Amidst what many newscasters were calling a record storm for the Portland area, a line of people waited in the cold, wind and rain to make it inside the Roseland Theater on Friday night. Despite a sold-out show for James Blake, the line only stretched to the end of the block, due to the weather, as the doors opened.
After doors, many more people came in at a steady pace, slowly filling the theater to capacity. Though not quite yet filled, the crowd was ample when opener Moses Sumney came on stage. With an angelic falsetto voice and the soft sound of his samples giving the acapella tracks more depth, Sumney commanded the crowd: Every eye in the building pointed toward the stage, listening intently, and completely silent.
Sumney’s music was quiet and soft, but with the perfect silence over the crowd, the sound carried, giving a full, sharp and hypnotizing feel. Even during the quietest tracks, the crowd remained still and intent. Sumney played a half-hour set, blowing away the crowd with his ingenious use of looped samples, creating harmonies with his own voice and beats with a tap of the mic or beatboxed rhythms. As his set closed, the theater was at capacity with the sold-out crowd waiting for James Blake’s headlining set.
Blake’s latest album, The Colour in Anything, was released this year to much critical acclaim, so it was speculated the crowd would get to hear many standout tracks from the record. It was no surprise then, that Blake opened his set with “Always,” a track from the album.
Immediately, the vibe that Blake would bring to the Roseland was apparent in the sparse stage setup, with Blake at the keys, and a drummer and second key player sharing the space. With all seated, the onstage movement was minimal, though the lights and large screen behind them provided plenty of visual appeal.
The mass of the beauty of the show though came through the music Blake and his backing band put out into the theater. With large, open and airy synth backings, Blake's crystalline voice breathed into the open space around the crowd with the same captivating force Sumney had demonstrated before him.
Unfortunately, this illusion fell apart at a point during the show as a couple of hecklers in the balcony began to talk loudly over the most delicate of tracks. Blake fumbled and paused at a point in the song, distracted by the shouts of the individuals, but continued to play. After, he addressed the situation.
“There was a point in that last song that may have seemed like I had forgotten the words,” Blake pointed out. “Really, I was just wondering if those guys over in the balcony would ever shut up.” This was rewarded by cheers from the crowd.
As Blake floated through his set of tracks, containing songs from all three of his studio albums, plus covers (most notably his own cut from Beyonce’s Lemonade), the crowd remained enthralled with the music, staying silent through the set and allowing the beauty of the sound to travel through the perfect silence.
As the set continued on to its final song, the sound of the crowd died down, once again falling into a silence that was filled with “Measurements,” a track James Blake made live using the same vocal looping demonstrated by Sumney. It was a perfect and beautiful closing to one of the most hypnotizing sets to come through the Roseland Theater.