James Blake live in London: hometown hero celebrates longevity with a career-spanning set

Alexandra Palace, May 18: far from focusing only on his latest album 'Friends That Break Your Heart', this set proves the boy wonder's eclecticism

A few songs in, James Blake admits that he regrets calling his UK run the ‘Friends That Break Your Heart’ tour. It is, after all, far from a one-album show: he enthusiastically declares to the delight of a sold-out, 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace that he wants to play everything. But unable to run through his entire near-15-year career, he instead delivers an effortless 90-minute snapshot of his masterful range.

It’s a fitting choice for a celebratory hometown show. With his longstanding collaborators joining him on drums and guitar, it’s a giant leap from their early days as a “terrible” – his words – band back in their early teens. And Blake does nothing to hide his emotion when he notes his disbelief that they have made it to the venue’s vast stage. It’s one of many moments that highlights his vulnerability, as when he tells a tale of his first kiss on the nearby grassy bank overlooking the city. “It was sloppy, but it was important,” he laughs, which prompts a voice from the audience to loudly announce that the multi-instrumentalist “is so fit”.

With such casual stage presence, it’s easy to overlook how much is actually going on. The guitar is momentarily swapped for an electric cello, as Blake glides between his two keyboards, and the lights show perfectly matches each beat. The whole show overflows with Blake’s forward-thinking production – and it’s all live, he is keen to let fans know. There are no laptops hiding behind the backdrop’s understated curtain.

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Neither is the gig bogged down by flashy production or pre-programmed sounds, giving the performance a sense of freedom. Blake is left to explore his many different styles, pairing haunting opener ‘Famous Last Words’ with the thunderous minimalism of ‘Limit To Your Love’ and the industrial beats of ‘Before’. Each brings its own atmosphere, as fans are pulled between throwing their bodies around and getting lost in his pitch-perfect vocal range. An hour in, the classic ‘CMYK’ switches gears entirely and Ally Pally ascends into an all-out warehouse rave.

Blake’s cements this ability to navigate musical styles as he steps away from behind his keyboards for 2019’s ‘Are You In Love?’, triumphantly taking to the microphone at the centre of the stage. His serenade leads to a rousing guest appearance from Slowthai, who immediately leaps into the crowd for a particularly energetic outing for ‘feel away’. “Make some noise for James Blake”, the Northampton rapper demands. Alexandra Palace responds with a heartfelt cheer for one of Britain’s most unique and versatile creatives.

Credit: Josh Stadlen

James Blake played:

‘Famous Last Words’

‘Life Round Here’

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‘Before’

‘Limit to Your Love’

‘Say What You Will’

‘I Keep Calling’

‘Mile High’

‘Stop What You’re Doing’

‘I’ll Come Too’

‘Love Me in Whatever Way’

‘The Death of Love’

‘CMYK’

‘Voyeur’

‘Retrograde’

‘Are You in Love?’

‘feel away’

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