Weyes Blood (photo: Kaiya Gordon)
“I don’t want nothing but the truth!” shouts Hazel Motes in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. “And what you see is the truth, and I’ve seen it!”
Ascending the stage in a Motes-inspired blue suit, Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood (pronounced “wise blood”) seemed like she, too, could bring the audience’s eyes to truth. In fact O’Connor’s disquieting, gothic humor greatly influences Weyes Blood, and that comes to life in eerie beauty on stage. Like the blood rushing Motes to new revelations, Weyes Blood commands and quiets.
On Tuesday night, Weyes Blood took the stage at Swedish American Music Hall, supported by Young Moon, 20 Minute Loop, and Half Waif. Both Young Moon and 20 Minute Loop performed melodic guitar songs; but 20 Minute Loop, joined by a back-up singer and a trumpet player, was perhaps more surprising in their depth and delivery. 20 Minute Loop, celebrating their 20th birthday as a band, was playing their fifth Noise Pop show — and the ease and deftness that comes with that level of experience made for a beautiful performance.
By the time Half Waif took the stage, the crowd had filled in to The Swedish, and the string lights, criss-crossing the high roof of the venue, were dimmed. For Half Waif fans, Tuesday night’s performance came at an excellent time: Half Waif’s latest EP will be released on Friday via Cascine, and is currently streaming on Fader. Half Waif is a project of Nandi Rose Plunkett, who is also known for her work in Pinegrove. But the music Plunkett produces as Half Waif differs greatly from Pinegrove’s alternative rock. On form/a, Plunkett spins sounds with incredible texture, pairing together Indian influences and technical synth loops with ease.
It’s fun to see Plunkett’s project come to life onstage. She’s an expressive performer, and grooved to her own beats on stage, energetically moving from keyboards to synth, to microphone, to both. Though Plunkett started off her set by telling the audience that she “normally plays with other humans,” it didn’t feel like anything was missing from her solo set. Towards the end of her set, Plunkett shared new material, which takes its influence from her time spent traveling as a performer. “The farther away I walk, the more I am a whisper,” Plunkett sang. “Listen for me now.”
Before leaving the stage, Plunkett prepared the audience for Weyes Blood, telling them to “expect magic.” Later, in a tweet posted after the show, Plunkett described the performance even more aptly: “Listening to Weyes Blood live is akin to putting aloe vera on all my burns,” she said.
Listening to @WeyesBlood live is akin to putting aloe vera on all my burns.
— Half Waif (@HalfWaif) February 22, 2017
Weyes Blood was both magical and soothing. As Mering stepped onto the stage alone, she turned her face towards the spotlight and closed her eyes, resting. It was a powerful moment, and one that foreshadowed the kind of charisma and vocal control that Mering possesses on stage. Though she was joined by a full band on Tuesday night, it struck me how integral Mering was to the music: Even when she wasn’t playing every instrument, it was clear that the vision was hers.
Along with songs from Weyes Blood’s deep discography, the band played a cover of “Suddenly,” by Drugdealer, on which Mering typically sings backup vocals. Throughout the show, Mering interjected with endearing, if awkward, quips: “Time to turn your phones on,” she said before playing "Generation Why." Of Drugdealer, Mering said, “he’s kind of a culty figure.”
Throughout it all, Mering was careful and controlled in her delivery, giving the notes of each song the same care and attention a writer might use to meter their words. Her singing felt literary, in its rhyme and rhythm, it felt both familiar and startling, like a dark fairy tale, or a bible verse. By the time she came back onstage, solo this time, for the encore, I felt renewed. She “felt as if she had finally got to the beginning of something she couldn’t begin,” O’Connor writes at the end of Wise Blood. “She saw him moving farther and farther away, farther and farther into the darkness until he was the pin point of light.” Light, as O’Connor writes about it, is not easy to hold onto. But is that not why we challenge ourselves with art––to move forward, stay agitated? Weyes Blood is agitating, and they are beautiful. At the end of Tuesday night, my first Noise Pop show this year, I felt as if I had gotten to the beginning of something I couldn’t begin.