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Weyes Blood review – spiritual road trip through Americana and beyond

<span>Photograph: John Williams/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: John Williams/REX/Shutterstock

Weyes Blood has a way of transforming any old stage into a cathedral. Dressed in a white caped gown and backlit by soft light, she recalls the image of a religious icon. To borrow the words of Flannery O’Connor – whose novel Wise Blood is the origin of Los Angeles singer-songwriter Natalie Mering’s moniker – her voice is “Christ-haunted”: serene, yet heavy with experience that belies her years. Her sold-out performance at The Roundhouse has a congregation in silent rapture: scared to move, scared to raise a phone, in case it should break the spell.

She sings of love everlasting, curses and blessings, but also of James Dean, freeways and feeling alone at a party. Her spirituality is hard to name, but California runs through her veins. Mering’s otherworldly take on Americana has led her to collaborate with Perfume Genius and Lana Del Rey, and she shares their sense of longing. Her fifth record, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, is a lonely, hymnal collection and in a live space her songs take on a sacred quality. There are more than three thousand people here, but we might as well be friends gathered around a campfire. The eerie edge of Mering’s nostalgic psych-folk and soft-rock is softened by her gentleness. It feels like it’s just us, Mering and her guitar – to a degree, her band feels like part of the scenery.

Weyes Blood at the Roundhouse, London.
Mesmerising … Weyes Blood at the Roundhouse, London. Photograph: John Williams/REX/Shutterstock

It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody lives up to its word – this is about the audience as much as it’s about Mering. Her voice is filled with emotional depth, but she makes it seem effortless. After performing in a plume of violet smoke with only the candelabras strewn across the stage visible to the audience, she declares: “We can’t have any more fog. It’s already apocalyptic as it is.” She wants to see her audience; her songs, after all, are as much preoccupied with “we” as “I”.

Related: Weyes Blood: And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow review | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week

Though Mering, with her California drawl, is no stranger to goofy stage patter, she frequently gestures toward unsettling undercurrents. “It’s no joke, we live in dark times,” she says. “The malaise, the ennui, the abstract information thrown at us …” Fittingly, her performance of God Turn Me Into a Flower features visuals created by documentary film-maker Adam Curtis, a prime inspiration on And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow. Mering is a silhouetted against a montage of destruction, unrest and, occasionally joy, lending her music an entirely new sense of resonance.

Theatrics aside, the show has a tendency to become stagnant. Mering’s six-minute wanderings tempt you to get lost in your own thoughts – despite her throwing glowsticks and flowers to the audience, or mirroring her album artwork by lighting up her chest during Hearts Aglow. Instead, she is at her most mesmerising when she gives into bolts of passion. She falls to her knees for the crescendo of Everyday, playing the piano as if possessed. And then she bows as if it was nothing at all.

• Weyes Blood tours the UK and Ireland through February.