Manchester Academy 2 is not a particularly majestic venue, in fact, it looks almost identical to a high school assembly room, so it seems odd that such a place should host an artist like James Blake, a musician who could no doubt fill a space at least three times as big. Yet, if he’d really wanted to nail that ‘intimate gig’ vibe in Manchester, he could have chosen from about 10 other venues all far more charming than here. In a room as impersonal and stripped back as this, the focus of the night is shifted entirely onto James himself rather than the gig as an overall experience. No distractions tonight then, these are test conditions.

Thankfully for everyone involved, Blake’s performance here is sublime. Offering up a set packed nicely with fresh material from the new album but with plenty of visits back to some of Blake’s earlier EP’s, there are treats in store for both the Sunday supplement reading casual listeners and the die-hard JB fans. In fact, one of the unexpected highlights of the evening comes with a stunning performance of 2010’s Klavierwerke, the dark shifting bassline utilizing every last audible hertz of Academy 2’s (surprisingly impressive) sound system. Elsewhere, the twinkling intro to CMYK prompts a huge response from the crowd, and about three quarters of the way through, Blake throws in a personal touch, pushing the song into new territory with the addition of live instrumentation that allows the track to somehow twist into something altogether more samba than ‘post-dubstep.’ Needless to say, it goes off.

Of course, Wilhelm’s Scream and Limit to Your Love go down a treat, the fragility of James’ voice juxtaposing perfectly the thundering splashes of bass that seem to erupt from the speakers with such force that it almost always manages to catch everyone slightly off guard. Tonight though, the latter track is peppered with trippy Dub reverb inflected snare hits, giving off the inkling that no matter where Blake takes his music, he’s more than happy to pay homage to the roots of his originally Dubstep indebted sound.

But in this particular performance, it’s actually James’ newest material that does the most to impress. For all the enjoyment derived from the dancefloor orientated mechanical grinding of Blake’s older tunes, the way he’s written the songs on Overgrown (reviewed hereallow him to really exploit his voice in a way that his self titled album never quite allowed. Ambitiously soaring, Retrograde is performed here with a level of heightened emotion that seems to make a much bigger impact than it ever could on record. There seems to be little doubt that James’ singing abilities, (or at least, his confidence in his own voice) have improved over the last couple of years. And as the evening draws to a close, the final song of the night is Blake’s achingly beautiful cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You. Even with an entire night’s performance behind him, the delicacy of James’ voice remains untarnished and pitch perfect. Unshackled from whirring synths and weighty sub bass, it’s a gloriously sobering piece to finish with that perfectly draws to a close what has been a performance thoroughly filled with heady wonder.

I'm Allan, I've had obsessive listening disorder since I was about 13 and now I write about music as a way of helping me cope with that.