OAKLAND — James Blake brought his Assume Form Tour into shape with hypnotic and ambient sounds at the Fox Theater Tuesday at the first of two concerts in Oakland.
The English musician and producer is one of the most prolific collaborators of the last few years, and has released one of the best albums so far this year. Assume Form is a complete unburdening of emotions and sounds. A minute into the show, the soft cymbals and delicate piano of the album’s title track introduced some of his most powerful lyricism: “Now I’m confiding/ Know I may have gone through the motions my whole life.” And that was just the beginning of his personalized storytelling.
The set continued with “Life Round Here,” from 2013’s Overgrown; and “Timeless,” one of the best cuts from 2016’s The Colour in Anything. The latter was a trip to the deepness of ambient sounds, with the darker, bass-heavy and minimal end of the electronic music spectrum.
James Blake followed with three more new cuts from that album: “Mile High” (features rapper Travis Scott and producer Metro Boomin), “I’ll Come Too” and “Barefoot in the Park,” (featuring Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía Vila Tobella). He explored other sounds as well, moving from dubstep to more experimental atmospheres and then pop.
With just a piano and a soft drumbeat, he played a cover of Feist’s “The Limit to Your Love” and “Love Me in Whatever Way,” from The Colour in Anything, which showed an evolution in Blake’s sound. New cuts “Are You in Love?” and “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow” came next.
With his keyboards draped in reverb, strings following the rhythm of the drumbeat and vocal digital harmonies, Blake played unreleased track “Loathe to Roam,” “Where’s the Catch?” from Assume Form and “Voyeur” from Overgrown. Older material included “The Wilhelm Scream” from his 2011 self-titled album, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” and the intimate “Retrograde,” from Overgrown. The encore consisted of Assume Form tracks “Don’t Miss It” and “Lullaby for My Insomniac.”
London musician Khush opened the show with a similar style of ambient experimental sounds, structured with piano and soft percussion with songs like “One for Me,” from his 2014 EP, Phantoms; 2016 single “Stories” and his newly released song, “Freedom Fall,” all of which had intimate groove-based rhythms.
Follow photographer Joaquin Cabello at Instagram.com/joaquinxcabello.