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*Billie Eilish Gig Review* - Manchester Academy, 27/02/19
2nd March 2019
It’s hard to imagine that the huge queue outside the tiny Manchester Academy is for a 17-year-old girl from Los Angeles. Snaking into the street next to the Learning Commons and trailing out yet again, I’m gobsmacked as I arrive approximately 2 hours before the doors even open. And yet, these numbers are just a tiny piece of the puzzle that is Billie Eilish’s astronomic rise to stardom. Having released her hit song Ocean Eyes as a mere 13-year-old, she released her EP don’t smile at me in 2017 – a jumble of songs cowritten by her and her brother, Finneas. Her songs had left me thoroughly impressed by her vocal control, introspective lyrics and aesthetics – and it all culminated one unassuming Wednesday night.
I’m greeted by a large spider on set, one of the central motifs of her video for you should see me in a crown. The simplistic staging ensures that audience members understand her personality and excellent aesthetic awareness. In fact, it’s interesting to see the disconnect between Billie the singer, Billie the dancer and Billie the normal teen girl. As the singer, she’s gentle, tender, yet powerful. She moves across the stage with her silky voice, harnessing every inch of the space that she can. As the dancer, even shin splits couldn’t contain her boundless energy as she jumped around on stage all night. She moves with passion, fire and intensity, as she usually does in her live performances. And as the person, Billie’s voice drops several octaves, assuming a laid-back, humorous tone, as she jokes around with the audience and urging them to ‘go fucking crazy!!!!’.
These disconnects also manifest themselves in her music, too. When you have someone with a wide emotional range like Billie, the songs are going to be disparately styled, too. This is often symptomatic of a younger artist searching for a musical identity, but the jarring personalities of the songs could have been ordered better in the set list. She starts with ‘my boy’, the sassy, dark song rife with wordplay and personality. The song is totally transformed live, with the bouncing beat bringing a new kind of energy to the venue. It’s much better jumping to it live than listening in your bedroom. But this is followed up with a duo of Eilish’s more sombre songs, idontwannabeyouanymore and lovely (her collaboration with Khalid). They’re beautiful songs – and she performs the hell out of them – but it’s hard to adjust the energy in the room when they’re both incredibly downtempo. The setlist (which you can find at setlist.fm) continues in this jagged manner, juxtaposing high-energy with the low-energy for no apparent reason – and that energy can be very hard to manage.
I also wasn’t a fan of the intermissions. Occasionally, Eilish will have a dance break – varyingly to the wii theme, BAPES (classic Soulja boy) and Hard Knock Life – but these breaks last 30 seconds tops before musically smash cutting into one of her own songs. It’s jarring, and it doesn’t allow the energy to diffuse properly, leaving many concertgoers confused as the energy is cut off. Still, these structural issues don’t negate the power of Eilish’s influence. The entire night, I could not hear her over the screams and singalongs of the crowd. For a person that’s released a nine-song EP, I was impressed with how every person in the room knew the words to every single song, without fail. Comparably, I would doubt that every person going to a Bruno Mars gig would remember the words to his nine-song LP, 24K Magic. And even songs before and after that release got some love – namely, Six Feet Under, and the breakout hit, when the party’s over. The latter song in particular was staged beautifully, with Eilish on a stool, singing into the microphone, urging everyone to put their phone lights up. It was a special moment, and it was telling of the potential star power that Billie Eilish could hold at arenas. This was also evident in one of her more upbeat songs, COPYCAT. The energy was unexplainable – every word was sung, every beat was danced to. She urged fans to lower down in the bridge and jump when the pre-chorus came back. Everyone was in the palm of her hand, and it’s a kind of power that reminds me of Green Day’s live performances (headed, of course, by the aptly named Billie Joe Armstrong).
Ultimately, whilst it was a shame that Eilish had shin splits, it was obvious to me that she could fill a room with her presence. If they improved on their setlist, I have no doubt that Eilish will continue to dominate venues around the globe with her quirky personality, good artistic sense and her incredible talents. It was a gig that was rough around the edges, but showed a real hint of a star.
- Image credits to Scott Trindle