Intimate and epic, theatrical and simple, polished and unvarnished, chilling horror elements on screen mixed with a warm sense of care on stage, with a setlist ricocheting off genres and constantly keeping one’s ears at attention, Halsey’s long-awaited return to Summerfest’s biggest stage on Saturday night was impossible to put nicely in a box or easily classify. So basically, it was a perfect Halsey performance, delivering precisely what’s made the talented “Bad At Love” singer revered: a night that couldn’t be simply or plainly defined except as 100 percent pure authentic Halsey.
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“What matters more in a story,” asked the stage’s giant tilted screen at the start of the show, “if it’s good or if it’s true?” Making her first return to Milwaukee since 2018, Halsey’s set answered that question with a resounding “Why not both?”The next two hours will begin with “The Tradition,” the moody angsty opener from 2021’s album, “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power.” Until some fire blasts at the very end, the song makes for a surprisingly low-key opener, but its ominous drive – matched by the blood-red lyrics splashed on the screens – quickly captured the attention of the two-thirds full Amp audience, particularly since the performer wasn’t actually on the stage. It took a little work (even with a spotlight’s help), but eventually the crowd found Halsey on a scaffolding above the stage, singing the opening lament.
Halsey may have left the scaffolding and come down to earth after that – but the show never did, starting the first of its four “chapters”: The Capture, which could’ve also been re-titled “The Crowd Pleasers.” Indeed, after its subdued open, the pop star launched into some of their biggest hits, showing off their genre-defiant range – from the mood pop of “Castle”The twangy telloff “You Should Be Sad,”With the punky “Easier Than Lying” in between. The early chapters (The Capture, followed by Release) not only showed off the depth of Halsey’s musical variety but also of their catalogue of hits, skipping from the emo energy of “1121”to the boppy electropop of “Graveyard”The lush size of “Colors”And the slinky, soulful taunts “Hurricane.”
Halsey felt that the moment had just passed, as she was having a friendly chat with the crowd. “morally compelled”Parents with young children at the Amp should be aware that “adult swim”Was going to start shortly after “Hurricane” – and indeed, the visuals immediately after featured a bluntly bloodied nose and a steamy sexy meet-up (albeit in a not particularly steamy, not particularly sexy bathroom). The entire set added a horror element and eerieness to the night with its visuals. Halsey was drenched in blood after removing plain masks with screaming eyes behind. “Lighthouse” accompanied by the star on screen made up like a crew member from Davy Jones’ ship in the “Pirates” movies. Even before her warning, the visuals had a horror vibe that was eye-grabbing – quite literally in the case of “Easier Than Lying,”Featuring close-ups showing an eye that appears to be in the metal “Clockwork Orange” headgear.
Even with all of that, though, the visuals were more just table-dressing for what was really a fairly simple show on Saturday night – some laser lights here, some sparks and fire there, but no dancers or big fancy complicated set or helicopters like the night before. The night felt theatrical in its mood and emotional scope – but there was no doubt the spotlight was truly and solely Halsey’s for the night. She was the one who commanded it. The last time she was at the Big Gig with Logic, she was the co-headliner. This time, no other stars were necessary: Halsey beamed bright enough all by the performer’s self.
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Halsey brought energy and emotion to the songs. Again, it was truly only Halsey in the spotlight for the two-hour set – no dancers or props, just the screen – but the show never felt lacking thanks to the performer constantly making full use of the stage, stompingAnd bouncing back and forth from each side and, later on, stepping back to play guitar along with the band on “Killing Boys” and “3am.” Add in their voice – sometimes belting, sometimes haunting, sometimes sultry, always soulful – and it was a true star performance, just one source of mighty gravitational pull. The only prop that was needed throughout the entire night was a blank canvas. “Be Kind”Halsey spent the song creating a (quite delicious!) While singing, Halsey painted. Now that’s multi-tasking.
Halsey shines brightest live when she is chatting with the crowd. The singer’s interactions didn’t feel like recycled cliches or the standard banter, but instead genuine conversation with the crowd and the night, whether talking about watching old performances and reflecting on how she’s changed over just a few years, joking with the crowd that no she’s not going to bring out her baby since it’s 11:30 at night (“I think I’m a cool mom … but not THAT cool”), coming up with fake factoids to embarrass her band during intros or merely playfully teasing the encore section of the set.
Sometimes, the banter got Halsey into trouble. Near the middle of the show, for instance, they teased a song that they apparently wrote about Milwaukee … but they couldn’t remember how it went so it never made an appearance. However, Halsey said that it was a great show. “Perfection when it comes to art is f*cking boring.” And indeed, their light-on-their-feet, sincere on-stage personality made the show’s few snafus or shortcomings – a clothing malfunction before “Be Kind”This caused her to be taken off-stage and required her to stop and restart several times during the closing number. “I Am Not A Woman, I’m A God” – not only forgivable but feel like something special, like Milwaukee was getting a unique show with its own particular personality and memories.
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Halsey closed out this night of high notes by adding more high notes after a slightly draggy middle to the set, which her pipes and personality effortlessly powered through.
The singer concluded her main set with a sing-along chorus favorite. “Bad at Love”Together with the combination of “Whispers”And “Gasoline” – both with a propulsive electronic ominousness right out of Nine Inch Nails, which makes sense since the former comes off “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power,”Trent Reznor and Atticus Ros produced the book. After a brief rest, she returned to her final chapter: Revenge. She leads with the thrashing furyr. “Nightmare,”The all-too-shortly-remembered images of pro-choice protesters provide additional fuel, and abortion facts, a final call for action and a final chant of “My body, my choice.”The segment made headlines when it was revealed that walkouts had occurred at a previous tour stop. Milwaukee listened and stayed put.
After that potent moment, Halsey lightened things up with a cover for “’80s babies” … or more realistically anyone who’s binged “Stranger Things” this summer: Kate Bush’s now-inescapable “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God).” No stranger to songs about identity and tortured relationships, the cover fit right in with the set rather than feeling like hopping on a bandwagon – plus maybe it’s a clue we’re just one step closer to a Halsey biopic starring Millie Bobby Brown. The singer called it a night with the pop song. “Without Me” and one more dose of NIN-fueled industrial vibes with “I Am Not a Woman, I’m a God.”
And after the past two hours of one-of-a-kind entertainment, musical unpredictability and genuine personality, the audience couldn’t help but agree with that song’s assessment.