Show Review // Heilung // January 24, 2020 @ Webster Hall, New York City
Nordic experimental folk band, Heilung, made their first stop in New York City on their first ever US Tour and Webster Hall was completely packed for this sold out performance. In fact, if you’ve secured a ticket for any of their performances, you’re quite lucky because a ticket to Heilung these days is just not something you’re going to be able to obtain without some cogent effort. For those lucky enough or who had enough foresight to jump on tickets as soon as they went on sale, they were treated to an experience that is going to be a challenge for any act to top. Indeed, as this was my first Heilung performance, I can say I was truly taken aback by just how grand and breathtaking this group is and how original and compelling they are on stage. Honestly, Heilung, in my opinion, is a much better ticket than the bulk (if not all) of those overpriced Broadway shows on the other side of Manhattan.
I knew that once I arrived two blocks north of the venue and saw the mass of folks in Iron Age Nordic gear already lining up way before showtime, that this was going to be a very special evening. Luckily, folks in line were jovial and downright elated to finally see this quite elaborate troupe from the European North. And the newly renovated Webster Hall was the perfect venue for this… I’d call it a concert, but it was just so much more than that. It was music, ritual, history, beliefs – just so much compounded together, but seamless.
With nearly half the songs in the setlist coming from the more masculine Ofnir (2015) and the other half, from the more feminine Futha (2019), Heilung took concertgoers on a journey that was at times, peaceful and soothing, but with deliberate climatic conflict, expression and contemplative moments as well. There was fire (I noted the FDNY on both sides of the photo pit to ensure safety), vibration and motion. The entire building shook in unison as the performers stamped their feet and pounded their spears unto the stage in both a visual and oratory display of power. No doubt Heilung put an awful lot of time crafting this performance, which was flawlessly executed and sounded divine. Not too loud, not too soft and everyone in the venue was able to hear to sounds of bones tapping, horns rattling and whistles whistling. The fact that the members of the group can get all these instruments together to create this massively elaborate soundscape is a true testament to their skill and discipline. Of course, Heilung shows us just how much diversity can be found in the human voice, with an array of vocal styles all blending and bridging.
Attending a Heilung show is so much more than just a concert. It’s an event… an experience… even an awakening. You just cannot take your eyes off the performers as each song showcases something new and invigorating. I watched closely as so many individuals were just completely entranced by the performance. (Refreshing that so few were entranced by their cellphones!) The crowd was directly drawn in – even before the show started – and was howling in both excitement and anticipation. Not a bored look or wallflower in the room as well as literally, nobody was disengaged from the show. One man even proposed to his girlfriend during the set (she said yes!) No doubt that I’m certainly going to strengthen my own relationship with Heilung and I was blissfully listening to Futha on my way back to Pennsylvania that night.