In the crowd of Doc-Marten-wearing-septum-pierced-purple-haired-young-adults, the older bearded man with a grumpy look on his face stands out like a sore thumb. To my not so surprise he greets me as being the security guard for the press barricade. He fails to appreciate my jokes or general enthusiasm for the concert we’re both about to witness, and finds amusement in my beginner photography skills. Despite this, I’ve completed step one of my mission: make it past the aforementioned security guard and into the barricade. At this point, I’m overcome by nerves but the overriding feeling is: over the moon, absolutely beaming — I can’t believe I’ve been given the opportunity to be this up close and personal with the mystical fairy, Weyes Blood (aka Natalie Mering). The venue matches her aura: tinted purple with psychedelic imagery, lit from brass candelabras (Beauty and the Beast’s Lumiére comes to mind) adding an air of intrigue and mystery.
Jack loved Weyes Blood; he gave Titanic Rising 5 stars and And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow 4 stars. He even bought a vinyl and poster to get early access to Hearts Aglow (we planned to have an epic listening party of two). In the fog of his excitement, he ended up buying it from Weyes Blood’s personal website and not SubPop. So just like most of her fanbase, we ended up having to wait for the regular release. When the album released over Thanksgiving break, he fired back-to-back texts to me as he listened:
“I’m two songs in and the second song is so damn good,”
“so far the singles were all very good, not god tier like a lot of Titanic Rising but still very good. I’m very satisfied so far though so good,”
and finally “the new Weyes Blood album is wonderful”
(check out his review).
After my own streaming of the album, we realized that we had to experience Hearts Aglow live to get the full effect. When tour dates were released, we planned on going to the concert together, and he would write this review while I would photograph. Instead, here I am, an extreme novice to music journalism, hoping I can do it half the justice he would have.
So there I am, past the barricade, camera in hand, feeling like I am standing on the edge of a cliff, terribly nervous and quite emotional. I find comfort in the other woman photographer whose passionate disposition and knowledge got me all the more excited for the experience I was about to embark on. As we start chatting, I discover that her and her husband are a dynamic music-reviewing duo, where she photographs concerts and he reviews them (and albums too! Check out their account). I was excited to hear how similar our interests were, and shocked to hear about their joint music related career which would have been the dream for Jack and I. It felt like a glimpse into our intended future and for a second it even felt real. Hearing more and more about their relationship and connection to music, was all the more revealing of Jack and I. Jack was so present in those moments: telling me to not only remember our dream, but turn it into reality. I felt Jack’s arms hugging me the way he always would at concerts. I take a deep breath as my nerves suddenly dissipate, I know that he is here with me. Jack is the reason I am here.
The opener Vagabon (aka Laetitia Tamko) walks onto the stage. Her soft smile and soothing voice allows the audience to breathe with her, as if we were being led in a guided meditation. If she was nervous, it didn’t show: she takes the audience with her as she wanders through her own thoughts, aided by a weed dependency she readily admits to. Just Vagabon, her voice, keyboard, and nervous yet radiating grin, is enough to be taken on this journey through the depths of her emotions and I begin to feel poked and pulled, contorting into all different spiky shapes by her music. She stands in front of my discombobulation in her perfection and serenity. With her keyboard, she sings sweet calming energy my way. Her latest release, Carpenter is bright and loose and infects the audience with embodied movement. The lighting shakes in and out of purple tones as the beat drops while she glows like a polished amethyst. She transitions from the keyboard to her guitar as she covers cult classic, Karen Dalton’s folk song “Reason to Believe.” Dalton’s voice is beautiful, but rings as slightly outdated. Vagabon’s soft spokenness reanimates the song and carries it into the present, allowing the young audience to assign its own significance. Her final song is a cover of Esther Rose’s “Don’t Blame It on the Moon”, she stands before us just her and her guitar. The ambience has the audience swaying and holding hands with their love ones. Everyone is captivated by her silky voice. A silence comes over the crowd as they are overcome with admiration for Vagabon.
The venue turns dark, and the band member’s faces are lit by the dwindling candelabras, displaying orange tones amidst the darkness. No Weyes Blood in sight, the eerie operatic music accompanies the band members, and for a moment the venue goes quiet. Anticipating her majestic appearance, keeping our eyes on the stage so we won’t miss her spark of arrival, the silence is short-tempered and it falls as she glides across stage. Just as we feel like we are going to float away from anticipation, Weyes Blood picks us up and sonically paints what Monet’s Impression Sunrise would sound like.
Shimmering synths and twinkling harp sing the effects of isolation prohibiting fulfilling connections. “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” begins and we realize that we all bleed the same. Mering appears with a head-to-toe white gown resembling a ghost or other embodiment of the supernatural. Her dark red lipstick catches the eye against her pale fairy-like skin, and for a moment she feels like a figment of my own imagination, I don’t want to be brought back to ground. Her appearance makes it clear: Weyes Blood is not from this earth, rather she took us to her otherworldly sanctuary and sang us her first words “sitting at this party, wondering if anybody knows me, really sees me for who I am.” Yet standing in front of crowds of people, she reveals no nervousness, in fact, it all falls off her as she twirls her cape, smiling and owning her lyrics, having fun with herself.
Mering has a super power of not saying a lot, by saying a lot. She speaks to our unconscious without effort. Though Mering’s voice stays in the same vocal range throughout, it holds power and an effortless astonishing tone. Merring sings standard lyrics like “I want to hang” or “I love the movies” with fantastic depth and extreme passion that makes phrases we would text our friends, captivating revelations. At times, band members will weigh in, singing ooooooooos and aaaaaaaaahhhs in angelic-like vocals. Their instrumentals perfectly sculpt her voice and sanction us to a higher dimension where we stay for the remainder of her set.
