Weekend Intermission is our regular feature where we look at an artist or band not from the Nordic countries, just to mix things up a bit.
When you are touring consistently – and Weyes Blood is the Queen of the Tour Bus – there is always a chance your voice is going to give out eventually.
She left it until late in the set to tell us that she’d woken up that morning with no voice, but had decided valiantly that the show must go on in case it found its way back. I think most of the audience had guessed by then that something was amiss. Indeed it had returned, but only 75% or so and the power that typically accompanies that syrupy, honey-like alto vocal of hers was still AWOL.
But even at half-cocked vocally, Weyes Blood still puts on a fabulous live show, backed by a band that has been traipsing around the world with her all year and can probably play each note by rote now.
Unfortunately there were some other problems on the night. She relies quite heavily on visual images on several songs, notably on ‘God turn me into a flower’ and ‘Movies’. When I saw her in Manchester back in February the screen was about the size of postage stamp and here in Leeds the projection was on to a curtain. Watching and interpreting the deeply meaningful images was like trying to read a car number plate in front of you on an unlit section of the M62 on a typically dirty night in low cloud and rain.
A screen of her own might be a useful investment. You can’t have a movie without one.
And even her trusty little throbbing red heart, which usually features in several of her songs, only put in one appearance. I guess it was broken.
Let’s talk about the music. This lady fascinates me. You wouldn’t think she’d been in the business for 20 years. It’s only since her second last album, ‘Front Row Seat to Earth’ (2016) that she’s been on the radar under her new persona, having previously experimented with all sorts of weird, dark, electronic stuff that was going nowhere commercially and when she sounded completely different vocally to what she does today.
One of the marks of a true artist is that they can make songs work for you in a live show even when you don’t rate the album versions as highly as some of the others.
I expected the perfection provided on the night of the gorgeous ‘God turn me into a flower’, one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, and the power and precision of ‘Movies’, which have become yardsticks for her.
But I was taken aback by the restrained seductiveness of ‘Seven Words’, the heartbreak of ‘Diary’, and the emotional overload of ‘Hearts Aglow’, which for me was the highlight of the evening.
At the same time live shows can suggest how a song might be improved. The instrumental outro to ‘Children of the Empire’ for example is too short and fades out to nothing just as the audience is starting to move its collective feet. It could be a blockbuster.
While she usually works within a fairly limited vocal range of a couple of octaves with no diva-like extravagances, not only is it music to the ears, she can channel other artists remarkably well too. On ‘Diary’ you can barely spot the difference between her and Karen Carpenter, an analogy I’m sure any female artist would love to be made, while on ‘Twin Flame’ she takes on the Kate Bush character to perfection, both vocally and in her graceful movements.
‘God turn me into a flower’ recently released official video
A large part of her audience every night is female and it isn’t hard to see why. Quite apart from the fact that she carries her femininity well, many of her songs, while sometimes harbouring a dark underbelly, offer the promise of hope, and perhaps it is the case that women respond better to that state of being than do men.
It smacks of confidence in any artist when they can finish a show with a solo acoustic performance, just her and a guitar, as she did with ‘Picture me better’. Especially when your voice might go again at any moment. Privately, I was hoping for ‘Generation Y’, which they have been alternating during this tour but I’m not complaining.
If I’ve been critical at all here it is simply because Natalie Mering has won me over completely in the last three years or so since I discovered her, and especially so since ‘And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow’ was released last November. How it didn’t get a Grammy nomination baffles me. (You’ll find the usual suspects in there, I won’t name them, you know who are they are).
And expecting perfection every time and all the time is an unrealisable ambition.
But I’m certain that her career is only just starting and that the next album, the third in the trilogy that started with ‘Titanic Rising’ in 2019 will be the breakthrough one which finally gets her the global recognition she deserves.
Find her on: