Billie Eilish slays Portland
Billie Eilish lit up Portland's Moda Center Friday night on the second date of her US tour. "This is the biggest venue I've ever played in my life," she said, after stopping to admire the constellations of phone flashlights dancing from the 300-level nosebleeds to the general admission crush, from which a stream of fainting girls were retrieved. "That's beautiful," she said of the lights.
The seventeen-year-old singer from Los Angeles, who writes and performs with her brother Finneas (with drummer Andrew Marshall in a perspex cube) totally owned the arena. She may shriek and rock out at times, making 20,000 people bounce, but she showed she could hold the stadium in quiet mode too. Eilish sat down for Listen Before I Go (one of many songs that could be about ending it all) and her voice, so breathy and melodic, filled the arena and quieted the crowd.
After the support act, Denzel Curry (whom she chose because she was transfixed by him at a festival three years ago), Eilish bounded out on stage to the piercing screams of thousands of tweens and their big sisters, singing her kickass hit Bad Guy.
She is loved; they knew every word.
Eilish wore what looked like a thick XXXL t-shirt down past her knees, spray painted with an orange anarchy symbol on white. With her long shorts, ankle socks and Nike high tops she moved continuously about the stage, sometimes skanking, sometimes jolted by electricity, sometimes just moving like the modern dancer she always wanted to be.
The sloping, shiny stage was flanked by three video screens that immersed the artists and bathed them in colored light. Hairy spiders' legs suddenly appeared, followed by fan screams, not of fear but of joy. The fans knew this was the imagery of You Should See Me In a Crown. (In the video she let tarantulas crawl on her neck and face.)
She hammed up the lyric "I like the way they all scream", offering the mic to each section of the crowd. It was a nice twist, converting the fans idolizing screams into horror movie theatrics.
Eilish gets tagged as emo because she amplifies her feelings, not always pleasant ones, and sings about desire without eroticism. Like her baggy outfits, which are designed to give us all a break from assessing her body, her songs reap the whirlwind of teen girl angst and turn it into cinematic drama.
Eilish has told the media that she and her bother have synesthesia – they hear colors, smell sounds, etcetera – and a night with her on stage showcases this talent or peculiarity. (If she would burn a scented few candles, or hanks of hair, we'd have the full sensual experience.) She keeps a dream diary and sketches what she cannot describe, which feeds into her directing her own videos, artwork, even her merchandising. (The merch lines were very, very long. $75 fluorescent green hoodies dotted the crowd at all levels.)
"If you really hate yourself, this song's for you," she said, introducing idontwannabeyouanymore. A slow waltz for wrist slitters, it sounded as clear and seductive in the arena as it does on earbuds. She had the fans singing along, climbing the melodies and stabbing at the rhymes. Dark moods were never so comforting.
Ditto Xanny, which takes on the the pain-muffling prescription drug of choice of harried teens and goes after it with a straight-edge razor.
The Oughts shall rise again
These vegetarian siblings were home-schooled by loving actors. Their mom and dad thought the band Hanson, who were homeschooled in Oklahoma, were a good example of cultivated creativity, so they gave it a go. From the tense tone of the horror imagery, clearly Kubrick was on the fourth grade curriculum.
For Ocean Eyes, which Eilish wrote at 14, she asked the audience of fellow digital natives (those who have always had a cell phone) not to put them away, but to lower them from their face, and "be in the moment." She had the clout to make that happen.
To make things interesting she and her brother performed a song on a bed as it rose above the stage. (Composing in a small L.A. house, they write a lot on a bed at night.) It was another breathy beauty, simply called I Love You, and could have been The Carpenters at their peak, before their troubles got the better of them. Eilish is easy to compare to others – she has PJ Harvey's fierceness, Prince's perversity and Stephin Merritt's emotional intelligence – but live on stage, she is all herself.
The video for When the Party's Over, in which she drinks a glass of black liquid then cries black tears in a pristine white world, played huge behind her as she sat on a stool and sang.
For the jaunty horror song Bury a Friend, she went up to the rafters in the bed, alone, as it pitched and yawed. She was tethered from behind by black cables, but at one point leaned forward and dropped her head to one side, like the hanged corpse logo shat shows up on her merch. "I want to end it," she sang.
And end it she did. Eilish has not mastered the art of the encore. She just left the stage and left the girls screaming every time a roadie picked up a plectrum or a water bottle. The harsh house lights came on and cleared the room like a cockroach party. But the excited chatter, and some crying, carried on all the way off the Rose Garden concourse and out into the Lloyd District and the across the Broadway Bridge. Billie Eilish is on her way.
Reporter, The Portland Tribune
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