WORDS. PHOTOS. Will Sellers. GRAPHIC. J Thomas Codling
British dubstep/soul/electronic phenom James Blake wrapped up his first major tour of the United States with a concert on the hallowed grounds of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Hollywood Forever is the final resting place of the local famous, non-famous, and infamous, including Hollywood legends Jane Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino, and Fay Wray, recent notables Richard Dunn, Natasha Shneider, and Don LaFontaine, and people from the darker side of Hollywood such as Bugsy Siegel and Rozz Williams.
The actual concert took place in the cemetery's Masonic Lodge, which has become a fairly popular destination for touring bands looking to play somewhere just a little more unique than usual. When you enter the venue, you're first led to a waiting room where drinks are served and people mingle together waiting for the concert to start. With its high hanging chandeliers and windows overlooking the graveyard at night, it's almost as if waiting for a concert to begin at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.
Blake and the two others in his band hit the stage at 10pm and played his eclectic wide range of sounds for well over an hour, despite his limited catalog. The highly talented and musically diverse Londoner has an array of songs that sound like they could have been collected from a variety of different artists.
The show started with "Unluck", the first track off of Blake's excellent debut self-titled full-length album. "Unluck", and first set closer "The Wilhelm Scream", highlight Blake's unique mix of dubstep electronics combined with his wounded soulful voice, creating a sound pop music hasn't really been exposed to before.
Elsewhere, the crowd was treated to a few of Blake's more stripped-down soul ballads on songs such as "Give Me My Month", which is limited to only Blake's crooning voice and piano. Echoes of both Antony Hegarty and even Sam Cooke can be heard in these songs.
Props must be given to last night's Hollywood crowd for remaining silent during some of the incredibly quiet moments in Blake's songs. Often, there can be multiple measures of complete silents within one song, and certain people in notoriously unpredictable Los Angeles crowds may have been tempted to kill the mood with a rudely times shout or heckle, but somehow resisted.
Perhaps some of the best moments of the show were when Blake and his band went on extended instrumental dubstep jams. With some of the heaviest and most vibrating bass you'll hear at any concert, all of his songs are completely transformed like you've never heard them before, and these longest instrumental movements benefit the most from that. Blake pushes the sonic limitation of live sound with these songs: works from his early EPs like "Klavierwerke" and the b-side "Tep and the Logic". They got some people in the crowd moving a bit, but most others we're probably unsure if or how one can dance to something that concurrently has a danceable rhythm yet is completely ethereal.
There was a bit of a glowing atmosphere at the show as it felt like everyone in attendance knew they were witnessing something special: a powerful new force in music who seems to be just getting started on what will surely be an intriguing career. You know you're at a one-of-a-kind show when tickets for it sold out in mere seconds and were on sale on Stubhub for around $100 - $150 each the day of the show.
Check out the mysterious music video for James Blake centerpiece(s) "Lindisfarne" complete with occult vibes (great for a cemetery concert!):
James Blake will return to the States this fall and is a CAN'T-MISS:
September 18 - Los Angeles - The Music Box
September 21 - San Francisco - The Fillmore
September 23 - Portland - Wonder Ballroom
September 24 - Seattle - Showbox at the Market
September 25 - Vancouver - Commodore Ballroom