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Heilung Absolutely Packed Chicago’s Riviera Theater Last Night (Live Review + Photos)

I’ll be blunt about this: last night’s Heilung show at Chicago’s Riviera Theater was a 50/50 mixture of epic and awful.

Let’s start with some of the good, though. This band puts on what can only be described as a must-see performance — everything from the band’s elaborate production to their mesmerizing on-stage synchrony feels extra top-notch, all around. From the moment Heilung’s trance-inducing music starts (following a circle-huddle the band likes to do before kicking off), their ability to retain attention and maintain pantomime is ceaseless. It’s essentially the flawless execution you’d expect from a name with so much drama riding on it; importantly, too, the band never felt worn or jaded or like this was “just another show.” They offered in spades one of the most important elements to a concert: making it feel special. And indeed this string of North American dates is special as the band’s first ever foray into our stateside show market.

About that.

Heilung has a lot of fans. That’s 100% not bad, of course; in fact, it’s brilliant, because Heilung is likewise brilliant, and they dutifully earn the dedication and praise of their fanbase (which includes many of us here at IO). What sucked about last night was that Riviera Theater, already known for being a tough venue to get a good view at, was absolutely fucking packed to the brim. Who knows if the show was oversold, we can only speculate on that, but it sure as hell felt like it, and a lot of well-intentioned fans got shafted because of just how full it was. It was impossible to ignore numerous conversations throughout the evening about the lousy views and impossibly dense crowd. From the back toward the middle, too, it was truly impossible to see anything at all. Without the proper physical space for all these bodies, a fair amount of folks were inevitably relegated toward the very back, and none of them seemed pleased about it — being a human sardine closer to the stage, though, might not have been much better.

This isn’t the band’s fault, not at all. It’s a combination of too many unfortunate external factors which, by themselves, might not have been much of an issue. Clearly the staff at Riviera Theater were kicking ass, wrangling metric tons of showgoers, some of whom were a little drunk and of course wearing antlers. But physics and sociology set limits when it comes to the number of humans in a given amount of square feet, and it’s a bummer to see fans have their expectations dampened by the environs, especially for what’s such a monumental performance. (As for us, personally, Jon and I were in attendance. I had the luxury of the photo pit for the first part of the set; after that, though, there was nowhere to go besides the very back where Jon had to camp out, unable to see much at all.)

All told, though, Heilung rules. It’s body-moving performance art, essentially, and barring any venue-specific issues, seeing the show is well worth the money.

The tour continues tomorrow night in Washington D.C., then on to NYC for a Friday night set, wrapping up in Montreal on Sunday. Heilung will also be touring Europe later this year. You can get a sense of their live performance from this excellent footage of a 2017 set at Castlefest, plus the photo gallery above from last night.

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