Billie Eilish performed at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, 22nd September. Cyclone Wehner reviews.
Billie Eilish has journeyed far since her inaugural Melbourne show at The Toff back in 2017. But even today as a pop superstar headlining arenas, she is all about intimacy and individuality.
Eilish was last in town in 2019 to play Margaret Court Arena in tandem with a Groovin The Moo run. She had just released her debut, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, which would go on to score several Grammies, most notably Album of The Year.
Eilish’s Happier Than Ever tour arrives in Melbourne
In 2021, Eilish released her anticipated second album, Happier Than Ever. During the pandemic, she hosted a ticketed global livestream concert, but her magic happens in-person. In Melbourne, the 20-year-old inspires camaraderie and catharsis in a predominantly Gen Z, predominantly female audience who sing-along to songs new and old.
Surprisingly, Eilish hasn’t emulated other pop royalty, such as Beyoncé, by developing an elaborate live spectacular with full band, back-up vocalists, dancers and myriad costume changes. Instead the singer, who’s abandoned her peroxide blonde locks for signature goth black, sports an oversized t-shirt and matching bike pants and is joined by her multi-instrumentalist older brother Finneas “FINNEAS” O’Connell and drummer Andrew Marshall.
But, while austere, the show’s production is still dramatic, entailing twin stages (one with a constantly shifting ramp), runway extension, crane and several video screens, including those covering the stage floor. Eilish’s movements aren’t choreographed but she is authentically aerobic and between songs she is chatty, like a fantasy BFF.
Eilish favours hushed vocals reminiscent of the jazz great Peggy Lee, who branded her own mode of singing as “softly, with feeling.” Yet, with a decent audio engineer, Eilish’s voice resounds. She launches the concert with the angsty ‘bury a friend’ off her debut, the arena blazing with UFO-white light. Another early highlight is the trap banger ‘you should see me in a crown’. But much of the setlist comes from Happier Than Ever, which, as an album, is inherently subliminal. Indeed, if the concert has its lulls, it’s due to the moodiness of the material.
The Happier Than Ever songs that resonate are the deep cuts. Eilish revels in her sensual side with ‘Billie Bossa Nova’, followed by a gorgeous rendition of ‘GOLDWING’ – unfurling as a cathedral-esque choral number. She transforms Rod Laver Arena into a Berlin club with the techno ‘Oxytocin’, the stadium bathed in a red glow.
Midway, a seated Eilish performs a suite of acoustic guitar-pop alongside FINNEAS, delicately juxtaposing the sublimely poignant ballad ‘i love you’ with the latently political ‘Your Power’ before leading into ‘TV’ from her recent Guitar Songs EP.
Eilish then disappears only the reappear at the back of the venue, enthralling fans waving their phones by performing ‘OverHeated’ from a moving crane. Mindful of her day ones, Eilish also pulls out old viral classics such as ‘bellyache’ and 2015’s piano-based hit ‘Ocean Eyes’, originally released when the artist was not yet 14.
Returning to the main stage while screening childhood family videos, Eilish initially loses momentum, almost lapsing into predictability. However, after an apparently off-the-cuff monologue about self-care, she closes with the wondrous ‘when the party’s over’, eventually gliding into 2019’s loosie ‘everything i wanted’ (after some climate action and humanitarian messaging) and the upbeat ‘bad guy’ – the unofficial soundtrack to YA fantasy romance novels.
Eilish doesn’t offer an encore, rather climaxing with the epic rock of the Happier Than Ever title-track amid a fairy-pink ticker tape shower. The one disappointment of the evening is that Eilish excludes the Happier Than Ever stunner ‘my future’, not to mention the Oscar-winning Bond theme ‘No Time To Die’.
Billie Eilish has accomplished something unique. The megastar’s performances pivot on her persona and presence, with zero pretence. Like contemporary cloud rappers, she manages to instil her emo songs with a peculiar energy – the communal experience of the live show allowing her to universalise inner-feelings. After all, the best magic is real.