At 8:30 p.m., just a few hours before Weyes Blood (aka Natalie Mering) was to set foot onstage at Club Dada in Deep Ellum, the sky turned a muted pinky-orange in the distance behind downtown. Thick rain appeared in uneven waves, and the weather app read, “Unsafe Air Quality.” The sight of it all was beautifully grotesque, just as Weyes Blood probably would have ordered.
The beautiful and grotesque have echoed through her chords since inception. The very name (pronounced “Wise Blood”) recalls the title of a Flannery O’Connor Southern Gothic novel. The beauty and growth of nature is often a fount of inspiration for artists, but Mering found inspiration in what might happen to it when it is gone. Her album Titanic Rising examines this, as well as ideas of time, and what it means to rise and fall.
Throughout the album, water rises as love falls. A crescendo and decrescendo, everything moving in and out, up and down, like a heartbeat or heat wave falling down but ready to rise again. “Born in a century lost to memories / falling trees, get off your knees / no one can keep you down,” Mering told an audience of mostly teens to 20s. The ease in which she carries each note heavily contrasted with the weight of her lyrics, but she never explained them or the songs during the performance because she does not need to.
When Mering does speak, it is in tune with the show, graceful and confident, moving from one word to the next, following a rhythm of sorts. “It is psychedelically hot,” she said halfway through the set, removing her white, embroidered blazer (the top layer of a three-piece suit). Then, “We’re going astral,” as the intro to "Movies" cued in perfect time and the crowd cheered. The song is about the love of film, but also the confused aftermath of an experience, the sense of blinding daylight at the exit door and a question of whether it was all real.
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“The meaning of life doesn't seem to shine like that screen,” Mering sang as the audience watched entranced. A watery light shone up from the stage onto the performers, and the words filled the space as much as the heat.
Then, straight into a cover of The Beach Boys’ "God Only Knows," the meaning of which is curiously skewed when she performs the song. One might say she is singing to the planet rather than a significant other. Or maybe it is a paean to her religious upbringing and questions regarding her faith.
Midway through, Jackie Cohen with partner Kevin Basko joined the band onstage for the song's harmonious doo-wops, and the audience joined offstage for the chorus, thus ending the first portion of the show. Earlier in the night, Cohen warmed up the audience with a compelling set from her latest album, Zagg, and interactions with audience members who kept “making things weird,” as she told them. Cohen and Mering both have voices that exude nostalgia and feel lived beyond their years. Cohen echos the ’90s, Mering the ’70s, and they certainly sink into those styles in their music, while remaining both current and somewhat timeless.
“Back to blood songs,” Mering said as she settled into the latter half of the set. She ended with “Do You Need My Love” from 2016’s Front Row Seat To Earth. She then returned promptly for an encore of “Generation Why” and “Bad Magic.” It was only Mering and an acoustic guitar onstage for the last song, her most well-known ballad. She left the audience on a sorrowful note, but also with a positive change, just as she started the performance. She strummed the guitar a few more times and, in the rise and fall of her vibrato she concludes, “Things just don't stay the same, and I must find a new way.”