At first glance, Mahall’s in Lakewood does not look like a concert venue. A Frankensteinian combination of bar, bowling alley, vintage shop, and performance space, there’s a lot to take in once you step in the front door. The concert venue itself is in a side room set apart from the lively bar and boisterous bowling alley, full of ultraviolet light and a black and white zig-zag pattern crawling over the floor and walls.
Haley Heynderickx, who performed an intimate acoustic set at the tucked-away venue on April 15th, didn’t seem to mind the various attractions around her. “If you get bored, you can always go bowling,” Heynderickx said to the audience of 90, who booed her suggestion. One shouted out, “Will you go bowling with me?”
“The truth,” Heyndericx responded, “is that I don’t like bowling.”
Heynderickx is often described as “otherworldly,” and “angelic.” Her quiet speaking voice evokes a magical lamb who learned how to speak English. Her music often mirrors the softness of her voice, combining indie and folk music. In past interviews, Heynderickx has talked about being pretty shy when it comes to her personal life and when asked to describe her music, she has even referred to a “sweaty imposter syndrome.”
But Heynderickx isn’t just gentle and sweet: she’s also comfortable cracking jokes with an audience. Before the crowd was treated to an hour-long set of Heynderickx’s material, Matt Dorrien, a pianist and singer-songwriter, played a pleasant set that showcased his smooth voice and skills on the piano. However, his original material was indistinguishable from the two Randy Newman covers he performed. Dorrien didn’t really seem to hold the audience in very high regard, asking people not to chatter while he was playing. “If you don’t like it, you can f*ck off. No. Just kidding,” he said.
Heynderickx, too, opened her set with a request. “I’ve learned over the years that I really don’t like it when people in the very front of the crowd film me. I feel like a deer in the headlights. Let’s just enjoy the experience together.”
After playing some classics in her repertoire, like “Bug Collector,” “Worth It,” and “Oom Sha La La,” she switched to some newer songs. Her first recent “song” was the “Improv Song,” where she took suggestions from the audience for words to sing about. Some highlights were “wading,” “armadillo,” “lugubrious,” and “jeans.” She sang a nonsensical tune about no longer feeling “lugubrious” and instead feeling like a “waddled-up armadillo,” making the audience chuckle. “Songwriting is about being willing to make a fool of yourself,” Heynderickx said.
Her new material certainly seems to follow that principle, focusing more on the silly aspects of everyday life rather than big themes such as God and unrequited love. Her musical style has evolved too, from complex acoustic instrumentals to a more straightforward and narrative style. “Touring Song” talks about a bandmate falling asleep on her leg. “Pandemic song” is an ode to appreciating your bedroom during lockdown.“Moss Hands” was written in the early stages of the pandemic, where we stayed a strict six feet apart and didn’t dare hug each other. “Park song” wonders what a man on a park bench is thinking about.
Her silliest moment of the night was the “Mac’n’Cheese song” where she sang about getting high in Whole Foods, making the choice to hastily shoplift a boxed Mac’n’Cheese, only to discover that in the heat of the moment, she had grabbed the gluten-free kind.
While many of her newer songs featured this straightforward and bare style, others felt more intricate, such as “Redwoods” and “Swoop.” Her fingerpicking blended seamlessly with bassist Abbey Blackwell, a skilled musician who never took her eyes off Heynderickx’s fingerboard. Both of these also seemed more vintage Heynderickx: their topics concerned nature and family, standby-themes from her 2018 album, I Need to Start a Garden.
Heynderickx was content blending her old and new style, but was certainly more focused on playing her new music rather than celebrating her old. In total, she played five old songs and seven new ones, even choosing to end the concert with two recent songs, an unusual move. Perhaps Heynderickx felt an urgency to highlight her new material. ”My new album will come out in 2038,” she said jokingly.