Writing and Photographs by Laura May Grogan
On the opening night of Rising festival, Weyes Blood ushered a packed Forum to a state of secular rapture, all the while, winking knowingly at the absurdity at such a pilgrimage.
I love when an artist opens a set with the first song from the album. By not choosing a crowd favourite but the beautiful “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” artist Natalie Mering aka Weyes Blood stood in a space of bold vulnerability. Setting the tone for the entire set, she asked us, in her deep Californian drawl, “Ready to come to my totally tripped out secular church service?”
Yes. Yes please, we transmitted back, and the pilgrimage began. With eyes closed, bodies swaying, hands either on hearts or wrapped around the friend or lover beside us. The comforted soft smile of the saved on our faces. 2022’s album And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow continues Mering’s endeavour her 2019 breakout album ‘Titanic Rising’ started; to create secular spaces brimming with the reverence of her childhood’s religious experiences. One disciple screamed, “We are not worthy of your fucking amazingness” maybe this means we transcended there.
Mering donned a flowing white gown, replete with a floor length cape, giving equal parts Rita Hayworth and fibre optic Virgin Mary. The stage was seeped in the soft magentas and indigos of the album artwork, lit by bulbed candelabras (think Baz Luhman’s Romeo + Juliet not Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged) and framed by the electric starry sky of The Forum, the visuals were the perfect balance of elegance and kitsch.
Holding court with the theatre’s own gaudy mythical iconography (the two plaster statues on either side of the stage at the Forum are Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, associated with protection and artistic patronage) Mering swung between the playful and the profound. Amongst a set pulled exclusively from the 2019 & 2022 albums, she polled the audience on their astrological enthusiasm, made self deprecating jokes about her ‘raging personality’, even shimmied in a few jazz style step-ball-change dance moves.
But, of course, it was that voice that turned the Forum into a cathedral. Mering was a perfect conduit for our collective rapture during the ethereal performance of God, turn me into a flower. This song, above all others of the evening, transcended the listening experience of the album. The control and ache in the singer’s voice, accompanied only by the wrenching video montage from documentarian Adam Curtis, featured historical clips just universal enough and just uncanny enough to bring us to an intensity of feeling somewhere between longing and gratitude.
When Mering was at her most simple and most boldly vulnerable, did we follow most closely. She must have sensed that, and instead of a big finish, she gently eased us back to earth by closing alone on stage with Picture me better.