'James Blake returns to childhood stomping ground with euphoric set'

Concert stage in Alexandra Palace and singer on big screen

Singer-producer James Blake returns to Alexandra Palace for an eclectic set. - Credit: Frankie Lister-Fell

"I grew up round here. So this is a lot."

These are the first, heartfelt words that James Blake says to a sold-out show at Alexandra Palace (May 17) after his opening tracks (Famous Last Words and Life Round Here) are met with roof-raising cheers.

His next announcement is met with even more enthusiasm. Blake intends to play "everything" from his discography, pivoting away from his latest, and less-exciting, album Friends That Break Your Heart.

Undeterred by the 10,000 perspiring people hanging on his words, the classically trained pianist, singer-songwriter, producer and electronica whizz looks right at home on the expansive stage. And that's because he is.

Hip-hop's darling - Blake has worked with André 3000, Beyoncé and Frank Ocean - started his not so hip childhood in Enfield. He tells the audience he had his first kiss 20 metres from where he is stood now.

Blake and his onstage musicians, guitarist Rob McAndrews and drummer Ben Assiter, have been friends since they were 12. They would hang out on the banks of Ally Pally doing "completely legal things". Never in their wildest dreams did they imagine they'd be playing a gig at the iconic venue beside them, he says.

And what a venue to amplify the breadth of Blake's talent. His quivering singing under the high-ceilinged Ally Pally feels ecclesiastical in haunting heart-wrenchers Limit to Your Love and Love Me in Whatever Way. Take us to church, choirmaster!

Stage and close up of singer on large screen

The singer grew up in Enfield and attended Latymer secondary school in Edmonton. - Credit: Frankie Lister-Fell

But just as we've settled amongst the pews, hymns in hand, Blake takes us to the dancefloor. The bass in classic tracks CMYK and Before can fully be appreciated through such a sound system. Blake's profile displayed on the big screens jumps along with each snap of the kick drum.

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It's hard to come down from such highs, and the audience feels a bit distracted during his slower ballads. Blake struggles to hit some of the high notes in I'll Come Too. He otherwise delivers a musically flawless set.

Then there's the song most have been waiting for: Retrograde. Its execution doesn't disappoint. White stage lights raise their heads to spotlight the audience as Blake sings "suddenly I'm hit" and the audience is awash with iPhones trying to capture the euphoria.

He brings the set to an emotional close with a cover of Frank Ocean's Godspeed, solidifying Blake's greatest talent: that angelic voice, goddammit.