The stage is Billie Eilish’s natural habitat: Every note she hits and look she gives displays a conviction which confirms she is exactly where she needs to be.
The tiny stage at the upstairs section of World Café Live in Philadelphia was the setting for a hurricane on October 20th. That hurricane is called Billie Eilish. Supporting her remarkable debut EP dont smile at me, Eilish embarked on her first, and sold out, North American tour at the start of the month. Philadelphia was one of the last stops of the tour before a leg of shows in Europe.
Two hours before Eilish started the show, the crowd was already fill ed with eager fans (and the occasional parent chaperone) who were bunched up as close as possible to the stage, counting down the seconds to see the singer. Their eyes shined in ecstatic anticipation. There was a palpable energy and buzz in the room, a replica of the buzz and excitement Eilish herself is creating in the industry right now – the word prodigy is a staple in conversations about her and her music.
Brooklyn-based and Nigeria-born opener Thutmose infected the crowd with that final bit of energy that was needed. Eilish’s fans seem to have taken the rapper in with open arms, singing along to his words and moving to the beats of his songs very naturally. Thutmose interacted with the crowd beautifully, and the look in his eyes was half disbelief and half gratefulness. Highlights of his set were “Blame” and “Still I Rise”, the latter which is bound to be played at the best parties and clubs for months to come.
Opening the show with the sassy and energetic “COPYCAT”, which also opens the EP, Eilish took the stage with brother Finneas O’Connell and from that moment onwards it was impossible to get your eyes off her. Eilish is a magnet and a force, the artist inside her demands we pay attention to her, and we happily oblige. Every single word that was uttered out of her mouth, repeated by the whole room.
Next, Eilish slowed the pace with “idon’twanttobeyouanymore”, “watch”, and “Six Feet Under”, songs which served to showcase her jaw-dropping vocal abilities and capacity to convey raw emotion through song. With her ukulele, Eilish then covered Drake’s hit single “Hotline Bling” – a homage to the artist who she admires and also a perfect segue into her own ukulele-driven song, “party favor”, which starts with the ring of a phone. Between both songs, Eilish teased, holding her hand like a phone by her ear and smiling – one almost believed the person who she addresses in the song was in that room.
“We have a surprise for you” Eilish said, as brother Finneas stepped out from behind the keyboard and took center stage. “This is my brother Finneas, and he’s going to play a song for you”. O’Connell, Eilish’s main collaborator and co-producer, then had the spotlight shine on him as he played an acoustic rendition of newest single “I’m in Love Without You”. At this moment, Eilish sat onstage, cross-legged, head resting on her hand, as she stared up at her brother. The slight smile on her face and the admiration in her eyes evidence of the special fraternal bond between the two of them and the one time during the set where she looked like a conventional 15-year-old girl.
But Eilish is not conventional, at least not when she’s performing. Eilish is her funny, honest self when she’s singing, dancing, and in between songs when she addresses a screaming and passionate audience. The attitude and certainty in all of her moves and perfectly pitched words aren’t an act, they’re a translation of who she is.
The girl who sings “it’s not you, it’s me and all that other bullshit” in “party favor” also candidly tells her fans that it’s “crazy”, in a good way, how they record everything she puts on social media and how that makes it easy for her to look back at things she didn’t save since all she has to do is look it up on YouTube. This same girl is stunned when the audience asks her to play an unreleased song called “I Wish You Were Gay”, replying “how do you know that?”, and seems unfazed when she sings mere inches from a fan’s face and is met with screams and “I love you so much!!!!”. Billie Eilish the artist and Billie Eilish the girl are inherent to one another.
Eilish treats the crowd to an unreleased song called “Listen” which she plays on the keyboard. Unsurprisingly, the audience already knows every word. “my boy” comes as another musical translation of Eilish’s fierce attitude and incredible dancing skills, while debut single “Ocean Eyes” closes the set with yet another stunning showcase of Eilish’s vocal abilities. Eilish and O’Connell rush off stage, but in mere minutes they return for the encore.
In an unexpected turn of events, Eilish abides to the one fan’s earlier request and, for the first time, her and O’Connell perform “I Wish You Were Gay” to the audience’s delight. A song about heartbreak and unrequited love is not supposed to be this charismatic, but Eilish works wonders with her words and melodies. “Bellyache”, the night’s final song, is both a display of Eilish’s capacities as an artist and performer and a promise that this is only the very beginning of a successful career for this out worldly talented girl. She moves like she owns the stage, brother Finneas joining her momentarily for a coordinated dance, and by this time the whole audience is moving and shaking along with her, ecstatically taking in the whole performance but somewhat nostalgic already with the knowledge that this is her last song. Once the set is done and the stage is bare, the crowd is left momentarily stunned by the show they just witnessed and seem eager and willing to live through the experience all over again.
The stage is Billie Eilish’s natural habitat. There is no other explanation as to why the 15-year-old from Los Angeles performs in front of sold out crowds all around North America with such ease. Every step she takes, every note she hits, and every look she gives displays a conviction which confirms that she is exactly where she needs to be – it would be a crime to deprive Eilish from the stage and the fans from her.
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cover © Nicole ALmeida