The Londoner performs his excellent new album to a sold-out crowd.
Blake is a singer and pianist, but he's also a producer, which raises inevitable questions about how to present his studio creations onstage. He found an answer in a band dynamic, bringing along a drummer (Ben Assiter) and a multi-instrumentalist (Rob McAndrews, AKA Airhead) who cycled between cello, guitar and synthesizers. Even on "Mile High," a track from Blake's latest album, Assume Form, that centers on an 808 rap beat, Assiter tapped out the rhythms manually. Later, during "Voyeur," Blake stopped the band mid-song. "It's just not working," he said. "We do this shit 100 percent live, without any laptops."
When it came to Assume Form's guest appearances, which include Andre 3000, Rosalía and Travis Scott, the live approach could have been limiting—the more voices packed into a track, the harder it becomes to render onstage. But Blake rose to the challenge, harmonizing so convincingly with the prerecorded voices that they could have been beside him.
This level of precision was impressive, though the most emotional moments came when Blake seemed close to losing control. For an artist whose songs are so full of feeling, his voice rarely sounds overwhelmed. But when he moved center stage to sing "Are You In Love?," the song's bare vocal runs pushed his voice to the limit. On the pounding synth-pop of "Loathe To Roam," the band exploded with a euphoric energy that felt raw and urgent compared to the usual delicacy of Blake's material. When the time came to wrap up, he stood alone and asked the audience for a moment of quiet so he could record a few layered vocal phrases. Out rolled Assume Form's tender closer, "Lullaby For My Insomniac," before Blake quietly left the stage, his voice still looping.
Photo credit / Steve Rose