The first time James Blake performed in Philadelphia, he crooned to a sold-out crowd packing the pews at the First Unitarian Church. This time around, the religious experience was a bit more figurative.
Shrouded in a cloud of color-shifting smoke and a satisfying synth-melancholia, the 30-year-old British singer-songwriter-producer extraordinaire eased into his newest set from Assume Form from his pulpit at the Fillmore on Friday night, posing the profoundest of lyrics in his signature ethereal falsetto:
“Doesn’t it get much clearer? Doesn’t it seem connecting? Doesn’t it get you started? Doesn’t it make you happier? Doesn’t it feel more natural? Doesn’t it see you float? Doesn’t it seem much warmer? Just know in the sun we’ll be out.”
It’s these flashes of light, “the sun,” that set the lugubrious Londoner’s 2019 album apart from his previous tracks.
A marked departure from his other music, Blake’s newest songs glimmer with hints of hope in between the trademark sorrowful soul backed by a delicate keyboard and barely there laptop percussion, perhaps a reflection of the evolution of the artist.
Eager to break from his “sad boy” image, Blake has been vocal about his mental health and struggles with depression and anxiety. In July 2018, he spoke on a panel focused on mental-health issues among musicians, where he discussed the importance of therapy and managing his career in a sustainable way — including turning down offers to tour.
In fact, Friday marked Blake’s first touring performance in Philadelphia since his “The Colour in Anything” stop in 2016, and the artist said he felt the Brotherly Love.
“Not to sound trite, but coming back from being away to this kind of reception, it’s really wonderful,” he told the beaming crowd at the Fillmore. “And coming back to Philly again, it’s really, really wonderful.”
Clad in an all-black ensemble, Blake was joined onstage for the majority of the performance by drummer Ben Assiter and guitarist Rob McAndrew, and in spirit by Travis Scott and Outkast’s Andre 3000. The show featured a brooding prerecorded sample from Scott on “Mile High” as well as a high-energy stream-of-consciousness “heady-ass” verse from Andre 3000 in “Where’s the Catch?”
At one point in the night, Blake emerged from behind his bevy of keyboards to take center stage, performing an ’80s synth-pop infused unreleased tune “Loathe to Roam,” with a message of self-aware empowerment perhaps indicative of the artist’s new era.
“And I’m staring everybody down," he belted over the electronic beat. "And I’m standing up for myself now. And I never asked for all of this.”