Photo by Rachel Davidson.
Sunday, September 18, 2011. It would have been a mind-addling, homework-inundated kind of Sunday for me, just like any other… if I had not decided to throw caution to the wind and escape the real world for the night. This otherworldly trip began with an eventful drive on the I-10/101 in a crowded Scripps van with seven of my friends, and after more than an hour and a half of patient waiting, I came face-to-face with my favorite musician, James Blake. Glorious.
Anyone who knows me, or anyone who has read my enthusiastic review of James Blake’s debut album, will know that I am a James Blake super-fan. When I discovered back in May of this year that he would be performing in LA in September, I resolved to see him there no matter what! Luckily enough, several of my KSPC-inclined friends also appreciate James Blake’s artistry, and we arranged to attend together.
We left campus at 7:00 pm, and made it to Hollywood just in time for the LA Music Box’s doors to open. Entering the theater, we were instantly removed from reality: the venue features strong mood lighting, checkerboard flooring, and eclectic wallpaper, making for a fantasy-like experience. After some sitting around, chatting and snacking on cinnamon almonds, Teengirl Fantasy came on stage, surrounded by a dense jungle of wires and keyboards. This dynamic, techno-inclined duo performed non-stop for half an hour. Although their sound was more conducive to a rave party than James Blake’s cool minimalism, their energy was contagious and inspired the crowd to dance. Teengirl Fantasy finished at 9:30, after which we all danced goofily to the intermission DJ’s music, more excited than ever for what was to come. 40+ minutes later, the curtains were raised once again… and I suddenly found myself near the very front of the floor, less than fifteen feet from James Blake himself!!
As I stood in front of this British wunderkind, seeing his immense talent brought to bear in front of me, I was speechless. Every song from his repertoire was reworked for live production, so that each turn of sonic phrase, each drop of the bass, each gorgeous melody that James sang was performed more passionately than I have ever heard before. Lindisfarne I and II stood out to me the most: this pair of songs is composed entirely of James’ vocals, simple guitar chords, and his signature dubstep-like clicks. As he sang, his voice was layered through auto-tune in real time for an incredibly moving, pseudo-choral effect. The power of the surround sound, emanating from a source so close to me, seemed visceral. Even now, when I listen to my phone’s audio recording of the song, it seamlessly transports me back to that transcendent moment.
Aside from the Lindisfarne spectacular, James played most of the songs from his album, an extended version of CMYK – a crowd favorite from his EP of the same name – and a never-before-heard song which graced the front page of Pitchfork the next morning!
Everyone in the LA Music Box that night will ultimately traverse divergent paths through life, but we were brought together for the same reason: to witness one of the most innovative young musicians of our time. And although James may return to Los Angeles in the future, the spectacle we witnessed on Sunday will never repeat itself. I frantically gathered a variety of photos, audio and video recordings during the show, but these artificial remnants don’t quite compare to the purity of the original experience. There is a certain bittersweet beauty in the transience of live music, and I will not soon forget the life lesson that James Blake’s one-of-a-kind performance has inspired in me: to savor every second.
On the way out of the theater, we bought our commemorative posters and reeled in the midst of an incredible after-concert high. As my friends and I browsed through my photos during the drive back to campus, and sat in awe of what we had just witnessed, we laughed at the ever-present curly head of hair on the bottom of each frame, which belonged to the person standing in front of me – why is there always someone obstructing the shot? I could barely sleep that night, hyped up from all the excitement of the evening – and a week later, I am still having a little trouble coming back down to Earth! I lost some rest, to be sure, but the experience of a lifetime was worth it.
Review by Rachel Davidson. (see more photos here!)