Natalie Mering is a sublime singer-songwriter from California who performs under the name Weyes Blood (previously Wise Blood then Weyes Bluhd). She explains the true meaning of her name. Daughter of musicians, her career has ranged from folky roots in gothick experimental music to soaring dreampop ballads and is now ascending to superstardom winning accolades left, right and centre. And with good reason: she writes all songs, records herself and sings and plays guitar, mandolin, piano, synths, vocoder, and even directs some of her amazing videos - here are my favourites, in an ideal order for newcomers...
She has perfectly captured a new wave of music: cathartic torch songs to mourn the death of humanity and the breakdown of our modern society, a beacon of naked truth in our soulless age. She also occasionally covers famous songs, but unlike most live performers, she's not afraid to eschew the usual tedious subjects of the rock canon, and picks cool songs like "Moonlight Shadow" or "Vitamin C" by Can! (so sad I missed that gig!).
Her early music is quite different, like this hilarious low budget video. The witchy folk influence carries on into her 2017 collaboration with Ariel Pink: "Tears On Fire", and darkness is never faraway, such as the freaky video (and bizarre coda) for the seemingly conventional popsong "Everyday". She's also fond of ambient music, and this (unofficial) timestretched version of Andromeda shows that her spacious music works at any speed! (-: Queen Of Ambience :-)
Her 2019 album Titanic Rising not surprisingly won Album Of The Month at Rough Trade. I'm not affiliated with them but would encourage anyone to try and buy it from them as it comes with an exclusive bonus CD. These four bonus tracks are good versions, more minimal (perhaps even better?) arrangements than the originals, well recorded and definitely worth getting for fans. (I'm very glad I didn't miss this.) The back cover says they are from a studio session recorded at Heavy Duty Studio A in Burbank, probably not completely live, as there are overdubs* of Natalie's sublime vocals on "Everyday" & "Wild Time". The tiny organ+whistling miniature "A Lot Has Changed" makes a fine intro to "A Lot's Gonna Change". Or the four bonus tracks flow nicely following after the original album, and still fit after it on a CD so you can burn an extended album. Some days I may even prefer these shorter+mellower renditions to the more epic originals. For instance, surprisingly there are no drums anywhere on the bonus CD (apart from three solitary bass drum hits in "Everyday"), nor strings or even synths, just bass, guitars, organs, piano and sublime whistling (by Molly Lewis) accompanying the angel vox, which now have more space in the mix.
* I've been A/B'ing the versions:
I first saw her perform at Hammersmith Apollo back in 2017, supporting Father John Misty. If Natalie reads this, may I apologise on behalf of Britain for the awful crowd of lamers at that gig, who spent much of her set of gentle songs by talking rudely over the music and checking their funking phones. (This made me very depressed at the state of some people, who are now so far gone that if left unstimulated for even a moment they have to hide in their phone like a baby lamb rushing back to suckle its mother's teat. I mean - you come out to a concert to see a spectacle, not swipe through social media!) This wouldn't have mattered so much if it were just a few impolite people, but when most of the two thousand plus audience are doing it (!?!), it really spoils the experience. I guess most people there had come to see Mister Misty, and couldn't even be bothered to find out who Natalie was, let alone listen. Undeterred, she delivered her heartfelt songs note-perfectly with her usual stunning grace for the few of us fans who cared, but fragile music (even amplified) versus a thousand lamers' voices made for a very awkward, embarrassing experience. This was the completely wrong venue for her music, and paying £29.50 per ticket to see her so faraway onstage in a vast auditorium was really disheartening. I feel that she is not best served as a supporting artist, but deserves to be a headlining megastar in her own right. Father John was good but it is Natalie who we will still be talking about in twenty years.
