Since the pandemic’s start, songwriting singer Halsey has changed their world several times over with the release of the dystopian multi-genre pop of 2020’s “Manic,” then the industrial earth mother vibe of 2022’s “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power.” During that time, they also announced “they/them” pronouns and had a baby. But even with all that, performing in an intimate setting – SiriusXM’s Small Stage series, for subscribers and contest winners held at Philadelphia’s 1,200-capacity Union Transfer on Tuesday – was perfect Halsey’s whisper-to-scream vocals and dramatic, personal asides.
Plus, as a native of nearby Edison, New Jersey, Halsey rhapsodized about being a fan in attendance at many a gig at the venue. “I used to wonder if the people on stage here could see me in the audience,” said Halsey to a brace of fans pressed against the stage, some of whom had waited in line since 4 a.m. “The answer is yes, because I can see all of your faces clearly.”
That connectivity between artist and audience was the nicest surprise of Tuesday night’s show. Whether they meant it or not, Halsey – dressed in a short plaid skirt with a black bob haircut – said on several occasions how long, recent tours in arena-size space had created a disconnect, and how, perhaps, scaling back to more intimate venues was an answer. “Maybe pull it back before it gets too big,” Halsey mumbled under their breath.
Then again, mere days before their 28 th birthday, Halsey recalled how at age 18, they had given themselves a “10-year-plan” with no back-up. “Back then, I didn’t think I would make it past that time frame,” they said, adding a message to younger fans that such feelings can pass if allowed to, and following with a soft, synth-pop take on “929.”
Accompanied by a tight trio of musicians, Halsey started the evening with the synth-punkish “Nightmare” (and a warning: “You think you know what you came here for. But you don’t know”), ended with one of her heartfelt favorites, a grand cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” and in-between those poles offered some stirring looks into her catalog.
Crab-crawling across the stage when they weren’t bouncing on their heels, Halsey embraced their humorously cocky side on the humming industrial “Castle” with its “I’m already choking on my pride, so there’s no use crying about it” refrain, and waltzed through the woodblock pulse of “Easier than Lying.” Lifting their voice an octave for baby-doll effect, “You Should Be Sad” was played as a tom tom-stomping acoustic number, as was the windy ballad “Graveyard” and its echo-heavy vocals.
Strapping on a guitar for the arching chord changes of the power-popping “You Asked for This” – one of the night’s best tracks – Halsey followed up with the bump-and-grind cabaret of “The Lighthouse,” a springy “3am,” a slow, muted “So Good,” and a sing-song-y “Bad at Love” before racing to the Sirius show’s finish line. Along the way, Halsey fiddled with a broken light on stage (“I know my way around gaffer’s tape”), talked about shared birthday with audience members and acted more like a host at a cheery party than an arena-sized performer.
Halsey even added an unplanned encore of “fan favorites” including“100 Letters,” where the singer said they used to trip over the the lyric “I don’t let him touch me anymore.”
“I don’t feel like that girl anymore,” Halsey said.
Between the spontaneous encore and intimate conversations with the audience, it was hard to imagine a show like this taking place on a big stage.
The concert airs on SiriusXM Hits 1 (ch. 2) on Sept. 24 at 9 pm ET.