Live Review: HMV Next Big Thing Featuring James Blake at London Borderline – 4th February 2011

By on Tuesday, 15th February 2011 at 2:00 pm

In a dark, yet endearing Borderline situated between London’s Tottenham Court and Soho, HMV’s Next Big Thing’s most exclusive show is underway. “Next big thing?” asks James Blake. “No pressure then.” As he sits, off centre stage, Blake seems unfazed by the hype cloud that’s surrounding him in the coming weeks, and why would he be? He appears to be doing everything on his own terms, even selecting both of his opening acts. Cloud Boat melted the minds of those who turned up early enough whilst Catherine Okada’s blend of cute music and substance to her songs certainly warmed the crowd of under 300.

Now, with just a few days until the release of his debut album, James Blake is a man in demand. To find such an act in a small venue may seem quite out of place, but as he walks casually onto the stage, cup of tea in hand and jumper on, the man seems to be keeping his cool in intimate surroundings. You’d be hard-pressed to call Blake a commanding stage presence, but it’s his endearing qualities that shine more. Sat on the front of the stage, a few fans are all but entranced by album opener ‘Unluck’ and unavoidable, yet perfect ‘Limit to Your Love’.

Blake is joined on stage by a minimal two artists playing live and himself sits side of stage with his two keyboards and assorted technologies. At times tonight, people are shushed by fellow crowd members as the sound on stage is so beautifully calm. Nodding along, I find myself wrapped up in the world almost taken in by Blake’s music. This music just shouldn’t have such mass appeal, given its non-mainstream sound. Nor should it translate to be anything more than boring live, but as it happens, the music has ambition and honesty and forms an incomparable atmosphere.

Sipping his tea and sheepishly engaging in minimal conversation with those present, Blake is nothing of a frontman, but for some reason, it works. Blake’s transition to solo artist seems to have gone smoothly, and with ‘The Wilhelm Scream’, the seventh and final track of the night, his 50-minute set is over and everyone returns outside to Central London’s bustle. Next big thing? Perhaps, however where the shy man may struggle in the higher reaches, tonight has proved his credentials in intimate venues beyond doubt.

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