Halsey live at Reading Festival 2022: a ballsy but poignant statement from a true rockstar

Reading Festival, Sunday August 28: Political, personal, yet brash and banter-filled, Halsey's illness-defying headline set proves her to be a powerhouse

Halsey’s headline performance at Reading 2022 gets off to a pretty powerful start. Opening with the almighty ‘Nightmare’, the artist’s searing rendition is accompanied by visuals highlighting the battle for reproductive and abortion rights in the US. As we reach the culmination of the second verse, there’s joint moment of catharsis as Halsey – and the thousands of revellers gathered – scream out: “I’m tired and angry, but somebody should be”. Damn right.

After battling food poisoning at Leeds Festival on Friday (“Man, I was fucked up and not in a good way,” they tell Reading today) Halsey announces, “That means I’m coming here tonight with all the energy that I had originally planned for two nights, I’m bringing it for one”. It’s a promise she more than delivers on. In a careening gig fuelled by pyro and visceral visuals, attention is never drawn from a magnetic Halsey – an effortlessly ferocious ringleader.

The grittier, alt-rock sonic palette used on their 2021, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross assisted record ‘If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power’, feels right at home on the stages of Reading & Leeds. ‘Easier Than Lying’ (accompanied by images of eyeballs and gore that could make the most hard-stomached feel woozy) dominates, while a moody outing of ‘The Lighthouse’ – which sees Halsey don a bass guitar to let rip during the hulking outro – sounds and feels like electricity.

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Halsey performs on the main stage during Reading Festival day 3 on August 28, 2022 in Reading, England. (Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

“I’m so fucking grateful I get to tour this album here this year,” they tell the audience, before paying tribute to the wild nature of British fans. “That’s what makes it so fun, I get on stage, and I know that a show here is 50 per cent me and 50 per cent you… You guys are alive, you’re a part of it”. Going on to explain how life has changed for her in the past year having had a baby, the response is one that’s typically Reading & Leeds: “Are people screaming MILF?”

“Wow, I can’t wait for that BBC headline tomorrow,” they go on, before putting on their best newsreader voice: “‘Halsey graces Reading Stage to chants of MILF from the audience’”.

Among the boisterous banter and gnarly rock, there are softer moments. The gorgeous ‘Colors’ garners a full-scale sing-along, as does a pulsating cover of Kate Bush’s returning classic ‘Running Up That Hill’. These pauses add depth to the set, with moments intimacy and space to breathe amidst the megalithic production.

The best is saved for last, though: a closing one-two punch of ‘I am Not a Woman, I’m a God’ – complete with a confetti covered dive into the crowd – and a firework-accompanied rendition of mega-hit ‘Without Me’. It’s a powerhouse ending to a brash and ballsy headline gig.

After battling illness during their Leeds performance to smash it out of the park with a set that’s political, personal and poignant here at Reading, the artist sets herself apart. If you were looking for the biggest rockstar of the weekend, it might just be Halsey.

Halsey played: 

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‘Nightmare’
‘Castle’
‘Easier than Lying’
‘You Should Be Sad’
‘1121 / Die for Me’
‘The Lighthouse’
‘Colors’
‘Graveyard’
‘Bad at Love’
‘3am’
‘Honey’
‘Gasoline’
‘Experiment on Me’
‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’ (Kate Bush cover)
‘I am Not a Woman, I’m a God’
‘Without Me’

Check back at NME here for the latest news, reviews, photos, interviews and more from Reading & Leeds 2022.

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