By Olivia Anderson-Clarke
For the audience that battled their way to the Drake this Monday night, every streetcar delay, frostbitten toe, and dead iPhone battery, was worth it to see half⦁alive put on what I can only describe as the most unconventional concert experience I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. For their first tour, and a sold out show (albeit one that was lacking those who were daunted by the weather), the show was not only a huge success, but something entirely novel: combining a synth-pop mosh pit, interpretative dance troupe, and acoustic jam sessions into one brilliant evening that, frankly, shouldn’t have worked.
Sadly, due to the weather, I missed the first opener, Austin Prince. Instead, I watched a homeless man yell at a nonexistent streetcar which would not make an appearance for another half hour (not unlike most bands when running behind call times).
But, luckily, my delay did not extend to the second opener, joan, a synth pop duo whose lead singer, Alan Thomas, I can only describe as a grungy young Leonardo DiCaprio. Their music was energetically retro, using synths to illuminate the audience. “tokyo” was an early song of the night. Beginning things with an enthusiastic introduction to their music as most of the audience had not heard their EP dropped in 2018, portra. Thomas’ vocals led into a heartfelt and spirited rendition of “stop and stare” and “love somebody like you”, before ending the night with a slow ballad “i loved you first” (not my favourite artistic choice, I must admit). Thomas’ vocals were spot on and Steven Rutherford’s smooth drums made for a set that oozed coolness, thanks to the retro sound of their boppy tracks. All in all, they really did perform a show which took me “all the way”.
But from the moment half⦁alive began their set, all attention was on them. The set began with a white sheet being carried out onto the stage and a video of a snake being projected onto it which, once removed revealed an entirely black stage except for a blue horizontal light across the back. Then. half⦁alive launched into “The Fall”. For anyone who listens to their music, you know it has an incredible energy behind it, largely driven by the synths. This was something I was worried they would not be able to capture live. But, despite an initial run in with a bassline so heavy my hair was vibrating and a few technological glitches, half⦁alive performed an admirable set for their first tour, making their conference an experience unlike any other.
The first surprise came during one of their new songs, “Voice Inside” which is not yet available on Spotify. During an instrumental break, two dancers came out from backstage and began dancing with lead singer, Josh Taylor, in an interpretive and beautiful sequence. The two male dancers reappeared periodically through the rest of the show, always spontaneously arriving on stage as the crowd went wild. When the dancers came back on during “Awake At Night”, the dancers came on and pulled out killer dance solos before walking off nonchalantly. This contemporary integration of dance and music worked beautifully with the bass beats of their alt pop, and, with amazing choreography, the dancing was a highlight of the show. The way in which Taylor and his dancers moved really energized the audience made for an inspirational visual experience. Later in the concert, during “Tip Toes” (which, it must be mentioned, has an epic drop) the dancers held up signs saying “HOO” and “HEY” for the audience, one of the many ways in which the audience were engaged and involved in the performance.
A similarly surprising moment came later in the concert when half⦁alive entered the “sing-along” part of the night. After pulling out an acoustic guitar, Taylor crooned a cover of “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys. This demonstrated his vocal range in a muted environment. From there, they transitioned into the best cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” I have ever heard. By introducing synth and some funky syncopation, half⦁alive made the song seem not only vintage, but a true original (a word I would not usually associate with Sheeran). This acoustic moment made an interesting change from the largely electronic music which otherwise permeated the concert and allowed for a special moment with the audience in exposed sound before launching into their two most popular songs, “arrow” and “still feel.” to end the night.
Unlike joan, half⦁alive ended on their most energetic song. At the concert, they let the audience sing all the callbacks during the verse as they Taylor and the rest of the band pulled out all of the stops onstage, dancing and jumping along with the audience. This was the perfect ending to a phenomenal concert. Though Taylor’s vocals aren’t as strong as they are in-studio, and despite the few technological glitches, half⦁alive are a band whose concert I will remember for a long time. Not only are their songs on point, but they have a true artistry which is not common in groups of their age and size. Listening to them on Spotify and going their concert was like apples and sour patch kids: both are uncomparable to one another and equally worth your time.