With his earlier releases, James Blake managed to soundtrack our arrival into the 2010s with a type of melancholy that was equal parts mesmerising, heartbreaking and methodic. Now, filling one of Melbourne’s most intimate and iconic venues with a little more cheer and romance than before, James Blake dimmed the lights and brought a show that will carry us safely into the 2020s.
Greeted by a crowd that had been sensibly warmed by James Blake’s support act and fellow bandmember, Airhead, Blake entered the Forum under purple light. Positioned at the piano and sporting an incredible teal coat, Blake kicked off with the title track of his fourth studio album, Assume Form.
An album that is notably more upbeat than his previous, Assume Form is also feature heavy. Ghosts of Travis Scott, Metro Boomin and Andre 3000 weren’t far away however, as ‘Mile High’ bopped, ‘Where’s the Catch?’ packed the room and all cheekiness and charm intended was achieved on ‘I’ll Come Too’.
The between-band grins and easy rapport of Blake and his bandmates, Rob McAndrews (guitar and sampler) and Ben Assiter (drums), made up for any loss felt by the absence of these big names.
For fans of the early days, Friday’s throwbacks included ‘Life Round Here’, ‘Retrograde’, ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ and ‘Limit To Your Love’. Depending where you stood, there were small-scale sing-a-longs occurring in dancefloor corners. These were led by the punters who probably wished they were at Splendour In The Grass. However, some crowd members weren’t so friendly. Their irritability pointing to the fact that they’d much prefer to listen to Blake, rather than the crowd surrounding them. Not great sportsmanship, but kind of fair enough.
‘Barefoot in the Park’ was a personal highlight. Even without Rosalía’s incredible presence – there’s just something about Blake’s vocals and the sultry turns of the Spanish language that make for a perfect pairing. This and ‘Can’t Believe The Way We Flow’ brought much of the night’s romance and were delivered with intensity – just as love songs should.
The encore came in the form of ‘Don’t Miss It’, Blake’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’ and Blake’s own ‘Lullaby For My Insomniac’. For those who are big fans of spilling their heart in the middle of the dancefloor before bed. These are the tracks.
While some might argue that Blake’s multi-layered production and bass-heavy setlist is better suited to larger venues or a festival fit-out, Friday’s show at the Forum would have me disagree. The theatre was perfect. It seemed almost as if the Forum’s famous gargoyles sat in the eaves above, shooting arrows straight into the hearts of the crowd.
Forum Theatre, Melbourne
Friday, July 19.
Reviewed by Georgia Castricum
Photo by Ian Laidlaw, from Splendour set.