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Concert Reviews Music

James Blake thrills L’Olympia

Montreal welcomed James Blake with open arms at a striking concert on Oct. 10.

English musician James Blake wears many hats, notably being a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer and DJ. His last visit to Montreal dates back to 2019, when he performed at L’Olympia on Saint-Catherine. Back at this very venue four years later, James Blake came to town following the release of his sixth studio album Playing Robots Into Heaven out on Sept. 8. 

The return to electronic roots follows up on his 2021 album Friends That Break Your Heart which did not receive a live show in Montreal. Long time fans and admirers of Blake’s music journey were ecstatic to finally see him in the flesh, this time to experience “a little bit of everything,” as Blake himself put it. The tour started off in Europe in mid-September and will end a month from now in Los Angeles, California where Blake is currently based. 

From his emergence in the dubstep scene in South London, James Blake has since contributed to countless artists’ projects as well as collaborating with many others from different realms of the music world. The list includes Beyoncé, Rosalía, André 3000, Metro Boomin, Kendrick Lamar, Mount Kimbie and Bon Iver, just to name a few. Blake is renowned to be a chameleon of his own calibre, and comparing him to anyone would be unfair. 

After an hour’s wait in the front row, the unannounced opener of the evening walked onto the stage. For about half an hour, electronic producer Rob McAndrews under the alias Airhead—Blake’s childhood friend who has worked alongside him for many years—offered the audience some electro-ambient tunes from his recent project Lightness full of varied tempos, reverb and bass with catchy guitar riffs. 

After Airhead had left the stage, the very last track of Blake’s brand new album resonated in the entire theatre, announcing his composed arrival on stage with a smile and waving hands. His station was to the right of the stage, with a keyboard and synths at his disposal. Opener Airhead was back for a second shift, this time handling the modular synth and guitar on the far left, which left the centre space for the drummer. 

The soothing and experimental instrumental track transitioned to “I Want You To Know,” a track with an equal amount of gorgeous harmonies and synths with experimental electronic touches. Some of the prominent bass in most tracks also pierced right through my body, making the whole room appear to be vibrating. 

The singer pleasantly surprised everyone by playing “Godspeed” by Frank Ocean, which he wrote, as well as doing an acapella and piano version of “Say What You Will” right after fans asked for it to be performed. Songs from his new album continued, but key tracks such as “Love Me In Whatever Way,” “Can’t Believe The Way We Flow,” “Retrograde,” and “Limit to Your Love” from past albums were also part of the setlist. The gifted artist concluded his concert with an experimental high-tempo remix to finish the night on a high.

James Blake’s singing was controlled throughout the entire show, conveying lyrics full of introspection and pensive vulnerability while he simultaneously played the keys. Effects ranged from soft and delayed vocals to more powerful and raw singing. Opposed to the so-called “sad boy” title that some people have given him, Blake confidently shares melancholy and heartache messages without being “afraid of being seen as weak or soft,” as he expressed in a 2018 tweet. To this day—and all over his stage presence at L’Olympia—Blake is in tune with himself and proudly exchanges his catalog with the crowd. 

One of the key takeaways from the concert, which made it extra special for me, was the decision to not incorporate any computer in the live performance despite it being a heavily electronic set. As for stage lighting, the simple but effective use of light bulbs around the perimeter of the theatre’s structure created this tinted barrier of light play between the crowd and the artists on stage. The audience, and me included, vividly cheered and eagerly clapped in between each track. Blake commented on the passionate response saying that he and the band were more than happy to be back in Montreal. 

“We got off stage and we all said to each other this is just the best gig we’ve done in ages,” James Blake expressed to the audience when returning from the encore intermission.

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Concert Reviews Music

Concert Review: Demi Lovato at L’Olympia 

Demi Lovato put on a stellar performance at L’Olympia on Sunday, Oct. 16 

The pop-star-turned-rock-star performed in a significantly small venue on Oct. 16, considering her fame and popularity over many years. The last time the singer was in Montreal, she performed at the Bell Centre with a capacity of 21,302 people. L’Olympia, on the other hand, has a capacity of only 1,120. 

While the show started at 8 p.m., fans began lining up outside the doors nine hours prior to the entry time at 6:30 p.m. 

Demi Lovato opened her show with Royal & the Serpent aka Ryan Santiago, an American singer-songwriter. She absolutely killed it with her energy and evident passion for music. The crowd’s energy matched hers, with fans jumping and headbanging to the music. 

Santiago ended with her most famous song “Overwhelmed” that went viral on TikTok, and the crowd got extremely loud and pumped up for Demi’s appearance.  

Demi came on stage with an all-girl band and the crowd went nuts. The singer started with songs from her new rock album HOLY FVCK and then went back to her Disney days with songs like “Don’t Forget” and “Remember December” — but with a rock twist. Having grown up with these songs, the fans knew every single word, including myself.  

She also performed the song “29” which is the most talked-about song on the new album, since it is about the singer’s past relationship with Wilmer Valderrama. The song points out how the then 29-year-old actor dated Lovato when she was only 17. Upon turning 29, the lyrics say that she finally realized how wrong the relationship was. 

Lovato spoke to the crowd before performing the song saying that she’s seen how her fans have been sharing their stories of going through the same thing, and how she’s sorry for them going through it too.

