Words by Julia Seely-Power
Natalie Mering, who makes music under the stage name Weyes Blood, tries to make sense of humanity in a nuanced and multidimensional way. The 34-year-old singer-songwriter, who has been releasing music since 2011, tackles this generation’s most pressing concerns, like climate change and communicating when technology is near impossible to avoid. Her most recent album ‘And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow’, tackles the come down from the pandemic and is an attempt in healing. The sold-out concert as part of her ‘In Holy Flux’ tour at Brighton’s Chalk venue sets her apart as an empathetic ‘lady of the canyon’ for the modern times.
On the surface, the show is relatively simple; there is no choreography or costume changes, the stage is bare except from multiple sets of candles and the majority of songs performed are from her latest record, so the setlist (despite me deliberately not looking it up in advance to enjoy the element of surprise) is to be expected. What brings the music to life is Mering’s effortlessness as a performer. Her lyrics are short but strikingly compelling so her alto voice is what makes her songs soar, and in-person she outperforms the original recordings. She makes her dazzling vocals look easy, not looking like she was trying too hard to sing, and it being the final night of the European tour and she was losing her voice, is a testament to her skill. Even playing acoustic guitar and keyboard it looks like Mering and her instruments are one. She has both grace and control so while she is expressive and at times theatrical, it never feels exaggerated.
During breaks between songs she is interactive and encouraging with her audience; it is Valentine’s Day and she asks the crowd who came to the show alone and gets enthusiastic whoops as a response (myself included). This is not discouraged – “I’ll be your Valentine tonight”.
The irony of hearing songs about the end of the world (not as we know it) on supposedly the most romantic day of the year doesn’t seem to be lost on her. Her love songs are darker anyway but maybe they are more mature. On the road-trip ballad ‘Grapevine’, letting go seems to be the only way of understanding how to be together, as this realisation “hits me for the first time”. It’s unclear whether this is the result of the pandemic or just a good old-fashioned breakup but the growth from ending something and trying to move on feels like the most important thing. This is one of my favourite songs of hers, so hearing this live as she was performing it two feet in front of me, with my own meaning of it in mind, felt cathartic. The experience of listening to music in your own time to developing your own interpretation of it to seeing in-person with those associations you have created for yourself feels like a different kind of intimacy, just for the listener to be in on.
One message to take away from the latest record is nobody gets through life unscathed. The show’s opening number ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’, she slowly walks onto the stage, like she is floating, dressed in a white gown with a cape, resembling some kind of spiritual being. Despite this omnipotent appearance she reassures her listeners she’s been going through it too, she’s “become (a) stranger”, just like everyone else and to perhaps smooth down her ‘artist as a prophet’ status. (Turning musicians into gods detracts from their art and Weyes Blood’s self-awareness allows her music to speak for itself).
One highlight was ‘God Turn Me Into A Flower’ which is accompanied with visuals arranged by documentary film-maker Adam Curtis. The video montage is experimental from clips ranging from a foot massage to dolls to protesters breaking into malls. This might seem odd to be paired with such ethereal music but the reason behind this was Weyes Blood wanting to capture how disorientating time feels and the tension between art and our relentless news cycle. Something beautiful with something distributing simultaneously feels like an uncanny example of what music can be.
Weyes Blood has been compared to women in music (an expression that makes me want to both roll my eyes and laugh) of the singer-songwriter seventies era- Joni Mitchell, Karen Carpenter, Linda Ronstadt – and although she cites them as inspirations, I believe this comparison is unhelpful. In a time where so much emphasis is placed on categorizing people into groups in order to make sense of them this feels redundant because it becomes harder to see people as individuals. I understand making reference to artists that have come before you is normal but this specific gendered labelling feels different because it’s like putting people into one homogenous group, instead of seeing artists adding something new or original to music. What makes Mering special is her ability to use the sounds of the late 1960s and early 1970s and capture the tumultuous, everchanging times in a beautiful, mysterious and incandescent way.