Review: Halsey makes Little Caesars Arena her ‘Kingdom’

Poised and confident, the 23-year-old singer put on a stunning show at the new arena on Tuesday

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Detroit’s Masonic Temple is only about a quarter-mile from Little Caesars Arena, but in terms of live performance spaces, the two venues are several worlds apart.

Halsey performs on her "Hopeless Fountain Kingdom" tour.

When Halsey performed a sold-out show at the Masonic Temple in summer 2016, Little Caesars Arena was still just a hole in the ground. So few would have expected that in 16 months, the New Jersey singer would be headlining a concert at the new arena, but Halsey showed she was more than ready for the big time during a nearly two-hour stunner of a show on Tuesday night.

Halsey is touring behind this year’s “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom,” her second album, a high concept breakup set that opens with the prologue from “Romeo and Juliet,” in case there was doubt about the size of her ambition. It begs for a big screen canvas, and Little Caesars Arena gave her the opportunity to flex her muscles. But the 23-year-old had the good sense to keep the production reigned in and not let it overwhelm her.

Her stage was tiered like a staircase and she was backed by two video screens, which both combined to form one image and ran opposing images that complimented one another. For a good portion of the show, Halsey (real name: Ashley Frangipane) was on stage by herself, her three-piece band tucked away in the outside wings of the stage. She periodically was joined by a female dancer, and they performed mirrored choreography like they were acting out two sides of Halsey’s personality. There were confetti and pyro gags, but the biggest special effect of the night was Halsey herself, who commanded the stage with her big voice and a sense of stage control well beyond her years.

“Welcome!” she told the crowd several songs into the set, usually the spot where a performer rattles off a few generic greetings and gets back to the business at hand. Instead, Halsey spoke at length about her first headlining show in Detroit, at Saint Andrew’s Hall in 2015, back when she had blue hair and was still five months away from releasing her debut album. She then spoke about how a few months later she was opening for Imagine Dragons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, wearing an outfit she had picked up at TJ Maxx.

As she talked to the crowd, she was confident, poised and not the least bit rushed. She was completely in her element, completely comfortable and totally in the moment. “All I really wanted was for people to like me,” she said, prompting a roar from the crowd of around 9,000. If she wasn’t there before, she’s for sure there now.

Halsey performs on her "Hopeless Fountain Kingdom" tour.

There were several other moments in the show when she took a break to speak to the crowd — once to address her mixed feelings over her mega hit “Closer,” her collaboration with the Chainsmokers, and another to talk about the end of her tour, which wraps Wednesday in Cleveland — and it was always as if she was chatting to a group of friends. She was loose and unscripted in a refreshing way that let you know she was feeling her words as she was saying them.

Her moody 20-song set told stories of bad breakups and wronged lovers, not far from the playbook of the Weeknd. (The Weeknd co-wrote her single “Eyes Closed,” which opened the show.) She often sang while crouched low to the ground in a modified rap squat, giving off fierce attitude even in down moments.

For a pair of songs midway through the set, “Lie” and “Don’t Play,” Halsey and her dancer ran to a stage in the back of the arena where they sloshed around in a shallow pool, kicking water out into the crowd, a smaller scale version of a move from Beyonce’s “Lemonade” tour. When she ran out into the audience during “Is There Somewhere,” she was quickly swarmed by fans looking for a hug. Her bond with her audience is thick.

And that audience seems like it will be around for awhile. Nothing about Halsey’s style or presentation said “flash in the pan”; she came off like an artist who knows what she wants and is calling her own shots. She’s in charge of her own kingdom, and it’s far from hopeless. If anything, it’s full of promise.

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