When Willie J Healey broke on to the scene in 2015, industry insiders and music nerds alike found his mellow, multifaceted tunes hard to categorise. The artist seems to instinctively blend elements of dream pop, garage-rock and 70’s Americana to create a heady soundscape. Paired with intelligible and catchy lyrics – which range from gushing over lovers to more sorrowful ponderings on loneliness – Healey has created an authentic and tempting collection, inducing a palpable and buzzing pre-show atmosphere.
For the final date of his UK tour, Healy takes to the stage following BE GOOD, who lament that they are incredibly sad for the tour to be over. Healy’s rugged tone on ‘People and Their Dogs’ sets the scene. The weighty guitar solo fills a sold out Omeara and eases the crowd into the riff-heavy proceedings. In perfect juxtaposition, there is no pause as Healy swiftly moves through the hooky ‘My Room’ into the soothing ‘Somewhere in Between’; perfectly demonstrating the full spectrum of his musical expression. The accompanying saxophone solo yields a collecting whooping from the London crowd, a subtle nod to the city’s ever-growing neo-jazz scene.
The mood on stage appears to be a celebratory one, as an eleven date tour and extensive summer of festival slots come to an end.
If someone had formerly suggested that strobes should be incorporated with any of the items on 2017 album People and Their Dogs, I couldn’t have selected a pairing. But as Healey lets lose during ‘Love Her’, removing his guitar to play it upright, the strobes perfectly match the fringes of rock influence that the album exhibits.
That’s the gift of Healey, the ability to switch up the climate in the room, song after song, keeping the crowd enthralled throughout. Who doesn’t love to gently bop to a mellow groove and headbang all in one night?
Healey has little chit-chat throughout the set but urges fans to dance during recent single ‘Songs for Joanna’, and sing along during ‘Lazy Shade of Pink’ to which the crowd happy oblige. Everyone is now sufficiently warmed up to progress into the ‘hits’ section of the evening. Its clear that Healey will not be drawn into the theatrics of an encore, a cornerstone of most gigs these days; more affirmation of the notion that Healy is operating on his own terms.
As the slow build-up of drawling guitar riff and drums flawlessly initiate ‘Subterraneans’, a favourite of Radio 6 and Annie Mac alike, it’s almost as if Healey is reading the room. With ‘Plain Jane dreams of cooler things, high waisters and hoop earrings’, Healey could easily be describing any of the arty, female fans in the crowd. This performance teases hints that Healey has become one of the most exciting acts in the new wave of indie. His apparent feelings of outsider-ness resonates with his fans (who linger after the show in chance of a meeting) in a raw and authentic way.
Closing with a stripped back, solo vision of ‘We Should Hang’ is a bold but well-received move, the room goes deadly silent. It allows an insight into where it all began for Healey. You can picture him writing and making music in his room, influenced only by however he’s feeling on the day and occasionally Neil Young – who he often quotes as his biggest inspiration. With such a setlist so diverse in lyrical depth and musical width, you wonder what delights are yet to be created once Healey finally gets some down time.