James Blake Woos House of Blues With Seductive British Soul

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James Blake, Moses Sumney
House of Blues
September 24, 2016

I made a cardinal mistake on Saturday. A rookie move, even, arriving just as doors were opening for James Blake’s long-awaited Houston stop on his The Colour In Anything tour. After finding a spot in the front, I watched as the House of Blues quickly transformed into standing room only, as the crowd began playing the waiting game. But after waiting three years for the followup to Blake’s Overgrown, I figured a few more hours couldn’t hurt.

“Are you a fan or did you come with someone?” Since pushing their way near the stage, the two young ladies had said nothing to me, as I stood trying to ignore the purse that knocked into me each time the owner moved, accepting that my little bubble of personal space had been burst. I turned and smiled, saying, “I’m a fan.” In truth, if there is a “Blake Hive,” I’m standing in full formation. We all were, as we waited for the “Retrograde” singer to emerge.

I figure there’s something in the water, some type of Snape-concocted elixir across the pond that’s spawned the likes of Amy Winehouse, Adele and countless others. Only time will tell if Blake will take his place in the rafters, but he’s three albums in and steadily gaining steam, thanks in part to poignant production infused with a brooding British soul.

Just as the crowd began growing restless with anticipation, artist Moses Sumney erupted onto the stage, opening the show with an eclectic bang. A quick search of his website revealed all that I needed to know – when asked by an anonymous fan how he got his start, Sumney replied, “The old-fashioned way: a vagina.” I’m now a Sumney fan; take that how you want.

“Is there anyone else you haven’t told me about?” Sung in Blake’s soothing falsetto, that line that could be mistaken for his, but on this night it was just more background conversation from HOB's noticeably diverse crowd, which grew silent as the London native finally came to the stage.

Raucous synths and well-placed piano keys are Blake’s calling card. At first glance his 6’5” frame doesn’t match the haunting voice recently seen on Late Night with Seth Meyers, but once the show started, there was no mistaking that it was him.

“We’re going to go through the new stuff first,” he called out before launching into booming renditions of “My Willing Heart,” “Choose Me,” “Radio Silence,” “Love Me in Whatever Way,” “Timeless,” “I Need a Forest Fire” and more. Whether he was singing about heartache or love, Blake’s quiet calm extended to his guitarist and drummer, who he thanked with “These guys. These unbelievable musicians, so please give it up.” Music and bold visuals collided as Blake used light and imagery throughout the set.

Thrown in the mix, of course, were crowd favorites including “Retrograde,” “Life Round Here” and even the Beyoncé-heavy “Forward” from her Lemonade album. He also thanked his father, James Litherland, who penned “The Wilhelm Scream.” Two encores later and an impromptu “Happy Birthday” sung by the crowd — Blake officially turns 28 on September 26 — it was clear that Saturday won’t be the last time Blake graces Houston. The city won’t let him forget.

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