Club Academy, Manchester, Tuesday 29 October
Each night before introducing the post-truth anthem ‘Something To Believe’, Natalie Mering – aka Weyes Blood – conducts an audience straw poll: “Raise your hand if you believe the Moon Landing was filmed by Stanley Kubrick,” she commands. “That’s quite a lot actually,” she deadpans, surveying the results. “You guys have watched some YouTube videos…”
With her majestic Karen Carpenter-like vocals and masterful channelling of west coast pop, Weyes Blood’s latest album, ‘Titanic Rising’, sounds like something that’s arrived perfectly-formed through a wormhole from 1973.
But lyrically, it puts its head very much into the lion’s mouth of 2019: ambitiously tackling modern issues like, how in the age of the internet, we’ve never been more connected yet felt more isolated; and are held hostage by algorithms. While the title is a nod to her teenage fandom of the 1997 blockbuster movie, it’s also referencing the threat of ecological collapse – you can imagine an XR protester listening to it while gluing themselves to a plane.
Although ‘Titanic Rising’ is her fourth album released under her Weyes Blood guise (and continues the themes of 2016’s ‘Front Row Seat to Earth’), it feels like a game-changing breakthrough for this slow-burning artist – expect to see it gracing many ‘Best Of’ end-of-year lists – and there’s a palpable sense of celebration as she takes to the stage.
She begins with the stately piano chamber pop of ‘A Lot’s Gonna Change’, which shares a doomy grandeur with ‘Born To Die’-era Lana Del Rey – with whom she covered Joni Mitchell’s ‘Together’ on tour together – and on which she yearns to return to a childhood where the world was ablaze with possibilities. At 31, Mering is part of the last generation to know what pre-online life was like. Live, stripping back the record’s lavish arrangements and choral harmonies allows her soaring vocals to shine.
On the jaunty ‘Everyday’, she sounds like Carole King if she had a Tinder profile – it contains the winning lyrics: ‘The other night, I was at a party/And someone sincerely looked at me/And said, “Is this the end of all monogamy?“. It’s testament to the strength of her songwriting that she never sounds like she’s on an exercise in retro indulgence, or veers towards an MOR cul-de-sac.
Mering notes the first time she visited Manchester was in 2007 as part of noise-rock combo Birds Of Delay, “playing to four people – which was pointless”. Her years of slog in various outfits has paid off; and she quietly commands attention with the barely perceptible ease of a shoplifter slipping something in their back pocket.
When she performs an devastatingly emotional acoustic version of ‘Picture Me Better’ – an ode to “a friend of mine who unfortunately decided to take his own life last year” – it’s greeted by reverential silence. Sometimes – like on ‘Mirror Forever’ (which opens with the sucker-punch observation: ‘No one’s ever gonna give you a trophy/For all the pain and the things you’ve been through/No one knows but you,’ although on this tour, one fan did actually present her with a trophy ) – she feels like a friend delivering a hard-to-swallow home truth.
“Have we got any baby boomers in tonight?” she enquires, before dedicating an imperious cover of Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ from “that time of yore” to them – interestingly, her fans tonight do skew older, despite recent interviews which have accused that generation of being responsible for the parlous situation we’re in now. Still, as she signs off with ‘In The Beginning’ (from the 2015 ‘Cardamon Times’ EP), the message is clear: in a world that bombards us with counterfeit information, Weyes Blood is the real deal.
Weyes Blood played:
A Lot’s Gonna Change
Used to Be
Something to Believe
Picture Me Better
Do You Need My Love
A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procol Harum cover)
In the Beginning