CC Issue 44 / Music / Travel / Leisure

James Blake, Minneapolis

I was very spoiled when I lived in Chicago as any and every band that I wanted to see came through. My first and second years of university, especially, were little else than a musical bonanza. My friends and I (cloistered in the suburbs west of Chicago) took virtually opportunity those two years to take a train or a borrowed car into the city. To this day I’m perplexed as to how I managed to make it to two or three shows a week, much less finish my assignments.

There’s nothing quite like a live show, as it’s never entirely about the actual show. It’s about the building expectation prior to the event – wondering what a band will sound and be like live, or what songs they’ll play – the people you’re with, and what you do afterwards. It’s for this reason that I have a love/hate relationship with shows. Most of the bands that I want to see, I adore. I’m familiar with their discographies and can pick out many of the intricacies of their songs (I know, I know). As the date of their stage-taking draws near, I confess that I get a little anxious that the experience won’t match my expectations. So I try not to expect anything, which is usually a dismal failure. I’ve walked away from concerts feeling unsatisfied (my issue, mostly) and to be honest, one of my best live experiences was seeing a band that I had never even heard of prior to the show (this accolade goes to ENVY – a Japanese hardcore band – that my friends and I saw in a tiny little building when they opened for a swedish punk rock band called PRIDEBOWL back in 1999 or 2000).

Several years ago, I “discovered” James Blake. He was someone that I wanted to see live. You can imagine the mixture of feeling that was evoked when I heard that he would be playing in Minneapolis, a mere seven or eight hour drive from Winnipeg (where I live), a month after the release of his second album “Overgrown.” Add to this the fact that the boys I play music with also love Mr. Blake, and it seemed a match made in heaven. We got tickets online, Bryn booked us a hotel in downtown Minneapolis (a stone’s throw away from the venue), and we all packed into a car and left Winnipeg for Minneapolis on the morning of May 1st.

The drive was great. We took two hour shifts at the wheel, gliding through the prairies in a wash of good conversation and music. Once we crossed into the US of A, our first item of business was to find a Mexican restaurant. I had forgotten how ridiculous the portions in America are, not to mention how good the Mexican food is. It was early evening when we finally rolled into Minneapolis and found our hotel, which was a welcome surprise in terms of how nice it was.

We had a few hours to kill and so we walked around taking in a few of the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood before eating supper at a greasy diner next to the venue. I have a bit of a weakness for cherry Coke (I know, I know), but as I was in the land of the free  (you can do and be whatever you want in America), I decided to indulge. Eventually it was time for the show and as we were filing into First Avenue and had to produce our I.Ds, I showed the bouncer my international driver’s license (which clearly indicates that I am 30 years old), only to get marked with an “X” on my hand for being underage. Good thing I wasn’t there for the alcohol. And, just for the record, apparently you can’t do and be anything you want in America.

As I’ve become older, my preference for where to stand at a show has become less concerned with where the mosh pit is and more with where the sound is greatest. I get that people want to be as close to the stage as possible, to perhaps touch the hem of some rockstar’s (under) garment, but the sound is dreadful near the stage as it’s usually just a mush of lower frequencies. It’s a little like listening to music underwater. Without divulging the nerdy details of my standing preferences, I managed to convince our cohort to stand three-quarters from the front, in the middle. The moral of this story is probably not to attend any sort of public event with me if you’re there solely to touch performers’ undies or booze it up.

Nobody likes to pee their pants in the middle of a show. People want a memorable experience, but not one that smells and looks like urine. I’m aware of this potential wet blanket/party pooper and so I like to use the facilities well in advance (sometimes a few times). The problem was that by the time I made the commitment to find the washroom, there was a truly thick and swirling crowd around us. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it back to the sacred sonic space I had so tirelessly worked to claim. But what good is sacred sonic space if you’ve wet your pants? Better sense prevailed and I ventured off to find much-needed relief.

When I came back down the stairs, I realised that there was absolutely no chance of getting back to where I was. I was now near the side of the venue, preoccupied by a fear that all I was going to hear was whatever was panned to the left. Suddenly an eight hour drive seemed like a long time. The good thing, however, was that the side was elevated and I could actually see the stage. The lights went down and I decided to just commit to being where I was (and to entirely abandon my friends). Three Englishmen took the stage, one of which was James Blake. And the music started, sounded absolutely incredible, and it was all over.

It was, without a doubt, the best show of my entire life. The songs seemed to possess some sort of sheer power and physicality – pouring into my body and circulating inside of me. Every song sounded so full and aside from the girl next to me who was hell-bent on instagramming the entire thing, it was a truly ethereal experience of the goose bumpy and spine-tingling variety. I felt as if I was being lulled back and forth by an ocean of sound and beauty.

After the show, we waited around to see if we could meet James Blake and have him sign things (not our undergarments). Unfortunately, he beat a hasty retreat into his tour van and despite waiting outside the venue’s garage for quite a while, we never got to see him, or an autograph for that matter. We did, however, get to talk to an inebriated Minneapolisian (?) who assumed we all sat around round tables while ice-fishing up in Canaduh. Every cloud…

The next day we took in a lovely bakery and a truly wonderful 40-year old record store (Electric Fetus!), where we bought several records. Then it was lunch at McDonald’s (we were in America!) and back on the road up to the Peg. The before, during, and after of James Blake not only matched my expectations, but far exceeded them. In a word, it was perfect, and not for one second was I sorry that it took a roundtrip total of about 16 hours. Thank goodness I had to pee.

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