Even at the end of the world, Weyes Blood knows how to put on a show

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Rising has kicked off for 2023. This wrap of shows across the festival includes a theatrical gig by Weyes Blood and a piece of dance theatre that tells the story of a tracker who worked in the early 1900s.

Weyes Blood ★★★★
The Forum, June 7

On the cover of And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow (2022), the fifth album from Natalie Mering, aka Weyes Blood, the singer-songwriter is shot like a deity, her wounded breast emitting holy light. Saintly and sacrilegious, this image inspires the theatrics of her world tour, with projections evoking her highly cinematic videos.

Weyes Blood performing at The Forum, June 7, 2023.Credit: Rick Clifford

Dressed in a Grecian-style gown, which she gleefully twirls in across The Forum’s stage, a secret chamber conceals a chintzy glow stick that eventually shines through. This immaculate iconography is not just a marker of Mering’s musical ambition but also the self-declared nostalgic futurist’s distinctive sensibility, where wry self-awareness offsets an earnest belief in majestic pop songs as vehicles for communion.

Accompanied by a four-strong band, Mering begins with It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody, which opens her latest album and reveals it as pandemic diary: “Living in the wake of overwhelming changes / We’ve all become strangers / Even to ourselves”. While many artists are grappling with isolation’s aesthetics, Mering has a particular gift for merging personal and public feeling. Her lyrics link global catastrophe – rising tides, forest fires, fault lines – with mundane tragedies – heartbreak, loneliness, uncertainty.

Natalie Mering – better known as Weyes Blood – captivates the crowd with her spellbinding voice.Credit: Rick Clifford

Mostly performing numbers from her latest record and her breakout Titanic Rising (2019), the first two instalments in a trilogy, the set list moves seamlessly from, say, the interstellar grandiosity of Andromeda to the gentler grace of God, Turn Me Into a Flower. When the swooning orchestration falls away in slower numbers like Movies, Mering’s spellbinding voice finally takes the spotlight.

Describing her sound as “ethereal” – shorthand for lush instrumentation, wistful sentiment and choral splendour – belies its earthbound power. Her songs feel instantly familiar, conjuring a golden age of pop balladry where beauty and melancholy were comfortable bedfellows.

Even at the end of the world, Weyes Blood knows how to put on a show.
Reviewed by Rebecca Harkins-Cross

Tracker ★★★
ADT and Ilbijerri, Arts House, North Melbourne, until June 18

Tracker, created by choreographer Daniel Riley and director Rachael Maza, is a piece of dance theatre that tells the story of Alec Riley, the great-great-uncle of Daniel, who worked as a tracker for the New South Wales police force from 1911 until his retirement some four decades later.

Tracker tells the story of Alec Rileywho worked as a tracker for the New South Wales police.Credit: Pedro Greig

It’s a relatively slender production, but the subject is fascinating. Alec’s life is recounted by a great-great niece (Ella Ferris), who is walking through bushland near where Alec lived. As she walks, she reads printed copies of old newspaper articles celebrating his prodigious talent for finding the lost and the fugitive.

The device is a little naff and this production lingers too long on these journalistic reports, making much of the more sensational details: Alec working the crime scene, hunting down clues that others missed, battling injustice, thinking through apparently insoluble mysteries.

Daniel Riley illustrates the story with busy but not always inspired choreography for a trio of dancers, creating elongated, flattened shapes suggestive of roots that clutch and entangle the niece, who is herself feeling lost and in need of a spiritual guide.

Rika Hamaguchi in a scene from Tracker.Credit: Pedro Greig

The show is thoughtfully presented in a circular space with attractive print curtains created by scenic artist Merindah Funnell and designer Jonathan Jones. Ailsa Paterson’s motley blue denim costumes are brave but – like the sound design – don’t really serve the elucidation of Alec’s quiet resilience.

Alec is an interesting figure to celebrate because he was not a rebel or an activist but a mild-mannered family man committed to his job. Indeed, he played a key role in locking up outlaws such as Roy Governor, the brother of Indigenous bushranger Jimmy Governor.

Instead, Alec embodies a different concept of resistance: family ties, connection to country and respect for the old ways. He was, in other words, a man of great constancy and resolve at a time of widespread prejudice.
Reviewed by Andrew Fuhrmann

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