Review: And in the Darkness of the Riviera, Whistles Echo and Weyes Blood Glows
The Riviera Theatre is a handful of years into its second century in Chicago and I guarantee you it’s never seen a professional whistler open for one of indie’s most exciting, experimental, and downright thoughtful artists. You heard that right. Weyes Blood, the stage name for LA-based Natalie Mering, brought Molly Lewis, a professional whistler on tour with her in support of her brand new album, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, the long-awaited sequel to her modern masterpiece, Titanic Rising, and it kinda really worked. Why? Because Weyes Blood is as fearless on her tours as she is on her albums and also because Molly Lewis uses Molly Lewis brand chapstick. Can you buy it? No, I’ve checked. It must be an old secret family recipe.
Speaking of Molly Lewis and her branded chapstick, they both put on quite the show Saturday night at the Riviera. I had no idea going in that Molly Lewis was a professional whistler and not a singer/songwriter like her headliner so I was as shocked as most people when she graced the stage and began whistling with such insane and intense breath control, it put Michael Phelps’ diaphragm to shame. She played a selection of moody and globally inspired songs from her two EPs, The Forgotten Edge and Mirage, released in 2021 and 2022, respectively, to much crowd acclaim, but it was that special brand of whistler humor that won the crowd over in the end. Yes, Molly Lewis didn’t let her Chicago performance go by without some whistle-blower jokes, a brief lecture on how dolphins communicate through whistling, her special brand of chapstick that Pfizer isn’t too pleased about, and a rare fruit that has some surprising physiological effects. I’ll be honest, it was a bit rocky at first mostly because it was so unexpected and jarring to be in a moderately large sold-out venue in dead silence listening to the faint sounds of whistling. As the show progressed, however, I, as well as most of the crowd, got really into her beautifully nuanced and subtle performance art and found myself really happy once she finished that I got to experience something I usually don’t get the chance to and isn’t that all anyone could ever really want from a performance?
Weyes Blood took the stage just as you’d expect Weyes Blood to take any stage. From where I was in the crowd, it almost looked like she floated up from the darkness of the green room and landed on stage like some angel descending from the heavens, except this angel had a glowing chest. She opened with “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”, the opening track to her 2022 album, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, and it was just as magical live as it is on the album. I don’t ever recall seeing an artist that captured the sound of their studio recordings in a live setting so perfectly, which is no small feat if you’re an artist like Weyes Blood whose albums are literal works of art with as many complex layers as a genetically modified onion.
Her set Saturday night comprised of songs solely from her last two albums, which may have only disappointed a very small subsect of devoted fans seeing as her latest two records are the whole reason she’s on tour playing venues like The Riviera. Knowing her set was going to lean heavily on her last two records, many song choices came as no shock to me, nor did my subsequent enjoyment of hearing them live. Songs like “A Lot Has Changed”, “Andromeda”, “Hearts Aglow”, and “Children Of The Empire” came and went as beautifully as expected while, on the other hand, a few choice cuts gave me a surprising surge of dopamine. One of my least favorite songs from her new album is “God Turn Me Into A Flower” (I know, I’m terrible) and to my surprise, it was one of my favorite performances of the night! She had a documentarian friend create a visually striking cinematic backdrop to be used during the song’s performance and that short film coupled with the lighting and Natalie being the only visible person on stage gleefully dancing around in a dark in a mysterious fashion just took the song that extra mile and made for one unforgettable performance. “Grapevine” was another shocker for me being a song from her new album that I’m not head over heels about, but I guess I am now after I was able to pick up on all the classic Weyes Blood eccentricities that made the songs on Titanic Rising so damn special.
Speaking of Titanic Rising and it being one of the greatest albums ever made, “Everyday” made for quite the outlier with its joyous beats and uplifting tempo, qualities that were not at all lost on Natalie as she tried to coax Chicago into the most violent of circle pits but the crowd politely declined. However, the absolute highlight of the entire show came from “Movies”, the song that got me hooked on Weyes Blood in the first place and her performance of the song took no pause in refreshing my memory as to why it’s still my favorite song of hers. From the gorgeous cosmic synths that start the song all the way to the chaotic strings that bring it to its final minutes, the performance was absolutely spellbinding front to back. One mustn’t also forget about Natalie’s darkly enchanting vocals throughout that often sound like they’re struggling to come up for air submerged within an ocean of sound.
As for an encore, we had the pleasure of two beautifully juxtaposed performances of some bonafide Titanic Rising classics. The first encore was “Something To Believe”, a song that gives me somewhat similar vibes to “Everyday” maybe because of the hopeful, childlike wonder in its lyrics that pairs all too well with its tranquil and folky acoustic instrumentals. Weyes Blood fittingly closed the night with a performance of “Picture Me Better”, a song that so clearly beacons towards that brighter tomorrow when we all get to see her perform for us small-town folk again.
Also, for any of you thinking of catching her on one of the remaining dates for this current tour, please be sure to come with at least 8-10 DVDs to donate to the Weyes Blood cause. Apparently, fans have been taking her song “Movies” a little too literally and have been showering her with DVDs of such classics as Kung Fu Panda 2, Over The Hedge, some random Family Guy season, The Departed, and American Psycho. If you want to get on her nice list before the holidays, this is your chance, folks. Don’t miss it.
Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s arts scene and sometimes beyond? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!