Review: Weyes Blood at Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent (Sydney Festival)

January 23rd 2017

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All photos: Prudence Upton/Sydney Festival 

“Hi, I’m Weyes Blood,” says the singer, in her now trademark blue jacket and pants as she walkings tentatively on to the stage at the Speigeltent.

She twiddles some nobs and a backing track starts. She starts singing and you’re stopped in your tracks. Totally stopped.

Natalie Merling, aka Weyes Blood, opens the set with a guitar player who just happens to be Kirin J Callinan. He coaxes some ethereal textures from his guitar.

Weyes Blood is certainly astonishing on record. She’s astonishing and breathtaking live. She sings (and looks) in many ways like a classic 1960s folk singer – think Judy Collins, Judee Sill or Joan Baez. But there’s also a contemporary powerful vocalist here. She is a very strong, disciplined singer, often moving way, way back from the microphone without losing any presence or intensity.

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It’s not long before she explains that this is her first time in the Southern Hemisphere, and that she has an American band who aren’t with her as “they are too scared to fly for 14 hours over the ocean.”

As a more than adequate replacement, we get the aforementioned Callinan along with Jack Ladder on bass (which completely throws me when she introduces him by his birth name of Tim Rogers – i.e. not the dude from You Am I), and Daniel Stricker from Midnight Juggernauts on drums. Towards the end of the almost hour-long set, they’re further augmented by keyboardist, Tex. I’m assuming Tex has a surname. I don’t know it, OK.

Aside from a ham-fistedly delivered joke mid-set, Weyes Blood doesn’t say much as she alternates between keyboards and guitar. And she sings. Yes, she sings magnificently. She not only manages to recreate the sometimes ornate sound of her current album, Front Row Seat To Earth, but she makes the songs – particularly ‘Used To Be’, ‘Do You Need My Love’ and ‘Seven Words’ – something that transcends the recorded versions.

It’s a typically short Sydney Festival show. Maybe just a touch short, as she’s off stage for the first time after just 50 minutes. Returning quickly, she promises what I’m sure she says are a “couple” of covers to send us “out into the night”. There’s just one, but it’s a killer selection – and so weirdly unexpected that it is in fact perfect. She launches into Mike Oldfield’s ‘Moonlight Shadow’, and makes it her own. And then she’s gone. And then she’s gone.

What Weyes Blood had done in that short time on stage was what every artist aspires to. She stopped time.

She was totally encompassing and demanding of attention; she took the audience into a time and space and place that was her world. Her voice is an instrument of grace and magnitude, her lyrics superb and her understanding of the structure and nuances of songwriting was simply breathtaking.

On the way out, I bought a vinyl album. I played it at full volume first thing this morning. My not-exactly-close neighbour sent me a Facebook message saying, “What are you listening to – it’s beautiful, can you turn it up a bit?”

Welcome to Weyes Blood world.

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Host of Tune Up on Tuesdays, 12-1pm.

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