Even worse, the venue also seems to allow people to walk in and out to and from the bar at any stage during the performance to buy drinks, thus disturbing people as they return to their seats. We had the extra misfortune of our view being blocked every minute or so as hundreds of beer swillers traipsed in and out up and down the aisles. This is no longer a music venue, just a bar with a massive ex-concert venue attached, so I won't be attending again until the management is fixed. What a shame, as it has such a rich history, including Tony Bennett, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, David Bowie (his final concert as Ziggy Stardust), Genesis, Frank Zappa, Gary Numan, Kate Bush, Blondie, Robert Fripp, Duran Duran, Japan, and Public Enemy.
tl;dr: Music = AWESOME, Venue = FAIL!
When I heard she was returning to the UK, I drove all the way to Brighton (100 miles each way) to see her again as I was working when she played London. The Haunt was packed with 350 people who I guess were avid fans like me (one guy in the front row she thanked for appearing at every single concert she had done in the past seven years, following her around the world! :-) It was a very special experience to see such a monumental artist up close in such a small venue, and I felt truly honoured to witness this spectacle, after the frustrating debacle of her 2017 Hammersmith gig. Thankfully she is now on the Sub Pop label, who I hope will promote her all the way to the top where she deserves to be. Whenever I hear "Movies", it seems just downright wrong that this epic anthem is not Number One worldwide. File alongside perfect pop like Abba, Queen, etc.
Her keyboardist Walt McClements began the evening by playing a few songs as a solo support act, skilfully playing kick & snare drum with two footpedals, and hi-hat cymbal with his leg, while his arms played accordion and he also sang! He even gaffa-taped some accordion keys down to hold a chordal drone. To top it all he also occasionally picked up a trumpet to solo with one hand while continuing the accordion button chords and drumming! This made for a huge sound for just one person, with the kick drum massively amplified to club sound system levels. On his last song he moved to digital piano and played a most sensitive and soulful song.
The anticipation for Natalie's set was palpable as we patiently stood there. Then after a short pause her band came onstage, followed by God herself, just five metres from me, dressed radiantly in a white suit similar to the pale blue suit of her previous album, although with artfully embroidered sleeves. She played most songs from her new album Titanic Rising (I think in mostly the same order, with others interspersed), playing acoustic guitar and Nord Stage keyboard along with her band of:
I was impressed by how such a small group rendered such large music, faithfully recreating the epic studio arrangements, with the drummer triggering samples where required, such as the analogue sequencers and violin arpeggios of "Movies" (he sometimes wore headphones to keep in time). The only thing missing was the string orchestra, but then there would be no space for audience! Some of the keyboardist's heavily chorused sounds didn't translate over a P.A. (possibly stereo imaging/phasing problems?). But Natalie's choir samples (sadly not the original (Roland VP-330 I believe)) in "Do You Need My Love" elevated the song to celestial heights along with the bassist's divine backing vocals and Walt singing "Baaaa, baaaa, baaaa". Also from her previous album we heard "Seven Words" and "Generation Why" but sadly not "Used To Be"; next time I'd also love to hear "In The Beginning" and the astounding vocoder solo "Requiem For Forgiveness" but that may be hard to do live.
The intense atmosphere was cuttable and pin-drop silence pervaded before rapturous applause following each song. It was amazing to think that there were 350 people crammed in here, silently entranced by her magickal stagecraft. We were even treated to some childlike faerie dancing :-) Next treat was a cover of "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys!
Eventually we came to her last song: the band left her alone with just acoustic guitar to sing "Bad Magick" solo. This was exquisite, but would have been even better completely acoustic without an SM58 microphone spoiling the sound. I guess after Hammersmith she could take no chances, but had she known this proper audience would have such respect and open ears, the room was actually so small that the P.A. was not actually needed for her acoustic guitar. I was tempted to leap up and unplug the speakers but didn't wish to interrupt the vibe :-)
Now I'm longing to see her do an intimate acoustic set with a real piano and church organ, unamplified in some reverberant church or stairwell, perhaps with a few of her cherished analogue synths through an Onde...
© copyright Malcolm Smith 2019-04-23 - last updated 2019-04-24 - links verified 2019-04-23