As someone who saw Demi perform at the Bell Centre four years ago when she was still making pop music, had long black hair, and dressed completely differently, I could say that this rock era is by far her best. 

The singer’s powerful raspy voice fits with the rock genre perfectly, her vocals coming through more powerfully than ever. The singer seemed to be at her most confident during the Sunday night performance, and her voice has truly never sounded better. 

The energy was palpable throughout the show, with a loud crowd screaming all the lyrics back to the singer.There’s been talk that this is Lovato’s last tour, and if it is, I’m very happy that I was there to see it.

Photo by Jessica Jakubowicz

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Music

Jack White; a diva no more

“Jesus Christ, is this an NPR convention?” asked White before cutting his set short last Saturday in New York City, three days before he appeared at Montreal’s L’Olympia. Despite technical problems and the negative press detailing White’s ‘diva-tude’ behaviour, he didn’t fail to impress the Montreal crowd.

Eager to see whether White would enter the stage with Los Buzzardos, the all-male band, or The Peacocks, his all-female band, the lights dimmed and the crowd erupted in cheers. White and Los Buzzardos began playing The White Stripes’ song “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.”

The sound immediately electrified fans, but as soon as White walked up to the mic, it became obvious that something was off. The music level was much higher than the vocals, making it virtually impossible to hear White sing.

Press photo.

Throughout the ninety-minute show, White played songs from his entire repertoire. He performed tracks that he wrote with The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, a few songs from his solo debut Blunderbuss, and a song he wrote with Hank Williams, “You Know That I Know.”

But his White Stripe hits proved to be the most memorable. The closing song “Seven Nation Army” was both electric and delicate, causing the most powerful reaction from fans.

It’s no surprise that the crowd was so enthusiastic about White, for he lived up to his reputation and shied away from gimmicks to produce an honest-to-God rock show. This concert was, without a doubt, a riveting musical experience.

 

 

 

Top five Jack White tracks

 

1. “Seven Nation Army” – White Stripes – Elephant

It is near impossible to have lived through the 2000s and not recognize the signature “Seven Nation Army” guitar riff. It sounds like a bass, but was the sound was actually created by running White’s semi-acoustic guitar through a DigiTech Whammy pedal set down an octave.

It was adopted as the unofficial anthem of A.S. Roma, an Italian football club based in Rome, during the 2006 World Cup. Nowadays crowds chant the lyrics to “Seven Nation Army” instead of the traditional Olé, Olé, Olé. “I’m gonna fight ’em off/A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back/They’re gonna rip it off/Taking their time right behind my back.”

 

2. “Portland, Oregon” – Loretta Lynn & Jack White – Van Lear Rose

After being M.I.A. for about ten years, country pioneer Loretta Lynn returned to the studio with White to release 2004’s Van Lear Rose. White lent vocals, guitar and produced the record — which later won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album.  “Portland, Oregon” is the album’s only duet and serves as their ode to the city that bewitched them as touring musicians. Its music video juxtaposes footage of America’s ‘weirdest’ city with White and Lynn performing in a dive bar, and lets you to peer into the relationship the two developed working closely together. “Well I lost my heart it didn’t take no time/But that ain’t all/ I lost my mind in Oregon.”

 

3. “Icky Thump” – The White Stripes – Icky Thump

“Icky Thump” is the title track of The White Stripes’ sixth and final album. Though it was released in 2007, the pair didn’t announce their separation until 2011. After 13 years together, they called it quits for a “myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band.” The album returned to the heavy, snarky rock found in their earlier releases. The title track, “Icky Thump”, features one of White’s only political references. It deals with immigration to the United States, with both the song’s lyrics and music video detailing how easy it is for someone to cross the border into Mexico, yet near impossible to get back into the US. “White Americans/What? Nothin’ better to do?/Why don’t you kick yourself out/You’re an immigrant too.”

 

4. “Blunderbuss” – Jack White – Blunderbuss

Though White had been bouncing from one project to the next for a decade, he didn’t release solo material until 2012. And that’s because Blunderbuss was a record that he couldn’t release until now. He told Rolling Stone, “I’ve put off making records under my own name for a long time but these songs feel like they could only be presented under my name. These songs were written from scratch, had nothing to do with anyone or anything else but my own expression, my own colors on my own canvas.” The title track is a country-rock piano ballad, and appears to address his former bandmate and ex-wife, Meg White. “And you’ll be watching me, girl/Taking over the world/Let the stripes unfurl/Gettin’ rich singin’ poor boy/Poor boy.”

 

5. “Steady As She Goes” – The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers

The Raconteurs formed after White bonded with an old friend, Brendan Benson, in an attic on a hot summer’s day. Cooped up, the pair wrote “Steady As She Goes” and were inspired to make things official. With the addition of Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler of The Greenhornes, The Raconteurs called themselves “a new band made up of old friends.” This track is White’s most mainstream effort and the closest he has ever gotten to pop. The song has been covered by Adele, Corinne Bailey Rae, Fitz and The Tantrums and was nominated for the Best Rock Performance Grammy in 2007. “Settle for a girl neither up or down/sell it to the crowd that’s gathered round/so steady as she goes.”

 

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