Concert Review: James Blake Plays a Chill Solo Set at Swank Museum of Modern Art Benefit

When you’ve got Andre and Andra in the same room, chances are it’s a special evening. And while the two (Andre 3000 and Andra Day, respectively) did not meet on Monday night during James Blake’s special performance at the Museum of Modem Art, the combination says a lot about the curation of the event.

MOMA’s Parties in the Garden fly surprisingly under the radar: Thrown as benefits, the superbly curated events, which are thrown a couple of times a year, have included performances from The Weeknd, Robyn and Blood Orange on the high end — which include a full-blown open-bar party that takes over most of the museum, with a performance in the outdoor Sculpture Garden — to acts like Tei Shi and Mikal Cronin for the lower-key, late afternoon events. This one honored Eva and Glenn Dubin and Susan and David Rockefeller, along with collection artists Vija Celmins and Carrie Mae Weems. (The talent was booked by Lauren Driscoll in the museum’s Special Events department.)

Even though the headlining set for this one was a decidedly chill solo piano performance from James Blake, his performance was sandwiched by thumping DJ sets from Klaus (aka 1-800-Dinosaur) and Kaytranda — which made for an evening that was both raucous and classy — and really fun.

The Parties in the Garden are usually heavy on well-dressed young people and light on the usual music industry suspects, but this one was different: along with Andre/a, luminaries in the house included Columbia Recording artists Leon Bridges — sporting a sharp suit with a black-and-white swirl-patterned shirt — and Muna, accompanied by several management and label peeps; Stephen Bruner a.k.a. Thundercat (fresh from performing his song “Show You the Way” with ’70s-riffic guests Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins on “Fallon”) was also in the house, and a few Republic label execs were on hand for Blake’s performance. (Continues below)

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 05: Musicians Leon Bridges, Andre Benjamin and Stephen Bruner attend The Museum of Modern Art's Party in the Garden at MOMA on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for The Museum of Modern Art)
From left: Leon Bridges, Andre 3000 and Thundercat (Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images courtesy The Museum of Modern Art)

His half-hour set, performed on a giant grand piano on a high stage in the middle of the garden, essentially felt like evesdropping on a private performance. He improvised a bit on the piano before his high voice cut through the calm as he eased into a song that was either a new original or a cover we didn’t recognize. Then he noodled some more before embracing his surroundings by performing Don McLean’s “Vincent,” (a.k.a. “Starry, starry night”), written in homage to Van Gogh and his world-famous painting, which of course is on permanent display at MOMA. The song suits Blake’s high and reedy voice perfectly; the gesture equally suited his Britishness.

Related Content Natalie Portman Filmed James Blake Music Video Days Before Giving Birth

He noodled a bit more before easing into a jazzy take on his own “Overgrown,” not distinctly different from the familiar version but the absence of synths and percussion makes it a much more free-form song. Then there was a bit more noodling before he shifted into a familiar cover from the same era as McLean’s, Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” which he has performed gorgeously for years, and did not disappoint tonight. And with that, he was done, passing through the crowd with a lovely companion with whom he was later spied in the VIP area as Kaytranda’s thumping DJ set kicked in and the crowd — which for the most part kept its indoor voices during Blake’s hardly party-starting performance — got its groove on.


Concert Review: James Blake Plays a Chill Solo Set at Swank Museum of Modern Art Benefit

More Music

  • Recording Academy President/CEO Deborah Dugan participates

    Executive Assistant Preparing Lawsuit Against Ousted Grammy Chief

    In the latest twist in the increasingly bitter exit of Deborah Dugan from the Recording Academy after just five months, the ousted president/CEO is about to face a lawsuit from her former assistant, Claudine Little, who has retained former Harvey Weinstein/ Charlie Walk attorney Patty Glaser to represent her, two sources tell Variety. The news was [...]

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm

    'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Music: How the Italian Tuba March Found Its Way to Larry David

    When “Curb Your Enthusiasm” returns for its much-anticipated 10th season it does so with it a musical theme that’s a prime example of recognizable sonic branding and has become synonymous with comedy in our complicated times: “Frolic” by composer Luciano Michelini. But surprisingly, this comic march for tuba, mandolin and piano wasn’t specifically written for [...]

  • Kacey Musgraves, from left, Reba McEntire,

    How a Twitter Joke About Women at Country Radio Reignited a Firestorm (Column)

    Do you remember the classic Bee Gees song that goes, “I started a joke… that started the whole world crying”? (It’s okay if you don’t.) That’s how I felt this week after realizing that a sarcastic tweet I’d typed out in a half-minute at a stoplight led to a social media firestorm, then a tempest of [...]

  • Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile backstageAmericana

    Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile Set as Dynamic Duo for Grammys

    Country legend Tanya Tucker and her producer, Brandi Carlile, will perform together on the Grammys  in one week, both singers announced on their respective social media accounts Sunday. Wrote Carlile: “Let’s. do. this.” (One of the first responses on Carlile’s Instagram came from a fellow Seattle musician, Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron: “Hell yes!”) “I wanted you [...]

  • Billie EilishiHeartRadio ALTer EGO, Show, The

    Billie Eilish, Coldplay, the Black Keys Rock iHeartRadio AlterEgo (Photos)

    iHeartRadio celebrated the alternative stars of its airwaves on Saturday night with AlterEgo, inviting the likes of Billie Eilish, Coldplay, Blink-182 and the Black Keys to Los Angeles’ the Forum. Eilish kicked off the show — a solid strategy in getting the younger set to get in on time — with hits like “Bad Guy,” [...]

  • Singer David Olney

    Singer David Olney Dies During Performance at Florida's 30A Festival

    Singer-songwriter David Olney has died at age 71, after falling silent and dropping his head in the midst of a performance at the 30A Songwriters Festival in Florida Saturday night. Some news reports said he “collapsed” on stage, but that isn’t quite true: Olney simply became still on his stool, leading some audience members and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content