All of 22, Britain’s James Blake masterminded three sonically diverse EPs just in the past year and recently released a self-titled debut album. The crowd at Music Hall of Williamsburg on March 14 was well beyond eager.
“Hello, I feel really welcome ... First time here, first stop,” Blake said from his outpost at the keyboards while his two mates took their spots behind samplers and guitar, drum machines and percussion.
The scattered track “Unlock” opened, with a gentle, soulful vocal and keys building up. The crowd showed signs of impending rapture.
“The Wilhelm Scream” demonstrated that peculiar Blake brew of powerful minimalism: a drum tapped, an occasional sample, aching vocals.
The trio showed real craft in transforming electronic elements from a studio album to a live show. For “Klavierwerke,” Blake showcased his dub-step influences. Cymbals and snapping echoed vocals came with enough bass to rattle the walls.
For “I Never Learnt to Share,” Blake remained seated behind keys, hair slopping across baby face, while he sung over his own looped vocals. The double track “Lindisfarne I” and “Lindisfarne II” followed. It was a slow burner that layered his voice over sliding guitar and a tepid beat. It was reminiscent of a tweaked Bon Iver song, yet very much his own.
The evening’s highlight belonged to Blake’s rendition of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love.” The flawless recreation reflected his appreciation of R&B combined with electronic elements.
The encore saw Blake alone at the piano for Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” showcasing his classical training and his clear talent for shining. He’ll return in May for gigs at the Bowery Ballroom and Le Poisson Rouge.
Opening on March 24 for Dinosaur Jr.’s frontman, J. Mascis, Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile & the Violators faced a jammed Mercury Lounge. The quartet’s 45-minute set pumped out lo-fi throwback psychedelic indie music that was nostalgic and modern all at once.
From the initial dark jam, the players eventually made their way into “Hunchback,” a gritty tune that had Vile bent over his guitar behind a curtain of long flowing hair. He delivered the vocals with a nonchalant conviction before closing it out with feedback and fuzz.
“Jesus Fever,” off the band’s latest and very well- balanced album, “Smoke Ring for My Halo,” came with a twang, a trading of swift guitar solos and a jauntier pace.
Young Tom Petty
For “Ghost Town,” Vile shifted to acoustic guitar and shone like a young Tom Petty. A true slow burner, the spacey number built to a screeching culmination before ending with Vile playing the opening chords.
The set wrapped up with a Dylanesque “Heart Attack,” for which Vile slurred his delivery over finger-picked guitar. The band will be back on June 11 at the Bowery Ballroom.
Here’s a selection of New York-area shows in April. Please note that opening bands aren’t always listed. Shows marked (SO) are sold out, although online services such as Craigslist often have tickets:
April 1 The Strokes at Madison Square Garden (SO) April 2 LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden (SO) April 3 Destroyer/The War on Drugs at Webster Hall April 4 Jonny Corndawg and Friends at Brooklyn Bowl April 5 Royal Bangs at Knitting Factory, Brooklyn April 6 Explosions in the Sky/Low at Radio City Music Hall April 7 Morning Teleportation at Mercury Lounge April 8 The Black Angels/Suuns at Bowery Ballroom (SO) April 9 Grouplove/Foster the People at Knitting Factory (SO) April 10 Sebadoh/Richard Buckner at Bowery Ballroom April 11 The Drums/Matthew Dear at Knitting Factory (SO) April 12 Surf City/Darlings/Lingering Doubts/Little Racer at Glasslands April 13 TV on the Radio/Light Asylum at Radio City Music Hall April 14 Wye Oak/Caveman/Callers at Bowery Ballroom April 15 O’Death/Grandchildren/Country Mice at Knitting Factory April 16 Sharon Van Etten/Megafaun at Music Hall of Williamsburg April 17 Grouper at Le Poisson Rouge April 18 The Pipettes at The Rock Shop April 19 PJ Harvey at Terminal 5 (SO) April 20 DOM/Minks/Fergus and Geronimo/Total Slacker at Bowery Ballroom April 21 Glass Ghost/Milagres/Husband & Wife at The Rock Shop April 22 Hayes Carll/Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit at Bowery Ballroom April 23 Hunx & His Punx/Shannon & The Clams/Grass Widow at Glasslands April 24 Neil Young at Avery Fisher Hall April 25 Neil Young at Avery Fisher Hall Tame Impala/Yuck at Webster Hall April 26 Emmylou Harris at Bowery Ballroom (SO) April 27 Low at Bowery Ballroom April 28 Lord Huron/The Wilderness of Manitoba at Mercury Lounge April 29 Pinback at Highline Ballroom April 30 Titus Andronicus/The Suzan/Dinowalrus at Music Hall of Williamsburg
(Jaime Widder works in sales for Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at email@example.com.