Billie Eilish’s easygoing stage presence rides wave of roars from adoring crowd in Toronto

Billie Eilish’s easygoing stage presence rides wave of roars from adoring crowd in Toronto
On the subject of Billie Eilish ’s Tuesday-night Toronto date at the Budweiser Stage, it’s probably best to defer to a couple of professionals before proceeding any further.

“It was amazing,” enthused Clementine Emery, 12, after the show. “I cried through the whole thing. She is so inspirational and I will never forget that night. It was the best night of my life. I was surrounded by the people I love most and I’m so happy I went.”

“My throat is dying from screaming so much,” offered Abby McCormick, 15, carrying on in a similar vein. “It was amazing. I got my beanie. Her merch is so unique it’s amazing. I can’t choose a favourite part. It was all my favourite ...”

And you know what? These young ladies are totally right. It was a terrific show, especially given Eilish’s age and the relatively short time it’s taken for her to rocket from making music with her brother Finneas O’Connell in a bedroom at their parents’ house in Los Angeles to playing venues the size of this size. She’s a natural, with an unpretentious, easygoing nerd-girl stage presence and a catalogue of tunes that went down like anthem after anthem after anthem with a crowd that gleefully roared every single word along with her on Tuesday. Parents included.

Indeed, the only thing threatening Eilish’s “cool” factor with the kids might be that most of their folks appear to be as taken with such righteous bangers as the slinky opener “bad guy,” the liquid “my strange addiction” and the thunderous Lorde-on-dubstep-steroids star turn “you should see me in a crown” as they are.

Everyone can agree on Billie Eilish, it would appear, not least because her dark-hued oeuvre (as presented on her chart-topping debut LP, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?) often brings to mind the work of some of the more interesting mainstream outliers to whom those parents might have thrilled when they, too, were kids: Nine Inch Nails, early Tricky, Fiona Apple and Garbage among them. She’s also a welcome beacon of baggy-shirted individuality in a pop landscape that tends to favour a far more manicured, Cosmo-ready breed of female performer. A plainspoken, slightly strange underdog like Eilish is, with apologies to those kids, actually a pretty good role model.

“If you absolutely hate yourself this song is for you, OK?” she said to deafening cheers as introduction to “idontwannabeyouanymore,” one of a few tunes from her 2017 EP, Don’t Smile at Me, that made it into the 80-minute set list on Tuesday.

Later, in one of the few speeches of any length she delivered from the angled, LED-lit stage she shared with just brother O’Connell and drummer Andrew Marshall throughout the evening, she urged her fans to let themselves live in the moment and be comfortable with who they are. “You are all you are,” she said. “You are all you get to be. So live in you.” Feel weird and a little sad sometimes? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. You don’t have to be 13 to get with that message.

If there’s anything limiting Eilish’s live show right now, it’s merely the limitations of her catalogue. Tuesday’s set was definitely front-loaded, as more obvious big-room fare like “bad guy” and “you should see me in a crown” gave way to a whole lot of aqueous, sad-girl balladry — the sweetly lovelorn fan-favourite “wish you were gay,” the anti-drug aside “xanny,” the whispery “when the party’s over,” the sombre softie “listen before i go” — that, while it worked astonishingly well in a massive outdoor venue thanks to the crowd’s meticulous familiarity with the material, did eventually manage to sap a little bit of energy from the performance.

A few more jolts of tempo in the vein of “all the good girls go to hell,” which sounds like Shirley Manson produced by Dr. Dre, or the spooky minimal-house jam “ilomilo” wouldn’t hurt. But those will come in time. Eilish is only just getting started.

In any case, she hooked the room back by climbing onto a levitating bed with Finneas at the end of the night to perform “i love you” in an approximation of the environment in which it was written and dropping her first-ever single, 2016’s Lana Del Rey-esque “ocean eyes” for the heads in the house. The infamous video clip where Eilish cries black tears accompanied the cinematic slow burn “when the party’s over” to delirious effect. After that, the ripping “bury a friend” — a monstrous schaffel-techno callback to the Doors’ “People Are Strange” during which Eilish climbed back onto that levitating bed — had absolutely no problem sending everyone to the exits utterly wired on a school night.

It was probably an ugly Wednesday morning for many a Toronto student. But also, I’m sure they would agree, utterly worth it.
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