The purple lights turn dark and we are left in a theater-sized closet. We sit and dwell in the darkness for a split moment and the tippy-toeing staggered piano playing keys carries us into the red light: Mering’s labyrinth of love or “Children of the Empire”. A guitar has now magically appeared in Mering’s hands and the lights go in and out along with the upbeat piano-led ballad. The cyclical synth places my intrusive thoughts on a platter for Weyes Blood to play with. As the drummer holds his sticks in the air, signaling Mering to turn on her voice of endearing and tranquility, time stops and suspends us in a space of pastels and translucent purples. Time does not exist and not a single person is looking at their phones for distraction. The audience is captivated.
“God Turned Me Into A Flower” is extremely stripped down and runs far from a traditional single. It is composed of lonely hums, a heavenly synth, choral-like vocals, a birdsong, and lush-organ instrumentation. Its melody feels like a whisper sent directly from God. Facing the screen, her dress highlighted only by candles and a lamp, the band is nowhere in sight. An eerie experimental Adam Curtis documentary projects a modern dystopia behind Merring that seemingly responds to her lyrics. Various scenes flash forest fires, violence, masks, explosions, dancing, and companionship. Chaos unfolds behind her yet her vocals are clean and magical. Jack once compared the melody to Mort Garson’s Plantasia, I thought this may have been a stretch. How does angelic harmony compare to music made for plants? With more research and an open mind, I understand it completely now and I can’t think of a better comparison. Plantasia is entirely made out of synth to appeal to plants. The way the two elements are explored in relation to one another creates enchanting space pop that seemingly stimulates “God Turned Me Into A Flower”. To be honest, I was worried about my favorite song being so early, I didn’t want it to spoil the rest of the set. While her performance was incredible and definitely set the bar high, Weyes Blood succeeded the challenge as each song surpassed the next and any liminal expectation I had.
Psychedelic pop arrangement, “Everyday” was presented to be the mosh song of the set as Merring hops on the piano and shouts “I better see you guys rubbing shoulders out there.” Green and blue lights shine into the crowd’s pupils and Mering begins to slam on the keys. This level of upbeat has been unmatched thus far and it shows through the audience’s head banging to optimistic nihilism. According to Mering, Everyday is the “idea of sailing onto your ships to nowhere to deal with all your baggage.” Though it never reached mosh pit level (and rarely even brushed against one another level), the ardor spirit and power peaked at the strobing green lights and the drum intensity. The paradox of the weariness of internet dating against Mering’s optimistic upbeat piano allows us to dance away our frustrations of emotional unavailability and embrace the insignificance of it all.
That is precisely the Weyes Blood Effect, the audience smiles and sways along to lyrics like “they say the worst is done, but I think it’s only begun” and “living in the wake of overwhelming changes, we’ve all become strangers even to ourselves.” Mering sings as much “we” as “I” speaking to the collective experience of the pandemic, climate crisis, and restless romance. Mering’s specialty is the way she is able to combine present day global issues with modern day romance under the same narrative: In “Grapevine” she sings “California’s my body,” and “your fire runs over me.” Yet while making these powerful remarks, she leads us to not make sense out of the chaos and instead, become its friend. To embrace the unknowing and smallness of our being and have fun and dance, just like we watch her do on stage.
Prior to the concert, I took Mering to be an astrology stan, I mean the top descriptors of her presence can be summed up by whimsical, magical, and celestial. Not to mention that she has a song titled Twin Flame and various audience members rocked zodiac sign tattoos. However, her audience and prior expectations did not stop her from playfully poking fun at astrology being a groundless cop out to blame the stars when shit hits the fan. Mering claims to be “astrology anonymous.”
“Twin Flame” is a play on astrology and the belief that twin flames are soulmates that are “toxic” which excuses destructive behaviors. The psychedelic drumming and pink and blue lighting leads us into her Kate Bush 80s pop-influence “Twin Flame” which represents yearning for connection but being left in the cold; placing your entire being in the hands of another, only to be left alone. Despite this, she places her heart on her sleeves so everyone can see (or in this case, her heart is big and bright and is worn on her chest for everyone to see) it shines beyond her disguise. All of that is to say, we are more than our disguises, we are our love for others and we must continue to allow our hearts to glow towards one another.
In her encore, Mering pleads for an escape from reality; she claims “Something to Believe” to be the thesis of her entire set. The guitar slides hypnotize the audience to sway back and forth and the slow drum pattern transports Mering’s voice. Couples join hands and hug to her mesmerizing vibrato. In full fledged power and unity, the audience sings the chorus “I just laid down and cried / the waters don’t really go by me.” The guitar slides proceeding Mering’s beg for something “bigger and louder than the voices in me” gives us ease to surrender. The way Mering twirls in solitude is slightly awkward to the eye, but you let go of that judgment as her ability to enjoy herself and have fun inspires us to do the same. Weyes Blood never gives solutions to the isolation of our dystopian reality, yet the sight of her goofy dances and confident stark voice teaches us that sometimes all we can do is pull our loved ones close to us and hope.
As the set ends, the dream stops with it. As the sterile lighting turns on, it is as if you have opened your eyes for the first time, removed from the fairyland that is your own imagination. It is a harsh reality that maybe your body was not taken on that mystical journey with you. As our cosmic sighting comes to a close, everyone is in visible shock at the angelic bomb that just dropped before our eyes. Even grumpy security guy’s disposition is noticeably lighter and buoyant. I feel as if I have been subjected to some kind of manifestation of a UFO and all I can do is feel grateful to experience the imaginative inner world of Weyes Blood, the metaphysic.