of the set – Always, Life Round Here, and Choose Me – demonstrate his immeasurable talent as both writer and performer, each transcending genres, combining beautiful lyricism with near-dubstep beats and a vocal fragility that inspires awe.

The set, too, was well balanced between his three albums, as early favourites such as Limit to Your Love transitioned into new album track My Willing Heart, the fans responding just as well to each.

As if to demonstrate his varied skills further, Blake then introduced grime MC Trim to the stage, whose latest album was produced by Blake on the 1800-Dinosaur record label.

If one were to direct a criticism at an otherwise excellent gig, it would be that while Trim’s appearance demonstrated Blake’s eclectic talent, it jarred somewhat with the rest of the set, a criticism that may also be directed at a couple of the more electronic-heavy tracks Blake played.

The concert was at its best when Blake returned to the unassuming charm and melancholy of tracks like The Colour in Anything and the beautifully crafted vocal riff of Retrograde.

The 28 year-old was also unafraid to take risks. It takes a singer of impressive confidence to take on Justin Vernon’s vocals in I Need a Forest Fire, but the live version of the Bon Iver collaboration was just as curiously graceful as the studio recording.

This confidence was epitomised in his encore as he returned to the stage alone to sing just with his keyboard and a loop pedal.

His stunning cover of the Joni Mitchell song A Case of You was followed by the enchanting self-harmonisation of Measureless. Blake left the stage with his vocals still playing through the speakers, as the audience transitioned from rapt silence to thunderous applause and screams of delight.

Earlier in the set he had explained the delay in touring the album in the UK: “We were just trying to get the show we wanted to bring you.”

No one at the Academy on Thursday evening would dispute that Blake delivered the show we wanted to hear. 

Image courtesy of James Blake via YouTube with thanks.