Iamnotjerry was unable to procure a photo pass this time around, but the single other photographer at the show admitted that it took an “act of congress” for himself to get one; and even then, I think any photographer would have hated shooting this show. It was a lighting nightmare!
The show opened with a set by L.A. artist Nosaj Thing, whose music Spotify likes to describe as “ethereal synth-based instrumental hip hop.” Ethereal is a pretty accurate word for beginning of this show; it started slow – dark and dreamlike, with ghostly angelic singing and the sound of falling rain. For a long while, it felt like he was teasing the audience, because just as you felt a solid beat was about to begin, the music backed off and changed directions. And then, just as I felt my attention wavering and began to shift in my seat, I was pulled back in.
Nosaj Thing’s songs vary widely in sound – some songs feature hip hop beats with breezy vocals or rapping, while others are deeply rooted in trip hop and ambient sounds. At one point I recognized sampling from Islands by The xx, and began listening for other familiar sounds. Drake’s Forever made an appearance, as well as Portishead’s Wandering Star. The artist claims to have remixed just as many tracks as he has original music.
While not very interesting to watch (a silhouetted figure hunched over a black box, bopping around from time to time), Nosaj Thing was a treat to listen to. The music was very organic in the way each song bled over into the next, and if there are any sorts of rules to the way electronic music is supposed to sound, he breaks them all.
I was incredibly excited to hear that my press pass had been approved by SCOPE Productions – I’ve been a James Blake fan for awhile now, and was hoping Iamnotjerry would be able to cover the show in some capacity. I had no idea what to expect, performance-wise, and was amazed at the visually-stunning performance this chill-sounding artist was able to pull off. This show was literally an assault on the senses – the lighting effects were clearly meant for a larger venue, because those of us in the balcony were repeatedly blinded by seizure-inducing bright-as-the-sun flashing LED cans aimed right at our faces. That part was unfortunate, but I can appreciate that they weren’t meant for the modest Englert Theatre. The rest of the light show was stunning – at times the swiftly changing direction of the lighting made the band members’ movements look choppy, almost like they were puppets.
Often the lights were flashing in time with the bass line – which requires commentary of its own. Consider sense #2 assaulted! I joked with Paul that I could feel the bass so deeply in my chest, it would hopefully knock loose the rest of my chest cold. But at a show like this, you want your bass that intense. Without it, the show would not have been as impressive.
James Blake created an incredibly balanced performance of light against a thumping bass, beautiful vocals against what can only be described as noise; and layers it all on top of a unique electronic sound. His voice is strikingly similar to Aaron Neville, and is beautiful in its own right; which makes his overuse of auto-tune a bit frustrating for me at times. He does it purposely, creating the sound of many voices out of just his own; and in songs like The Wilhelm Scream, where the auto-tune is more understated, it comes across as hauntingly beautiful. But I’ll admit, his covers of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You and Feist’s Limit to Your Love were a special treat for me, because his voice was naked and unadulterated.
Many of James Blake’s songs use loops, meaning they have an element that repeats over and over. Often, he will begin a song by singing a few lines, and create a loop from what he sang. It creates a hypnotic effect, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself staring into space, entranced by the sound. Retrograde is a good example of this. It’s one of his most beloved songs, and the audience erupted in screams every time the intro to that humming loop came back around.
We weren’t allowed to tote cameras along to this show, but here are a few iPhone photos. Nosaj thing is bottom left, and the rest are James Blake: