Halsey with Live String Ensamble in Newark, New Jersey! // Night 2

For two nights only at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, Halsey performed live with a string ensemble on stage for a special engagement benefiting arts programs and art education across the state. It is a part of the inaugural state-wide North To Shore Festival that featured hundreds of New Jersey artists throughout June. I am still speechless after seeing her perform live for the first time in her home state, the entire night was so surreal. Finally getting to hear so many of the songs that have changed my life in countless ways in that setting was an unforgettable experience. I was in awe for the entire performance, it was one of the greatest shows I have ever seen!

I have always admired Hasley for their incredible songwriting ability that is always deeply personal and honest while simultaneously crafting an intricate universe within the music and art. I have always recognized a piece of myself in her music that has inspired my own artistic journey in such an impactful way.

Her music has been so influential in my life ever since I first heard "Ghost" back in 2015. I have continued to grow with her and her music over the years and during that time so much of it has taken on a new meaning for me. During the show, Halsey issued a similar sentiment for their own connection to these songs toward the end of the night, "There is a lot of beginnings and endings in a metaphorical sense, as well. Some of these songs mean something so different to me now than when I wrote them, in a good way. That's the beauty of music as like this malleable, tangible, ever-evolving thing. It's like every time you listen to it back, you hear something new; a new note, or a new lyric, or something takes on a new shape, or a new meaning". This show felt like such a celebration of that collective journey for all of us in that room. 

Getting to see Halsey live in concert for the first time in such a special setting was such an incredible experience. It was truly such a magical show, one that I will never ever forget. The addition of the string orchestra elevated these songs to new heights. It felt so theatrical and melodramatic in all of the best ways.

I was especially blown away by Halsey's vocal performance the entire show, I don't even have words for it. She is absolutely one of the best performers I have ever seen live. To be following their journey since the beginning and to see her continue to grow in her artistry over the years has been beautiful to witness. Their talents were fully showcased that night. I had chills the entire time by the power and confidence in her voice, it was incredibly moving.

This was my first time at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, and it was such a beautiful venue and I look forward to seeing another show there one day. I'm so thankful to have had this experience, my dad and I tried to get tickets multiple times when they went on sale a few months ago, but it was sold out so quickly every time. About three weeks before the show, I checked Ticketmaster again and there were randomly two seats that opened up in the eighth row! It was the perfect view, so perfect that even Halsey's entire family sat in our row too! I talked to her mom after the show, who was so nice! Her brother, Sevian and his girlfriend sat next to me and they were so nice to talk to, as well! I recognized him right away and had to tell him how much I loved the "clementine" music video he was in and how much that song means to me. It was so unexpected to meet them there, but such a cool moment and the cherry on top of what was already such a great night!

The setlist spanned the entirety of Halsey's discography. Since I was at the second night of the show, I tried to keep the setlist from the night before a surprise and I'm so happy I did. Every single time a new song started playing I was just so shocked to be witnessing it! She played literally every single one of my favorite songs, I still can't believe I finally got to hear some of them live! "Forever ... is a long time", "clementine", "Young God", "Walls Could Talk", "Ashley", and "Bells In Santa Fe" were a few of the many moments that I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was really so blown away by the entire setlist though, it was so perfect from beginning to end. A lot of them were songs she hasn't performed in years, others were only ever played once the night before. The setlist did seem to follow a common theme, being some of the most autobiographical and personal songs of their discography. On Twitter a few days before, Halsey said, "I think you’re gonna love the set list. ... I made this one for *me*".

The show opened with Halsey coming out on the side of the stage to a piano and played "The Tradition", the opening track of their 2021 album If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power. It gives me chills just thinking about how her voice echoed through the theater when she sang the lines, "I hope what's left will last all summer long, and they said that boys were boys but they were wrong". It was such a powerful introduction to the show. Then they transitioned into "Bells of Santa Fe" with the string ensemble, which was so gorgeous and so different from the studio version. It was only the second time she performed both of those songs and I can't think of a better time than to debut them live than at these orchestra shows. So much of If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power just feels like it was meant to be performed in a setting like this with a full string ensemble, it was stunning. 

Then she performed "Castle", which is the first song on Badlands and another long-time favorite. It is such a powerful and empowering song that I have always loved. I vividly remember the first time I heard that song and the rest of Badlands on the day it was released, it was one of the most formative albums of my high school years and continues to be one of my all-time favorites to this day. 

Badlands will always hold a special place in my heart for so many reasons and all of the songs from that album they performed that night were so emotional for me. One of my favorite moments of the night was hearing "Colors" for the first time. The composition of it was just so gorgeous and made me tear up hearing it, it has always meant so much to me. I truly feel like that song shaped an entire generation of people at a point in time and it will forever be a classic. I have similar feelings about "Young God", as well. That has always been one of my favorite Halsey songs for all of the same reasons "Colors" is too. I don't think this is a song she performs too often anymore, so it was one of the many surprises of the night. The instrumentation was stellar and was such a magical moment getting to hear it live. 

So many songs were so unexpected to hear live, especially those from Hopeless Fountain Kingdom; like "Lie", "Walls Could Talk" and "100 Letters". One of my favorite Halsey songs ever is "Walls Could Talk" and I loved hearing it live with that arrangement. The line, "play me like a violin hitting these notes" was so iconic too with the strings! One of the only additions to the setlist I would have made from Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is "Alone", although it was briefly played by the eight violinists during a medley before Halsey came on stage.

Of course, she also played the classic "Bad At Love" from Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, and I loved the arrangement of the song so much. It was so different than the studio version and from any other performance she has ever done of it before. I know I keep saying this over and over, but it is just so stunning. The Garden State reference was also perfect to hear in Jersey! 

She also shared a lot of personal stories throughout the show between the songs. Since the two Jersey shows were in support of arts programs and art education across the state, she talked about the impact her high school art teacher had on her life during those years. She said the night before her teacher was in the audience and told the crowd how she would spend every chance she could in her art room and really found solace in that class. As she was talking about her to the crowd the night before, she started sobbing on stage while telling the story because all of the memories came flooding back to her all at once. It was such an emotional moment; you could hear a pin drop as she was telling the story. Even as she was retelling it, you could hear how impacted she was by that moment the night before. Sharing those stories and being so unfiltered about hardships is always something I admired Hasley for. My high school art class meant a lot to me at the time too, it was always my favorite class and a period I looked forward every school day. I even ate lunch in the art room every day of Junior year, which Halsey shared she did as well. Art, in many different forms, has impacted my life in countless ways. I wouldn't be the person I am today without it and more importantly, without the access I had to art education throughout my life. It is so important to continue to fight for the access to arts programs and art education in schools, it is great that this show was in support of it because it is such an important cause.

Although the setlist was spread out between all of Halsey's albums throughout her career, a large portion of the setlist was made up of their third album, Manic. I really can never say which Halsey album I definitively love the most, because every single one means so much to me for different reasons. However, Manic is perhaps the album that I connect with the most on a personal level and have been so inspired by for the past three years. I love that she performed so many songs from Manic that night, especially since it never really had the full moment it deserved because of the pandemic. "Killing Boys" live felt so cinematic with the added orchestral elements. "I Hate Everybody", "You Should Be Sad", and "Graveyard", are also great songs from the album that were able to be completely transformed in these new arrangements. The studio version of "You Should Be Sad" is very country inspired and so different from any other songs Halsey has ever made before or since, so getting to hear it in this new way was so cool. 

There were so many really moving and emotional moments throughout the night. Everyone in that room has been affected by this music in different ways and although we come from all walks of life, we can all come together and celebrate our shared connection to this music. Moments like that during concerts where you can just feel the energy and excitement radiating off the crowd are just so beautiful. I felt this so many times throughout the night, like during "Colors", but also during songs like "clementine", "Forever ... (Is A Long Time), and "Ashley" too. Those are some of my favorite songs ever and I have so much to say about all three of them. Looking back at it now, hearing these songs were some of the biggest highlights of the night. "clementine" has always meant so much to me, it is one of the greatest songs ever written in my opinion. She played it at the piano, as she did with the first song of the night, which made it feel even more intimate. Everyone singing along to the lines, "I don't need anyone, I don't need anyone, I just need everyone and then some" was a moment I always dreamt of hearing live one day ever since I heard that song. 

The heightened instrumentation of "Forever ... (Is A Long Time)" was another one of the highlights of the night. The way that song was brought to life and elevated was like no other. The build-up to the closing lines, "I could never hold a perfect thing and not demolish it, what am I thinking? What does this mean? How could somebody ever love me?" was insane to hear with that composition!

"Ashley" is one of Halsey's most personal and autobiographical songs she has ever written. It is so introspective in the way that it unravels who she is as Halsey, the performer and the persona, and who she is as Ashley, the person she is behind it all. This song explores all of the different facets of her in such a unique way. "Took my heart and sold it out to a vision that I wrote myself, and I don't wanna be somebody in America just fighting the hysteria", is one of the standout lines that truly gave me chills to hear live. 

Toward the end of the show, Halsey said that these string arrangements "peeled back layers" of their songs in ways she didn't even know possible. That metaphor truly applies to every single song on the setlist and beautifully captures the pure magic of this show. 

Another song that was completely transformed in this setting is "Gasoline", it was such a stunning rendition of the original. It really sounded like a completely different song, her entire demeanor was so different from the studio version. It was so theatrical and chilling at the same time, especially the first verses, "Do you tear yourself apart to entertain like me? Do the people whisper 'bout you on the train like me saying that you shouldn't waste your pretty face like me?" The line "do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me" is of course the best and the entire crowd screaming that was everything. 

Before she played the last song, Halsey opened up about being an artist that shares so much of their life with the world through their work, while also having to deal with the personal repercussions of it. I wanted to share an excerpt of it, because it really does put so much of her work into a new perspective, and it is so interesting to hear her mindset around being an artist and a public figure. 

"I have been sort of required to fail in front of the whole world, over and over again for the past ten years. In a way that actually feels really reminiscent of this like, hometown, home state kind of thing, where you graduate high school and go to college and you just really don't want the people you grew up with to see you make a fool of yourself ... one of the things about my job is that I have to tell people exactly who I am and exactly what I think and exactly what's going on in my life with such finality. I have to be absolutely positive and if something changes, or something goes a different way, everybody turns around ... I'm so sorry, I was wrong, ya know? And of those failures, perceived failures, there have been a series of many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many breakups. I'm a friendly person ... but I am also a deeply sensitive person, who believes people are good and believes in love and believes people are who they say they are when I meet them, every single time. Because of that I have written a couple of songs where I've been like, 'this person is the love of my life' and then the next album begs to differ and introduces you to the new guest starring character of that season. This last time around, I had this moment where I was just like, I'm not doing it, I'm not writing songs about people, nice songs about people anyway. Because every time I do, they make me look like an idiot. That was my immature first reaction, I was embarrassed ... But as we were putting this set together, I was listening to some of these songs and that embarrassment turned into something else. It turned into gratitude and forgiveness and peace and reconciliation in a way. Unfortunately for whoever the next person I date, I will continue to be writing songs about people."

The message of that reminded me of Lorde's song "Writer In The Dark" and a quote I read from her once talking about it; "It’s not a historical document. It’s not a police record. It’s not journalism. I didn’t go to journalism school. I’m a writer. It’s about what I felt and sometimes you can feel an element of guilt or ‘Oh God, I shouldn’t have immortalised that person’, but the song is my way of saying ‘It’s what I’ve always been. It’s what I was when you met me. It’s what I will continue to be after you leave. That’s exactly what was going to happen when you kissed a writer in the dark."

That was the introduction to the final song of the set before the encore, called "Ya'aburnee", a song that was written as a love letter to her partner at the time and her newborn son. The Arabic title roughly translates to "you bury me" and was the final track off of If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power. This was only the second time she ever performed it live, the first being the night before and said "...this one is one of my favorites". It is such a gorgeous song, the string instrumentation was stunning, especially during the chorus. It is truly one of the best love songs she has ever written, it is sad hearing her change some of the lyrics to past tense now, but the love and beauty of that time in their life is forever captured in this song. In the middle, she said she sound checked the song with her son earlier that day too, which was such a sweet moment. I truly hope she never does stop writing songs like this, that innate ability to capture those complicated, complex feelings and fleeting moments and create a piece of art out of them, has always made Halsey as an artist so special. "Ya'aburnee" was one of the many emotional moments of the night and such a gorgeous ending to the show. 

The encore was a trio of three of Halsey's best songs. The first was "Nightmare", I can't even express how much I love this song. I must have played it a million times by now, it is one of my favorite songs ever and also one of the most important songs Halsey has ever made. Hearing it live felt like such a transcending moment for me. I have been lucky enough to have had so many great concert experiences through the years and moments that have felt so special and once-in-a-lifetime and hearing "Nightmare" live with a string ensemble was one of those really surreal moments for me. The energy in the room during that song was so electric and her vocals were some of the best I have ever heard from her. It is lyrically one of their best, "I keep a record of the wreckage in my life, I gotta recognize the weapon in my mind" always stands out to me as an anthem to live by. Screaming along to "I'm tired and angry, but somebody should be" was such an iconic moment too! 

The second song of the encore was "Without Me". It is a Halsey classic for good reason, it is so well-written and truly timeless. Before the song she said "Without Me" is one she doesn't regret writing, which was so funny. As she said in "Die 4 Me" "I sold forty million copies of our breakup note" so she definitely shouldn't have any regrets there!

The final song of the night was "Hurricane", one of the songs that started it all for Halsey. Like I said with "Colors" before, "Hurricane" truly shaped a generation of people - a lyric like "Don't belong to no city, don't belong to no man" is the definition of iconic and truly changed culture forever. Hearing that truly took me back to being sixteen years old again and it was the perfect way to finish such an amazing performance.

This was one of the most incredible shows I have ever been to and a night I will never forget. For my first time seeing Hasley, I truly couldn't ask for a better experience. Being a huge fan of her from the very beginning, it has been so beautiful to see them grow in their artistry year after year. I have my fingers crossed that she turns the audio of these special string ensemble shows into a live album one day so everyone has the chance to experience these gorgeous renditions over and over again. All of it was perfect and a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience that I can't believe I got to be there for. 

Thanks for reading! 

-Melissa ♡

All photos are my own! 

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