All is not heartbreak and gloom in Mering’s world.
The music of Weyes Blood is spooky and sad, songs for dissolved relationships and rainy days. Yet in concert, frontwoman Natalie Mering belies this melancholy by brandishing a sense of humor both droll and self-aware. All is not heartbreak and gloom in her world. Mering’s subtle banter between songs at her Portland show helped strike a balance between the delicate, confessional songs and her cool and somewhat detached on-stage persona.
Mering was in town to support newest record Front Row Seat to Earth, a collection of dark folk tunes that recall Joni Mitchell at her saddest, flavored by some of Karen Carpenter’s more radio-friendly appeal. Dressed in the same light blue pantsuit she wears on the album’s cover, Mering impressed during an hour-long set that leaned heavy on new tracks.
In concert, Mering’s songs had more punch and power. “Used to Be,” a delicate confessional from Front Row changed into a commanding kiss-off to a former lover. “Seven Words,” another song about broken love, was an early highlight in the short set, one where Mering’s beautiful voice tempered the sadness found in its lyrics.
However, it wasn’t entirely a somber affair. Mering muttered jokes in between songs, even disclosing that she had lived in Portland for a time in like 2006. She must have been pretty young, but she claimed the city had made an impression on her.
Although the show was not sold-out, the audience in the mostly-filled club was appreciative and attentive. A rowdier room could have easily bowled over Mering during the few songs she did play solo, but that wasn’t on the docket that evening. If anything, the show just felt a little too short.
The highlight came towards the end during the encore. Before launching into an unlikely, but highly successful cover of “Vitamin C” by Can, Mering quipped that 88% of the audience would know the song. The locked groove was the first time we heard anything that could invoke dancing. The faster material suited the band, maybe an indicator of Weyes Blood songs to come. It was a bold move, especially considering how far afield the song is from Mering’s wheelhouse. Covers by Nilsson and Soft Machine have cropped up in her sets before, yet this selection by Can really propelled the evening into a different direction.
It’s that ability to surprise that makes Weyes Blood such an exciting project. Mering’s wry edge and self-awareness separate the songs from Front Row Seat to Earth from so many other confessional folk songs. It’s music for the heart, sad songs for broken-hearted lovers who know at least how to laugh at their misery.