One of the most immersive and intimate live albums on the market
“I have absolutely no idea why you picked me”.
A moment of vulnerability from Halsey, towards the end of her set. But there’s no question; she dazzles the crowd who hang on to her every word as if she speaks to them directly.
Halsey’s debut album Badlands was, for a lot of teenagers, a cultural reset. With richly defiant lyrics written when the young star was only 19 years old, it spoke of a rebellion that shifted pop music. Although it was highly conceptual, set in a dystopian desert wasteland, it was deeply emotional and most importantly, youthful. Her latest live album, Live from Webster Hall, captures this moment perfectly, offering a nostalgic and immersive experiences that sums up everything that Badlands stood for.
Audience participation is a huge part of the album. From the opening of ‘Castle’, the crowd are screaming along to every word. This is an often-criticised feature of live albums when emphasized, but once you get used to it the audience becomes just as important as the lyrics they are screaming. Badlands created a community, one which has only now become visible in its musical form. If you weren’t a fan of her distinctive indie vocals on her first album, you might want to reconsider. Her voice is stunning – powerful and evocative, she does not restrain herself in any way during this performance.
On stage, the songs melt into one another with atmospheric transitions, heightening the conceptual nature of the album in a way that is hard to pull off in a live show. Her cover of ‘I Walk The Line’ becomes exquisitely distorted, like a cassette being played in a car as one of these theatrical transitions. Hits like ‘New Americana’ take on a darker persona in this environment, pushing the bass guitar further than can be heard in the studio album. Halsey proves herself to be a gifted performer, a natural storyteller and a force to be reckoned with on this album.
The true tour de force of both Badlands and Live from Webster Hall is ‘Control’ which comes to life in this performance. The subtle backing music takes on a more prominent and menacing tone, along with the threatening confidence of the song’s lyrics. Halsey’s dark side is an important part of her live performance. It’s one of the most emotional performances of the night. You can hear her strong belief in the song, which, as she says herself introducing it, is “one of the most important songs [she’s] ever written”. The final choruses border on terrifying – chills all around.
Live from Webster Hall goes on to present the listener with some songs from Badlands viewed through the lens of a new genre; ‘Strange Love’ is closer to a rock song than it has ever been, and ‘Coming Down’ is joined by an acoustic guitar which both brightens the song and makes it more intimate.
‘Hurricane’ takes on brand new power in this performance, vocally changed up and dramatised for effect. “Come and fade me” is repeated over and over again, more aggressively each time until she launches into the vocal powerhouse that is the final battle cry of “I’m a hurricane”. While she takes her craft seriously, she’s equally tongue-in-cheek, singing “well lately, I like ’em crazy’ with exaggeration and sarcasm dripping from her voice, creating a brand new experience from the single. The same dichotomy of sarcasm and anger pierces into ‘Colors’ – exactly how the song was intended to be performed.
Her ‘Talking Breaks’ are included as distinct tracks on the album, further solidifying the rapport she creates at her live shows and the intimacy she fosters between her and her fans, even in a 1500-capacity venue. In these, she becomes the voice of a generation, speaking of the loneliness and despair that created Badlands while speaking directly to each fan in the crowd, and in turn, to each listener of this album.
There is no question as to why fans picked Halsey. You leave this record with the same feeling you get leaving a concert – the exhilaration of having been witness to something spectacular, this time mixed with a certain jealousy of people who were really there. This is one of the most impressive and immersive live albums that has been released in recent years, and a true gift for her fans. The record also includes a second disc containing the original deluxe album in its entirety. A necessary addition; when you’re done, you’ll be ready to go back to the badlands.
Halsey’s Badlands (Live from Webster Hall) is out now via Capitol Records.