Live Review: Willie J Healey @ Bodega
The Mic headed down to Bodega to catch indie stalwart Willie J Healey - an experience which, while brilliant music-wise, was tarnished by the conduct of one member of the crowd, prompting Healey to address the issue of harassment at gigs.
Indie troubadour Willie J Healey took to the stage at The Bodega last week and delivered a perfectly formed set of guitar music that had just enough grit to thrill and just enough emotional heft to touch. However, I must apologise to Willie, as I'm afraid that, despite his marvellously accomplished set, he won't be the first focus of this review. This is because this reviewer's experience of the night was wholly tainted by the behaviour of a man in the audience towards the rest of the crowd, particularly two women. As a seasoned gig-goer, I've experienced many things in crowds over the years, but I am fully aware that by virtue of my gender, I've never had to endure the kind of harassment that many of my female friends have. I like to think that this behaviour is on the wane; organisations such as Safe Gigs For Women, Girls Against and fan groups such as the AF Gang are ensuring that the kind of conduct I witnessed on Wednesday is no longer tolerated. But I am all too aware that many feel that little has changed, and I'm sorry to say that this felt the same on Wednesday.
'As a seasoned gig-goer, I've experienced many things in crowds over the years, but I am fully aware that by virtue of my gender, I've never had to endure the kind of harassment that many of my female friends have.'
The person in question had made it his mission to attempt to create a mosh pit at the front of the crowd; in the right circumstances, this is perfectly fine and acceptable behaviour. However, what this actually amounted to was somebody frantically attempting to pull anyone else he could into the pit, while being met with awkward silence. Add to the fact that most of the crowd was significantly older than him, and it just become rather embarrassing. The whole episode turned repellent, however, when he attempted to dance with two girls stood near him, grabbing their obviously uninterested hands and insisting that they go with him. It seemed that almost no one was noticing what was going on onstage, as we were all distracted by his nauseating behaviour. That was, until Willie stopped the show halfway through fan favourite Subterraneans to check everyone was okay. He told the women in question that 'you don't have to dance with anyone if you don't want to', at which point the perpetrator made a show of attempting to leave. Willie reiterated his point: 'No man, don't leave. Just be more considerate'. This was followed by a round of applause, and visible relief on the part of the girls in question.
'I cannot commend Willie enough for what he did, using his platform and power as the artist to address such behaviour, and make the concert space safer for all.'
I am acutely aware of the sensitivity of this issue; I have never experienced this myself, and thus realise that in many ways I can’t relate. However, having seen it unfold and seeing how, at many gigs nowadays, it’s increasingly rare, it shocked me to see it in plain view. I cannot commend Willie enough for what he did, using his platform and power as the artist to address such behaviour, and make the concert space safer for all. But it did make me wonder why anyone feels the need to do such things, especially in such a safe-feeling environment as Willie J Healey? It completely ruined my night, let alone that of the girls in question, and it just reiterates to me how far we have yet to come. So, I plead with those who, like me, frequently attend gigs but don’t necessarily experience this behaviour ourselves: check your privilege. Look out for those more vulnerable than yourself, and make gigs a safer space for all.
Having said all of this, I don't want to give the perpetrator the satisfaction of derailing the entire review; as it was, I think Willie is one of the most exciting live prospects in the UK at the moment. His band are incredibly tight, with the songs taking on a more classic rock feel live, which played perfectly into his hands, lending the set an added energy. There were slower tracks too – the serene Guitar Music (with a saxophone solo no less!) and the final acoustic number, performed solo by Healey, proved incredibly touching. Willie himself is such an accessible lyricist, with many songs feeling slightly tongue-in-cheek, as if poking fun at the genre from a slightly off-kilter angle. I’ve seen him twice before, and the change was clearest to me was that his newest material is more incisive and cerebral than before. But perhaps I’m over-complicating things. At the end of the day, it was a bold, inventive set of mature song-writing that never lost sight of fun, provided by a songwriter unafraid to use his privilege to change the scene for good.
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