I’ve seen HEALTH on several occasions over the years, and even though their stage production is likely restrained by austere limitations when compared to the band playing in a high-end venue in a capital city, or one of their shows in the States, they’ve always been able to blow it out of the water – no matter where they are playing. Indeed, The White Hotel in Salford is probably the most austere venue I’ve seen them playing in; a venue that literally looks like it was converted from a car garage into a music venue. A solid bare-brick-walled room with a towering PA system and a little stage in the corner. The room was pitch black, bar the slender beams of blue and red stage lighting breaking through the dense darkness and waves of stage smoke, while Max Payne 3’s most poignant track “Pain” played in the background before the band came onto the stage.
One thing that should be mentioned is that HEALTH approach their shows slightly differently to the myriad of other bands I’ve seen over the years. For these guys it’s clear, first and foremost, the music is paramount. That’s not to disparage other artists who perform live, but there’s a brazen and abrupt way to how HEALTH perform live. There’s no banter – bar the quick sentence Jake gets in halfway through the set, thanking everyone who came out to see them play – and most welcoming of all, they never do encores and haven’t done one in any show I’ve seen them play in. This aspect in particular I’ve always respected, feeling that encores are a bit of a disingenuous and formulaic part of the live experience, by today’s standards, because, let’s be honest, the last three songs from any band’s set were always going to be performed, but there’s an obligation to do it in a way where the band has to go off stage just to come back on again, and it always feels incredibly farcical. For HEALTH they don’t fuck about, they give fans a blistering sixty-minute set and promptly walk off the stage before you’re even given a chance to process it, and it feels great every time you experience it.
For this gig, the band crammed 19 songs into their setlist, performing a string of songs that displays the gamut of their career perfectly. From “Zoothorns” and “Perfect Skin” off of their debut, “Die Slow” and “We Are Water” from Get Color, right up to fan favourites “New Coke”, “God Botherer”, “Cyberpunk 184.108.40.206”, and “Body Prison” from Death Magic, Vol.4 :: Slaves of Fear, and their most recent work Disco4. No stone goes left unturned here, as the band fire out fan favourites in quick succession, including “Tears” from Max Payne 3, and they don’t miss a trick with the execution. In particular, the sound was absolutely crushing. I shifted to three different areas of the room to get a feel for the music. All three areas translated that rich, devastating production from their records impeccably, but one area in particular rattled my ribcage so hard it felt like a jackhammer being pressed against my chest. Make no mistake; the solar-system-destroying production from their records is captured perfectly in the live setting, but, antagonising frequencies and brown notes aside, Beej’s powerhouse playing was as intricate and brimming with life as ever, and Jake’s vocals permeated the sonic warfare to the high standard I’ve come to expect from him.
If you’re a fan of HEALTH’s records but haven’t seen them in a live setting, I implore you to go to one of their upcoming shows and experience the chaos that will be bestowed on you. Watching John sashay around the stage whipping his hair around for an hour is worth the asking price, but as an added bonus you’ll get a no frills show, filled with nothing but fan favourite tracks ready to blow your head off.