×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Concert Review: Billie Eilish Is a Bad-Ass Kid and Wisened Chanteuse, Too, in L.A. Kickoff

Billie Eilish is probably going to break Taylor Swift’s record for being the youngest person to win an album of the year Grammy — if there’s any justice, and if there isn’t any reverse ageism striking fear into Recording Academy members’ hearts about the repercussions of letting someone who’ll be 18 by then win for an album she released at 17 and recorded at 16. Maybe, if you’re disinclined toward such early rewards, you imagine that Eilish is somehow a product of the studio, or of the guiding effects of older brother Finneas O’Connell, who co-writes and produces the material. These are the stories we tell ourselves when we lay awake wondering why we haven’t accomplished anything as magical or wonderful as “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” at 25 or 45 or (if we’re both lucky and unlucky) 90.

But tours are telling, and it’s something again to see preternaturalism made flesh. On the opening evening of a three-night stand in L.A. June 9 — at the first of two long-booked gigs at the Shrine Expo Hall. to be followed by an add-on date at the Greek, all immediate sellouts — she enjoyed critical support from her sibling co-auteur, with O’Connell tripling on bass, guitar and synths. (A drummer rounded out the triangular lineup on the sparest, shiniest tilted stage you’ve ever seen, after the audience was treated to hilarious amounts of Windex spit-polish applied by roadies between acts.) But it was Eilish being a boss… except for the moments between songs when she spoke and the acolyte showed through. In song, at least, her vocal inflections and physical mannerisms seemed honed and matured from years playing these same rooms. So you had to laugh when she expressed awe at playing the Expo Hall — a room that, to be honest, has probably not impressed that many of the people who’ve headlined there — because it was where she saw her first very first concert, a whole four years ago. There’s still plenty of that brat in her, as she literally kicked her green sneaker heels up against her green cargo shorts — even as there were also moments when she let her green pigtails down and you might have imagined her glammed up, in more neutral colors. on a Shrine red carpet a few decades from now. Right now, anyway, she’s at a pretty great nexus: a snot-nose old soul.

Billie Eilish in concert, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Jul 2019
CREDIT: Christopher Polk @POLKIMAGING/Shutterstock

“This shit is crazy, bro!” she said, using the B-word literally. “Me and him literally came here when I was 13, and I had never gone to a concert before, and we went to see the Neighbourhood here, actually. We were standing right there,” she said, pointing to a spot near the merch booth. “And I was tiny as hell, so he had his arms over me like this, blocking anyone from like a foot away from me.” With Finneas holding an acoustic guitar beside her and occasionally leaning his head on her shoulder, she was about to sing one of the recent album’s loveliest ballads, the baldly titled “I Love You. “We wrote it just like this on my bed at 2 in the morning, so we wanted to perform it for you guys the exact way we wrote it.”

Eilish was, in fact, delivering this monologue from atop a blanket and sheets, since the tour’s sole prop is a hydraulically substantial bed, lowered from the rafters for a few special occasions over the course of the set’s 70 minutes. She does mean to get you into it, and not in a sexual way —teen lust is kind of a recessive trait in her material so far, so there’ll be no gyrating —  but via the alternately terrifying and comforting connotations that bedtime can bring, especially, but hardly exclusively, to a child. There’s a fine line between teen angst and night terrors in some of her music. She’s big on bad dreams, which you already know if you’ve seen more than one or two of her music videos, and the big screens behind the trio on stage invoked a lot of that imagery, from spooky, white-eyed cartoon silhouettes in forests to an all-consuming shark. But the bed wasn’t just the site of some freak-out choreography from a 10-member dance troupe, but, as that bedside talk with her brother would indicate, a sweetness and coziness that just about negated the image she built up with all those creepy videos and photos where she showed off her resting-badass face.

In moments, Eilish’s music had an exhilarating EDM-rock quality; “Copycat” and “You Should See Me in a Crown” would almost beg for metal covers if her versions weren’t close enough. The only thing keeping a lot of the songs from being actual rock ‘n’ roll, really, is O’Connell favoring thick bass lines over a guitar he employs to much rarer effect. But the set gradually crept toward more conventional moments — and gorgeous ones, when it came to the piano-driven suicide lament “Listen Before I Go” or some bona fide romantic R&B in the form of “Bitches Broken Hearts” and the purely lovelorn “Ocean Eyes” (these last two leftovers from an earlier EP where Eilish was still forming her identity). The penultimate number, and the most beautiful in her repertoire, “When the Party’s Over,” was delivered from a stool with all the care and inflection of someone who’d spent a lot more decades ghosting parties and relationships. In these and other ballads, you hear a jazz singer waiting to be born from the punk kid. But thankfully, the punk kid is still with us, and it was her rounding out the show, using that bed as a bounding board for “Bury a Friend,” one of the most fun songs ever written about the terrors of real-life sleep paralysis.

The crowd chanted along as she closed out the show with the questioning final line that forms the album title. It was a fitting sendoff to a sweet dream where even old coots can consider the idea that gifted post-millennials might yet save pop as we know it.

Popular on Variety

Concert Review: Billie Eilish Is a Bad-Ass Kid and Wisened Chanteuse, Too, in L.A. Kickoff

More Music

  • 'David Foster: Off the Record' Review:

    Toronto Film Review: 'David Foster: Off the Record'

    By the early 1970s, as the counterculture was dissolving and reconfiguring, there were new pop-star archetypes on the horizon that we still tend to think of — the glam rocker, the sensitive singer-songwriter, the hair-band metal strutter, the prog-rock wizard, the belting pop chanteuse, the punk rocker. But there was another figure of the era [...]

  • does self-described "family brands" business Hasbro

    With Hasbro Acquisition, Is eOne Planning to Offload Family-Unfriendly Properties?

    Hasbro’s $4 billion acquisition of eOne in August instantly put the Canadian toy giant in the league of major entertainment and content companies thanks to eOne’s arsenal of IP assets in music, television and film. But does the self-described “family brands” business that’s home to The Game of Life and My Little Pony align with [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Snoop Dogg Weed

    In the Cannabis Business, Not All Star Strains Are Created Equal

    With the cannabis green rush in full swing, many celebrities are jumping into the fray with their own brands, including such well-known stoners as Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg and Tommy Chong. But as it turns out, not all star strains are created equal, so we assembled a trio of crack experts to put the product [...]

  • The Cars - Ric OcasekThe Cars

    Ric Ocasek's Death Brings Turbo Boost to the Cars' Sales, Streams and Airplay

    For fans of the Cars, relistening to the band’s music was just what they needed in the hours and days following news of band leader Ric Ocasek’s death. The Cars was the artist with the second-highest overall album sales in the two days following Ocasek’s death, according to BuzzAngle Music, with the Sept. 15-16 long-dormant [...]

  • Richard Branson Jason Felts

    Kaaboo Festival Acquired by Virgin Fest Owner Jason Felts

    Kaaboo, which says it has “shifted the music festival paradigm by offering a highly amenitized festival experience for adults,” is now under new ownership. Virgin Fest founder and CEO Jason Felts (pictured above with Virgin founder Richard Branson) has fully acquired all of the festival brand assets through an affiliate of Virgin Fest, the music [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content