Heilung with Eivor and Lili Refrain – Hammersmith Apollo – 14 January 2023

view of the stage from up in the gods
waiting for Heilung to take the stage

Well, that was something.

There were support bands – two of them: Eivor and Lili Refrain. Both were good, and appropriate opening acts, but within five minutes of Heilung taking the stage, I couldn’t have told you a thing about them.

I’d not seen Heilung before. I’ve seen videos, and people have told me that they are amazing, but none of that prepared me for the actual live experience. I’d forgotten to buy a ticket until 3 days beforehand and my seat was up in the gods. Fortunately the Apollo is an excellent venue so I could see everything. That’s not why I didn’t take photos, though – I felt that doing so would impair my enjoyment of the event.

What follows is less of a normal gig review and more of a stream of consciousness account of my impressions. (Unlike most of the bands I review, Heilung aren’t obscure – there’s plenty of more traditional write-ups from mainstream publications out there, they don’t need me to promote them). There’s also hours and hours of footage on YouTube.

The more I think aobut it, the more I believe that “gig” is the wrong word to describe Heilung’s live performance. I’m still processing what I experienced. It was part theatre, part religious ritual, part interpretive dance. Technically, dance and theatre in the service of a ritual atmosphere.

The only reason I have any of the vocabulary necessary to think about what I experienced is that my MA and PhD had elements of comparative religion, so I’ve read a lot about paganism, ritual and ecstatic religion. And yet, it made everything I’ve ever read about ecstatic religion simultaneously make sense and completely irrelevant. So this is what it feels like to get completely transported by the rhythm and spectacle and just lose yourself in the moment. It’s like I’ve read about, but also completely not.

This isn’t harking back to a Viking past, but much further back, to a far-prehistoric animist age. Is it authentic? We have no way of knowing, so any interpretation is fair game. Is if effective? Oh hell yes!

Did she really do a whole song standing on one foot?

One of the dancers was doing a Dervish-like spin which was mesmerising just to watch.

The show was incredibly sharply orchestrated, choreographed and lit, and simultaneously evocative of chaos – the chaotic element intensified as the show went on. It’s incredibly slick, and yet doesn’t feel that way. I can barely wrap my head around how hard that is to do.

I’m on record as saying that I attended four gigs last year that were religious experiences. This was too, but in a much more literal sense.

I left on a complete high, tempted to call in sick and follow the rest of the tour.