American producer and songwriter Natalie Mering – here tonight as her alter-ego Weyes Blood – cuts a sheer presence.
Hair perfectly straight, contralto voice consummately pitched – like a £50m new-build art gallery in some nondescript city centre, Mering is glassy, intimidating from certain angles, but very, very cool indeed.
The extent of the hype that’s followed latest album Front Row Seat To Earth is evident, as the basement of the Hug and Pint is rammed to capacity with a diverse, attentive crowd.
A big challenge for Mering is translating the crystalline, layered production of her songs – of the same school as Julia Holter and Perfume Genius – to the basement venue’s stage.
As regulars will attest to, the Hug and Pint’s tiny dookit has the approximate dimensions of a three bed child’s bunk from Ikea.
The result is a bit less Wall of Sound, a bit more Laurel Canyon: pleasant in itself, as songs are stripped back to just multi-instrumentalist Mering, a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, the latter of whom do perfectly competent (though never outstanding) jobs.
It would be nice to see a little more thought go towards ensuring the musicians complement one another in unique ways, rather than seeing them remain as vaguely interchangeable session players, however, considering her own superlative talents, having Mering steal the show is no bad thing.
The melodies and vocal inflections on ‘Do You Need My Love?’ and ‘Used To Be’ recall several luminaries, particularly Karen Carpenter.
Mering’s delivery is concise and on the button, yet as others have commented, it has a uniquely baroque, almost overly formal quality to it.
Perhaps this signature formalism is itself an artistic reaction against the false notions of “authenticity” Mering encountered in the male-dominated Pennsylvania hardcore scene she cut her teeth on as a teen.
This makes for an interesting approach to millennial aimlessness, the lyrical subject of ‘Generation Why’ – rather than any sense of immediacy or authenticity, it’s archness, coolness and distance that resonate (in an always-already-mediated world, what is authenticity anyway?)
“I used to think it was bad / that we were all going mad / but now it’s fine to leave / goodbye those old things / carry me through the waves of change,” Mering sings, with an oddly resigned, sort-of optimism.
Weyes Blood’s cover of Soft Machine’s ‘A Certain Kind’ towards the end of their set is wonderfully unexpected, perfectly adapted to suit Mering’s voice, and the band pull the song’s cacophonous crescendo off with gusto.
After the rest of the band leave the stage (they don’t have to walk far), Mering wraps up with an arresting solo rendition of acoustic ballad ‘Cardamom’, before departing herself.
I doubt anyone could come away from tonight’s show without being singularly impressed by the strength of Weyes Blood’s performance – there are certainly more exciting things to come in future.
Words: Graham Neil Gillespie