Thundering vocals and trembling bass filled the cavernous Orpheum Theatre on Thursday thanks to the best efforts of Moses Sumney and James Blake. Starting with a whisper and ending with a crash left the Vancouver audience in a state of awe as both artists displayed their tremendous talent in a venue best suited to both of their respective fortes.
Moses Sumney opened the evening with a performance so engrossing that, at times, a pin could be heard if dropped in the theatre. Starting with a rendition of a Jewish prayer (Kaddish), the California-born singer/songwriter ran up and down the extremes of his vocal range with spectacular results. This being my first exposure to the artist, his talent blew me away immediately. Relying on just his voice and a loop pedal to fill in the gaps of percussion and backup vocals, Sumney created a spectrum of noise grander than the solo, slender man standing centre stage would suggest. Picking up a guitar for “Plastic”, Moses Sumney dropped down to a whisper that sent shivers up the spines of everyone who bore witness. Without hyperbole, I will say that I have never been so impressed by an opening act and were it not for the half-empty audience –their loss –and a relatively short runtime, Sumney’s set could have served as the main event. That is, was it not for yet another astounding performance by James Blake.
On tour for his most recent release, The Colour in Anything, the British producer/singer/pianist left another indelible mark on his Vancouver concert CV. Accompanied by a drummer and guitarist, James Blake sat balanced between synthesizer and keyboard as he walked through past and present releases in accommodating fashion. Starting with “Always” and moving directly into “Life Round Here”, his vocals were strong and well supported by the live instrumentation of his two partners-in-crime.
Highlights of the evening would include his familiar cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” –even commenting on the freebie that is mentioning “Canada” in the lyrics –and any moment he took the audience into the depths of his dubstep roots a la his remix of Untold’s “Stop What You’re Doing” and the screeching, siren breakdown at the end of “Timeless”.
Any minor disappointment to be felt with the evening had nothing to do with Blake and everything to do with the audience. For some reason the same respect and courtesy shown to Sumney for his delicate and demure moments was disregarded for Blake. On the whole, the crowd was extremely cooperative and its hard to fault enthusiasm, however, to not address that there is beauty and importance in the lulls and diminuendo of Blake’s music would be remiss. To all the people shouting “I love you James” or whistling ad nauseam MID-song, you are missing part of the picture and negatively affecting the experience for those around you. Save it for the break in between songs! Case in point being the crowd’s whistling/shouting being caught by the loop in “Retrograde” and Blake’s inability to introduce the rest of his band without being interrupted by audience noise. Just wait for the guy to finish before you show your love!
Curmudgeon-y opinions aside, James Blake’s abilities are so awe-inspiring that seeing a live performance resonates for many days after. Basking in the beauty of the Orpheum’s great hall, there was no better way to witness his magic as an artist. Forget the price, forget that it was a seated show despite some protest in the audience, and forget the woo-guys and girls who make this old man say “hrumpf”. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking James Blake tickets up.