To me, there are basically three kinds of shows, and they run like this, in descending order of plenitude: shows I just go to, shows I look forward to, and James Blake shows.

In the lead-up to a James Blake show, I’m not just like, “Cool, it’ll be fun to go to a James Blake show.” I get excited, and not only in the primary sense of the word, but in a secondary one from physics: I’m seized by “an energy state higher than the normal or ground state.” If someone mentions James Blake, I glide up with a too-bright intensity, making outrageous claims. I recount other James Blake shows I’ve been to (Cat’s Cradle, Overgrown tour; The Fillmore in Philly, Assume Form tour) at unnecessary length and metaphoric density. My Instagram sags under James Blake content. I’ll even catch myself fantasizing about what the show will be like, how it will feel. It’s always how I imagined. A James Blake show is a certified event, pulsing with dark gravity on my calendar. It’s kind of embarrassing. I’m embarrassed.

I won’t bother describing my personal connections with Blake’s music because they’re just about love and cycles and it’s boring. That’s not what this is about, anyway. This is more corporeal. The event takes place in the body. Blake is the minimal monumentalist of electronic pop, and he works almost exclusively in onyx. There’s just something about the fathomless depth of his bass synths, the afterlife soul of his singing, the icy crack of Ben Assiter’s snares, and the banking lights and fog—how they compose a whole world, one so much more elemental and transfixing than the ordinary one.

Do you have that, too? Music that’s more like a place you love to go, where you instinctively feel at home, than a sound or a song you like? Then you know what I mean.

Before James Blake came to Hopscotch last night, I knew I was going to dance hard and feel feelings at the same time. I knew I was going to lose myself in a chasm between the rugged and the ethereal and that it would be filled with cryptic beauty. (And there’s our metaphoric density.) I knew the bass would be like a black hole opening in my rib cage, somewhere between my hips and my heart. I knew that Blake was going to make time do whatever he wanted it to do: stretching it, bending it, cutting it into paper snowflakes, peeling it, pouring it, staggering and strobing it.

But I did not know, could not have suspected, that he would encore the set with a Don McLean cover. I’m being coy about which song it was for a second to give you time to contemplate James Blake singing “American Pie.” But no, it was a solo keyboard rendition of “Vincent,” McLean’s sentimental 1971 folk hit about Van Gogh, and it was really lovely. It was also the only way in which James Blake has ever followed in the footsteps of NOFX.

Before that, there were modern classics like “Life Round Here” and “Retrograde” (the signature song was teased in a sort of primitive rave breakdown before appearing for a satisfying verse or two later). There was much from Assume Form (which slaps so much harder live than on the album), complete with André 3000 samples. There was a new song I was too blacked out on to describe now, which bodes well. 

As Blake took care to point out, the trio wasn’t using any samples; every tectonic rhythm and lathed arpeggio and looped vocal run was conjured live, and it translated into a very live crowd at a festival where they tend to be more sedate. I had the sense of people, including many Blake newcomers, realizing they were in the midst of something extraordinary and gradually leaning into it.

Blake himself might have been caught a little off-guard by the exuberant reception. He’s been speaking a lot lately about the need not to stigmatize depression and anxiety, and his PSA near the end seemed a little off-kilter with the buzz of excitement at Red Hat. Anxiety and depression? Yeah, we’ve got those—but not this second, or the next, for as long as the music keeps weaving its irrefutable atmosphere of meaning and mystery in the air. (Oh my god, I have to stop. I’m stopping.)

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