Bouncing off the walls as if having downed a ClubMate too enthusiastically – Billie Eilish review

Billie Eilish

Hearing Billie Eilish’s sweet but edgy tunes on the radio back in Australia, I was drawn in immediately and once learning her age and unconventional upbringing, I became pretty intrigued to see her perform live.

Just by waiting half an hour in -5 degrees Berlin, I’m able to get a decent gauge of the kind of fandom the singer is generating. Hearing things like, ‘She’s only just turned 16, but she’s cooler than I’ll ever be’ and ‘We’re here to see her, I can’t believe we’re going to actually see her!’, I realize the type of influence the young Californian is having.

This is the second time she’s toured Berlin during the 4 months I’ve been here, with both shows selling out fast, so my expectations are reasonably high. Inside, the crowd of mostly 18-year-olds is super pumped for her arrival, cheering every time they think she might be about to come onstage.

As bellyache cranks up, two band members dressed in matching white painters’ overalls and green neckerchiefs run onstage to grab their instruments. Eilish flounces onstage in signature hip-hop streetwear — white oversized hoodie, ski pants, beanie, and a Gucci fanny pack which she hugs when singing about her bellyache. It’s an energetic opening.

She’s clearly a dancer as much as anything else, evidenced by hip-hop moves from one side of the stage to the other.

She’s clearly a dancer as much as anything else, evidenced by hip-hop moves from one side of the stage to the other. She sports the Cara Delevigne brand of cheeky, poking her tongue out, scrunching up her nose, her dark eyebrows contrasting with her silver hair. 

What I’m really interested in is hearing her melodious voice live, hoping that at this point the sound technicians are still getting the balance right. In the opening track her voice was either drowned out by her band or by the audience singing along, but sadly this continues as she scissor-jumps around the stage during idontwannabeyouanymore.

I have to admit she’s 100% a good performer but I’m not convinced her voice is as good as it sounds in recordings.

As she and her guitarist/keyboardist dive into a 90’s boy band style, choreographed dance routine (turned side on and kneeling on the ground while rolling shoulders back), I have to admit she’s 100% a good performer but I’m not convinced her voice is as good as it sounds in recordings. Her hyperactive stage presence betrays something of her age, bouncing off the walls as if having downed a ClubMate too enthusiastically.

I begin to suspect that maybe she’s singing along to a recording of herself? It seems just a bit off and artificial. She’s cute and she’s fun and she has attitude – all of these things clearly resonate with an audience. Her songs are really well written, and yet at this stage, I’m struck by an absence of depth.

It’s what pop stars do, except this performance isn’t at a 15,000 capacity venue, it’s the intimate Berlin Lido

She turns the microphone to the audience to finish her lines (and sometimes whole verses) a little too frequently, and for some reason, I’m reminded of seeing Kylie Minogue at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre as an 11-year-old. It’s what pop stars do, except this performance isn’t at a 15,000 capacity venue, it’s the intimate Berlin Lido, and her performance feels out of place. There’s a distinctively festival-feel to it, with falling balloons and confetti at the end of each track.

As far as the crowd is concerned though, she can do no wrong. They’re thrilled by each thing she does, even limply pouring a handful of red confetti onto the front row during between-track banter (‘OMG it’s fucking cold here’ is met with the joyous approval of her fans).

there’s something endearingly tomboy, playful and innocent about her

Nevertheless, there’s something endearingly tomboy, playful and innocent about her, despite her sensual lyrics and singing style, and this contrast is refreshing. It turns out she’s the kid sister of her guitarist/keyboardist, who next takes the stage to perform his own solo track.

Even though there’s something kind of odd about big bro promoting his own agenda in the middle of Billie’s tour, his music is pretty enjoyable in its own entirely different way. It reminds me of Maroon Five circa ‘Songs About Jane’ era, and he has a very Justin Timberlake style voice. It’s not out of place in the early 2000’s nostalgic aesthetic Billie Eilish perpetuates, so it works. Plus he’s a natural performer, with his own poppy dance moves and heartthrob manner.

Billie comes back onstage with a ukelele and begins an acoustic cover of Drake’s Hotline Bling

When this random segue ends, Billie comes back onstage with a ukelele and begins an acoustic cover of Drake’s Hotline Bling. Perhaps she’s managed to catch her breath while her brother Finias played because at this moment her voice is utterly gorgeous and undoubtedly coming from her mouth.

She massages the notes to the very high end of the spectrum, proving that she really does have an angelic set of pipes. She cleverly takes the phone line theme into her own ukulele-infused track party favor. This acoustic number exhibits a different side of her. Bathed in a spotlight, singing into the mic as she gazes out into the crowd while strumming, the artist is still for a moment, fending off that initial excitement and instead focusing on the craft of her music. 

Taking a seat on a chair brought out for her, Eilish confides in her audience that she’s in fact pretty sick tonight, and I can hear the congestion in her words now that she mentions it. Singing in that state can’t be easy, and I feel bad for suspecting her of lip-synching earlier (of course she needed a little backup!).

focused, heartfelt performance is really bloody impressive

Nevertheless, she treats her delighted audience to a brand new track, a delicate love song. Again, her focused, heartfelt performance while seated in her chair, is really bloody impressive. Her voice is distinctive in its breathy, airy way as she blends into soul-felt ocean eyes.

She’s undeniably the whole package — she’s high energy, she’s amiable stage chatter, she’s easygoing California Cool, she’s moulded herself into something of a fashion icon with a consistent signature style; she dances well, and she’s a very talented singer/songwriter.

What an exhaustive list! All of this actually appears to come straight from her though, rather than being the manufactured outcome of a marketing machine (*cough* Rebecca Black cough old school Miley Cyrus).

Eilish is infectious, and I believe she has a sustainable career as an artist ahead of her

Eilish is infectious, and I believe she has a sustainable career as an artist ahead of her. Starting so young can be risky (we’re all familiar with the many phases Britney has been through), but there’s autonomy about the home-schooled teenager that suggests she’s not being puppeteered by a manipulative manager.

She definitely had to warm into her performance, taking it from what seemed like a kid mimicking an adult, to her own, owned, natural performance, and progressing to a more relaxed engagement with her doting fans. The heartbreak and uncertainty of adolescence are woven throughout her pithy tracks and performed live she belts them out with authentic feeling.

Her lyrics are often cocky but her presence is equally vulnerable, rendering her tender and a bit ‘little sister next door’. Her commanding pop is made more interesting with its occasionally deviant tropes of tracks like &burn and bellyache. I’m excited to see where she takes her songwriting and performances, as the raw talent she exhibits is undoubtedly founded.

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