Live Review: James Blake, Suzanne Kraft

25 July 2019 | 11:23 am | Hannah Story

"What was on display last night was Blake’s gorgeous voice."

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Suzanne Kraft delivered a DJ set that felt like it belonged more at an LA warehouse party than at an 8pm Wednesday show in Sydney. Often abrasive, or even anxiety-inducing – perhaps the generous term is ‘inventive’ – the music didn't really seem to engage the crowd as they filtered in and jostled for prime position for their moody British fave. 

The classically trained James Blake is the electronic producer of our times – an artist with depth and warmth, imbuing crackling beats with the knife-edge vulnerability of his vocals. He’s an artist unafraid to be deemed ‘sad boy music’, but who has, with this year’s Assume Form, demonstrated a well-received capacity for joy – or perhaps for fear of the loss of something good, a moodiness that should not be mistaken for wistfulness or malaise or moroseness. The album, to put it simply, is the expression of a man in love.

The set skewed heavily to Assume Form; the songs like opening title track, Can’t Believe The Way We Flow and I’ll Come Too, performed live somehow taking on an added hopefulness and extra instrumental textures. The way Blake seemed to easily manoeuvre between a number of keyboards and synths, playing both at the same time, arms outstretched to the side and in front of him, demonstrated what a masterful artist he is. He made it all look effortless, whether sitting flanked by his instruments – as were his impressive touring bandmates, Rob McAndrews and Ben Assiter – or taking a spot behind the mic front of stage.

Dressed in a big turquoise coat, despite the brightness and heat of the rapidly flickering light show, Blake performed uninhibited by its size. Rather than trying to hide away, he was often illuminated by spotlights, standing with his hands either by his sides or grasping the mic. During extended instrumental jam-outs, back encircled by his gear, he seemed consumed by the music, nodding along or swinging his legs, barely able to contain his enthusiasm.

The crowd wasn’t super animated, instead existing in a state of almost reverence, basking in the sonic palette Blake and band created. Dancing was mostly bopping or polite shuffling, until songs like Mile High saw phones raised to record the moment, or Where’s The Catch? picked up speed and the audience unleashed their best grooves. There were, of course, the expected singalong moments, for singles like Retrograde or Blake’s cover of Feist’s Limit To Your Love

What was on display last night was Blake’s gorgeous voice, whether looped over and over on itself, almost howling on Love Me In Whatever Way or soaring on the stripped back, semi-acoustic Are You In Love?, and his willingness to expose himself. A highlight arrived when he sang his subdued cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You, accompanied only by his own keys, on stage alone, to close out the set proper. It was a moving moment, the crowd’s voices rising up to just try to meet his. 

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For an encore, he played Don’t Miss It, introducing the song by encouraging people to open up to each other: “I missed a hell of a lot of my 20s and it wasn’t just because of drugs,” he deadpanned. He followed it up with Lullaby For My Insomniac, lulling the audience towards their beds, as the stage was lit up in the colours of dusk, in swirling reds and blues.