Weyes Blood and Circuit Des Yeux
Whammy Bar, Auckland, NZ
25th January, 2017
5/5 stars
By RUBEN MITA

 

It was slightly on a whim that I made my way down the dark steps to Whammy Bar on a drizzly Wednesday night to see a promising looking double-booking, neither artist of which I was at all familiar with. Having recognised the names Weyes Blood and Circuit Des Yeux from somewhere on the press release, I did some research and decided within minutes that the latter particularly was not an act to miss live. Thankfully, I was correct.

While my briefest of listening research into American singer-songwriter Weyes Blood (a.k.a. Natalie Mering) had only skimmed the surface and admittedly not hooked me, there really is no way of predicting the experience of a live set from an artist. (On YouTube I clearly wasn’t listening close enough.) The only song I was familiar with, Seven Words, was played fifth in her set, and by that time she had already convinced me four times over.

Her stunning vocals were incredibly on point, far exceeding what I had expected, and her interesting chord choices and melodies made each song engaging. However, it was her use of technology that elevated her set to a more atmospheric level, particularly in many moody tracks like the opening Take You There and the following In The Beginning, which were adorned with premade electronic washes and live looped vocal harmonies that built up psychedelic textures.

Those songs which were stripped back to just the singer and her acoustic guitar were merely very beautiful, a non-criticism if ever there was one, while a cover of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day over the original backing track was delivered well enough to just overcome its karaoke cheesiness. After just under an hour, stage chatter included, her set was over, leaving me far more than pleasantly surprised and determined to invest more time exploring her music.

The wait wasn’t long before Haley Fohr, the Chicago-based artist behind the Circuit Des Yeux moniker, took the stage and spent the next hour firmly putting the freak in freak folk. Let me say this now – Fohr’s voice is one of the most striking instruments around, something that has to be heard to be believed, and captured live to be experienced fully.

Although I was aware of this from my brief listens to her latest album, In Plain Speech, the first line of her set opener Do The Dishes still felt like a surprise, as it is nothing short of a surreal experience hearing and seeing such a deep, alien sound emerge from the small figure a metre or so in front of you.

Without her backing band, Fohr still delivered a dynamically intense set of long, brooding build-ups, dizzying pinnacles of noise, and long passages of hypnotic droning post-folk, more than content to spend minutes sitting on a single instrumental note before letting loose vocally. And let loose she did, delivering many of the most expressive vocal performances I have ever heard as she swung between impossibly low operatic crooning and impossibly high piercing screams, via a generous serving of hissing, shouting, and other indescribable vocalisations en route, all delivered with incredible talent and total abandon.

Like her partner on the bill, her tasteful use of technology majorly enhanced the set. Electronic beeping loops and beautiful pre-programmed recordings joined her battered twelve string to near-orchestral effect at times, and their accuracy of timing had me puzzling over her pedals all night. Particularly worthy of note was the lengthy epic, A Story Of This World.

The two artists’ sets definitely complimented each other, the light and the dark. Weyes Blood’s frequent friendly chatter contrasted with Circuit Des Yeux’s mysterious act – the first words the latter said to the audience came close to 40 minutes into her set, when she broke her silence to tell us how privileged we are to inhabit bodies, her face hidden behind her hair. This act fell away towards the end of the night, and could not have seemed farther from the smiling woman chatting and handing out signatures from the stage afterwards.

All in all, the night was nothing short of a brilliant gig by two very different artists whose names deserve to be watched closely from now. Those who left before Circuit Des Yeux’s draw-dropping set may never know what they missed out on. Those who even chatted through some quieter parts maybe don’t deserve to. You don’t get tagged as one of the world’s greatest live acts in Rolling Stone Magazine for nothing, and equally amazing is the fact that Weyes Blood didn’t pale at all in comparison. My strongest recommendation.

 

Set lists:

Weyes Blood

Take You There
In The Beginning
Maybe Love
Generation Why
Seven Words
Be Free
Perfect Day (Lou Reed cover)
Can’t Go Home
Bad Magic
Everybody’s Talkin’ (Fred Neil/Harry Nilsson cover)

Circuit Des Yeux

Do The Dishes
Black Fly
Geyser
A Story Of This World
Brainshift
Acarina
Falling Blonde
Philo (New Song)

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