James Blake belongs on the right side of the stage – literally and figuratively. For the first half of the show, his three synthesizers and his mic surround him; almost in a protective manner.
Assume Form is essentially a love letter to his partner, a departure from the inherent anxiety and solitude that shrouded his previous works. Often heralded as the pioneer of post-dubstep, a genre which he himself isn’t too sure how to define, it’s fitting that his latest album – and his return to the UK – represents how he’s able to take agency.
I’ve seen James Blake four times now – and his performance at the Apollo Eventim was a far cry from the quiet, reserved boy who hid behind his arsenal of synthesizers in Laneway 2014. There was an air of quiet confidence surrounding him; allowing the audience to see glimpses of the club DJ turned producer and collaborator in Black Panther (2018)’s OST.
Torn between singing along, staying silent, and cheering, his stage presence was felt so clearly then. Blake making songs about love isn’t a new concept, but his security is. The back-to-back tracklist of the defeat in Limit To Your Love, the desperation in Love Me In Whatever Way, and his determination in Are You In Love? was a sort of cheeky way of acknowledging his own progression throughout his discography.
Are you in love?
Do your best impression for me.
The set truly showcased Blake’s ability to switch from club anthems to soulful ballads. Halfway through the set, he moved towards the centre of the stage to hold his mic, and the audience held their collective breath as he performed an acoustic version of Are You In Love? Rob McAndrews, his long-time collaborator supported him on the electric guitar as Ben Assister momentarily left the stage with his drumsticks in tow.
Assume Form boasts an impressive list of featuring artists such as Andre 3000 of Outkast fame and Rosalía (whose latest LP scored an impressive 8.8 on Pitchfork). The crowd was treated to new mixes of songs that had featuring artists, and it was impressive how Barefoot In The Park – a homage to the 1967 film, which Blake sheepishly admits he’s never seen – turned into a haunting lonesome ballad with Rosalia’s voice sweetly crooning around him.
There were minimal visuals – just atmospheric lighting reminiscent to his earlier music videos in which he’d play with lighting to evoke emotions; the feeling of falling, falling, falling, (might as well fall in) until you’d find your place. In that show, I felt like I had somehow felt like I was floating and falling all at once. Association is such a strong element tied to music, and I was transported to my own experiences of careful adolescence and being in love; perhaps wholly this time.
Despite the critical divide over Assume Form as a whole, you wouldn’t be able to tell throughout the set – the crowd was so clearly enamored by this shy man in love, and every word sung along was uttered with conviction and clarity. There was no sense of dissatisfaction, just people following Blake, much like I’ll Come Too: “I wouldn’t do this on my own / But I’m not on my own tonight.”