James Blake’s Saturday evening Austin City Limits Music Festival set was everything an artful electronic performance should be, with the self-assured musician taking the audience through a perfectly curated audio journey.
The Mercury Prize-winning British producer, singer and instrumentalist started his set with subtle, hypnotic sounds and elegant piano work. He delivered two of his biggest crowd-pleasers early: “Mile High,” which features Travis Scott and Metro Boomin, and “Limit to Your Love.” Both were performed with a slow-burning, teasing quality, Blake playing with concepts of withholding and drawing out sounds — as well as silence — to evoke numbness shot through with undercurrents of sadness and desire.
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As the sun set over the festival, Blake effortlessly transitioned into the higher-energy (but no less haunting) portion of his set, pulling out the sharp, shrieking, howling sounds and laser flashes, like a spooky, sexy ghost welcoming us to James Blake Haunted House (which I would 1,000% attend.)
And suddenly, the field at Zilker Park could have been a chic warehouse club, with Blake’s pulsing, throbbing, desirous and melancholic music having built into a sweaty, dancing fervor. Blake can built a mood seemingly effortlessly.
One of the most special parts of the performance was — surprisingly — the relative sparseness of the audience. Presumably folks were prioritizing other performances, or they weren’t sure how Blake would translate in a festival setting, or he just flew under the radar. But the result was an experience where crowd members had the physical and emotional space to slow-dance like teenagers, thrash out painful feelings or stretch out on the lawn to look at the stars and cry.
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