The Last Night on Earth with James Blake

Where did you spend the last night on Earth?  I spent it with a couple hundred lucky souls at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR.  This venue could be Austin Power’s ski lodge, but last night it was home to a 22-year old musician from London.  James Blake has been making huge waves in the music industry by pioneering the post-dubstep movement.  At least that is what the critics are saying.  But I think the reason he sold out every stop on his short U.S. tour in a matter of seconds can be attributed to his unique talent for giving electronic music a personality.  There is also that voice of his, that Justin Vernon meets Antony voice. It is the antithesis to the broken bass he so eloquently spreads it over like it was just meant to be there.  His eponymous debut album is the first since Animal Collective’s Feels when I thought, ‘wow, this is something completely different‘.  So needless to say, I was excited about this show.

This week has been a blur of airports, cities and meetings across the United States. With a week like this, a quick jaunt to Portland is no big deal.  I was already on the West Coast, I had an Alaska Airlines ticket I had to use before September and $12 tickets to the San Francisco show were now going for $250.  James Blake decided to skip Denver on his 8-stop tour, so Portland it was.  I paid $30 for a $15 ticket, booked a room at the adjacent Jupiter Hotel and did my best to keep my expectations under control.  I did my best, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t giddy like a little kid on Christmas morning.  Mr. Blake was in his giant bus watching football while the hopeful were camped out in line, hoping to score a pair of tickets that were going to be released at the door.    It was a beautiful day in Portland.  A perfect day to drink good microbrews in the sun.  But no matter how much I was enjoying this day, 10:30pm could not come quick enough!

The Jupiter Hotel, the Doug Fir restaurant, patio bar and music venue are all connected.   They are essentially the same place.  The hotel is really a motel, but all the rooms have been art deco’d out and have a real modern ambiance to them.  A set of earplugs and a condom on the pillow was a nice touch, as were the chalkboard doors.   The rooms are also very convenient if you plan on drinking and why wouldn’t you, considering there is no tomorrow?

I immediately felt out of place when I walked into the restaurant/bar area.  Everyone was dressed up.  Girls in dresses, guys in button down shirts and even slacks and dress coats.  We were attending a dubstep show, right?  Where were the hipsters?  The DJs?  I sell software for a living, but I have the good sense to change before heading to a show!  But then I descended the stairs into the ‘lounge’ and it made sense.  This venue is fancy.  It’s a disco-infused Aspen ski lodge.  It was like being inside a lava lamp.  It was also very small, probably only few hundred people or so.  The crowd, though not what I expected at this show, turned out to be a very good crowd.  Except for a select few. Those few though, they could have ruined my night.  Yeah, I’m talking to you douchebag who brought the Jersey Shore chick who wouldn’t shut up the whole night.  And to you dude, you who spoke in a fake British accent about how bad this show sucked and it wasn’t what you expected.  What did you expect?  By the way, you are embarrassing your friend and should probably leave…

At 9:30pm Nite Jewel took the stage with a lot of ‘new jams‘. Watching Ramona Gonzalez and her band up there, I couldn’t help but think I really was in some cheesy lounge.  I expected to turn around and see slot machines.  I felt like I had been transported to Reno.  Nite Jewel’s Gloria Estefan, tropicana, funky indie pop(?) wasn’t really doing it for me, but she had the attention of the crowd.  I did think Nite Jewel was a one-woman act, so it was nice to see the band up there.  A group of talented musicians, Ramona included, but I felt like she went from disinterested to trying too hard to be sexy and her whole act kinda turned me off.  Just not my thing I guess.

10:40pm was the time when James Blake walked onto the stage with his band consisting of two guys he went to school with, Ben on drums and Robin on guitar.  James took his place at the keyboard and remained there for the next hour.  Working the keys while Ben slightly tapped and brushed the kit, we were left in wait for those first few words ‘treated walls care for me’.  Unluck kicked off the show much the way it introduces the album. The sound was perfect.  The vocals surfing the electronic waves like a professional.  I immediately had the desire to be high.  Or maybe I felt high? All I do know for sure is I felt good.

Everything except piano and voice were stripped away for “Give Me My Month”.  ‘never told her where the fear comes from’ His rendition of this track makes all the post-whatever labels seem so irrelevant. This is a guy, a kid, with a gift…a singer-songwriter who transcends any ridiculous labels. All of a sudden I missed my family; all of a sudden I missed everyone.

As clever as “I Never Learnt To Share” is, the repetitiveness sometimes gets on my nerves, but seeing it performed as a duet with himself via recorded track was pretty entertaining.  James Blake relied on his keyboard for all manipulation, so even though tracks like “Klavierwerke” are truly electronic pieces, there was no laptop onstage. “Tep and the Logic” was another electronic/instrumental track that I was less familiar with, but enjoyed just the same.  There was something spiritual about that track, something that made me feel like I was going to burst into a millions points of light.

The Auto-tuned tracks that are “Lindisfarne” could easily be mistaken for Bon Iver, but when they are being performed live, right in front of you, there is no mistaking the fact that James Blake owns these pieces of sound art.  ‘beacon don’t fly too high’ This is when things got sexual. The music is too slow to dance to, but with each track the energy builds inside, it builds and builds and there is no release.  I don’t know how to put this any other way, this music makes you want to screw something.  Sorry to be so blunt, but if you want to get laid, take your date to a James Blake show.  At one point some girl started howling like she was driven to climax by the wobbly bass reverberating through the small room.

“To Care (Like You)” was ‘supposed to be a duet, but since I don’t have a female on stage…’ he hit a little button and there was his digital date.  ‘how forlorn to watch you go’ We were witness to a virtual breakup and it made our hearts ache and the ground shake.

The set ended perfectly with two songs that would be Top 40 hits in a perfect world, “Limit to Your Love” and “The Wilhelm Scream”.  That unstable bass washes over us ‘like a waterfall in slow motion’ and though James might question his dreams and love, we were all fallin’, fallin’, fallin’ into a pool of pure ecstasy.

And as if that wasn’t enough to make sure everyone was going home to spoon like rabbits (or whatever it is rabbits do), he returned to the stage without his  bandmates to devastate us with “E—– T—–“, a ‘work in progress’ that just might be my favorite song this year.  A heart crushing ballad that proves once again this kid will outlive the hype and labels being piled on top of him.  He will go on to become one of the great singer-songwriters of our time.  Last night was the best show I have to been to all year and I’m pretty sure it will be one of those ‘yeah, I was there’ moments.  Unless the world really does end and then of none of this will matter…

Moved to the side for the encore to catch some video without disturbing anyone, but view wasn’t great.

mp3 version HERE.

Give Me My Month
Tep and the Logic
I Never Learnt to Share
Lindisfarne I
Lindisfarne II
To Care (Like You)
Limit to Your Love
The Wilhelm Scream

E—– T—–