Subscriber OnlyMusicReview

Weyes Blood review: Five stars for Natalie Mering’s gorgeously spectral Dublin concert

Singer’s dazzling voice – not to mention banter – helps overcome technical glitches to give outstanding performance at Vicar Street

Weyes Blood: the singer earlier on her tour. Photograph: Burak Cingi/Redferns/Getty

WEYES BLOOD

Vicar Street, Dublin
★★★★★

The recent death of David Crosby prompted a flood of nostalgia for the early-1970s singer-songwriter scene centred around leafy Laurel Canyon, in Los Angeles. The appeal of that era is rooted in more than its balmy soundtrack. In this present age of eco-anxiety and technological overload, it is no mystery that millennials and Gen Zers should be drawn to a time when feelings of doom and despair could be banished by a strummed guitar and languid melody.

Those years are movingly evoked as Natalie Mering, the 34-year-old LA-based musician, brings her Weyes Blood project to Dublin for a gorgeously spectral concert. With a mellow, expressive voice that lands somewhere between Karen Carpenter and Carole King, Mering, a former punk rocker, doesn’t hide the vintage thread running through her material. As she recently told a UK newspaper, “I’m very typical in fetishising the past. It’s a millennial thing.”

Weyes Blood: ‘The standard is so low in terms of what young people are used to hearing, it all gets a pass’Opens in new window ]

But this is music fuelled by paradox. For all its surface beauty, her writing convulses under the skin with raw 21st-century angst.

“Living in the wake of overwhelming changes / We’ve all become strangers,” she sings on the opening track, It’s Not Just Me It’s Everybody, a high point from her recent fifth album, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow. The argument at the tune’s core is that smartphones and social media have imprisoned us all in our own bubbles. Just so nobody missed the point, the video that accompanied the single on its release featured Mering alongside a cartoon smartphone.

READ MORE

One or two non-cartoon smartphones twinkle in the crowd at Vicar Street as Mering twinkles too. She wears a white dress that looks like the sort of thing Liv Tyler might have sported when playing an elf warrior in The Lord of the Rings. Later the frock goes feral as a red “heart” lights up so that Mering suggests a cross between Lady Galadriel and a depressed traffic light.

That ethereal fashion speaks to another of the foundational influences on Mering: Celtic pop’s faerie queen, Enya. “Bob Seeger meets Enya” is how Uncut magazine once described Mering. “Enya is up there with The Beatles,” she herself told The Irish Times in 2019.

Along with the Enya-isms, it turns out that Weyes Blood also speaks the ancient language of playful banter

Because the music is so lovely, the darkness that comes dripping through feels particularly ominous. She plugs again into modern anxieties with God Turn Me into a Flower, a melodramatic cyclone from the new record that contends that the internet is making narcissists of us all.

The song is supposed to be accompanied by a backing video from the documentarian Adam Curtis, a film-maker who some might say never saw black-and-white footage of ballerinas that he didn’t want to turn into a metaphor for Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Alas, the tech has gone on the blink, so the audience is left staring into a howling void. Vicar Street has out-Curtised Adam Curtis.

Technological disquiet and malfunctioning videos ask a lot of the concertgoers, even when framed by Mering’s rich vocals and tranquil arrangements. She offsets the claustrophobia with a flinty stage presence. Along with the Enya-isms, it turns out that she also speaks the ancient language of playful banter. “Can I find my own bog person?” she asks, presumably referring to the preserved bodies in the National Museum rather than last orders at the Dáil bar. Later, she asks about the most haunted place in Ireland. Someone suggests Limerick, which Mering takes at face value.

She summons some ghosts of her own on Movies, from Titanic Rising, her 2019 album. It’s perhaps her most studiously unlovely track, waves of noise doing battle with her earnest croon. The distortion builds and builds, conjuring a feeling of looming tragedy. But Mering keeps smiling, her dazzling voice fighting through the onslaught. The message is that, even when shadows close in, we should never give up hope.

Ed Power

Ed Power

Ed Power, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about television and other cultural topics