Billie Eilish at the United Center: She won’t go to Hell


Billie Eilish performs during the “When We All Fall Asleep” tour at the United Center on Sunday, June 9, 2019, in Chicago. (Photo by Rob Grabowski/Invision/AP)

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Billie Eilish is creepy. She’s guilty. She’s honest. And she won’t go to Hell.

Eilish and brother Finneas O’Connell, produce the sounds of the solo act, which oftentimes flirts with themes like death, unconsciousness, the subconscious and love. The pair float above the audience on a bed as O’Connell’s guitar sings along with Eilish’s vocals through the United Center on a Sunday night during “i love you.”

This team is a paradox. It embraces the kindness of beauty of a deep night sky, dreams, nightmares, a copycat lurking behind trees in a dark forest. Billed a pop artist, Billie Eilish is original, spine-chilling and far from preaching.

A projection of silhouettes of people watching from behind trees matched the hollow drum beat of “COPYCAT” Sunday night. Although the saying goes, “imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and she knows it, Eilish shows the dark side of being copied, ripped off. It’s the disturbing feeling of thunder being stolen, of it being taken away without one even noticing the thief was someone he or she knew to begin with.

And to open the hour and a half When We All Fall Asleep set, an animation of a small girl shows on the screen, all the while being haunted in her dreams, thrown into a blaze just after spiders have a go at her in bed.

Billie Eilish performs during the “When We All Fall Asleep” tour at the United Center on Sunday, June 9, 2019, in Chicago. (Photo by Rob Grabowski/Invision/AP)

“bury a friend” is about exactly that, but Eilish ends the show with that fan favorite. It’s about sleep paralysis and the complete and utter helplessness in which your tongue is “stapled,” your “limbs are froze/my eyes are closed/and I can’t say no, I can’t say no.” This entrapment within the claws of sleep, like a coma, is the monster under your bed. It’s there in your most peaceful place and it won’t let you go.

The horror motif of Billie Eilish music conveys her inner “bad guy,” in spite of the compassion she croons about in numbers like, “wish you were gay” and “when the party’s over.” And O’Connell’s piano is like a second front in this performance, an instrument whose player only wants to establish an emotional connection.

Although the themes of the performance lean towards scary and lack much sympathy, Eilish’s childishness comes through, and in the right company, nonetheless. She exclaims “fuck my life,” as a stage hand is seen wrapping harness around Eilish’s waist on the prop bed, making her ornery.

But later in the show, Eilish rouses her audience by just barely lifting her oversized shirt above her waistband as she sings, “You can pretend you don’t miss me/you can pretend you don’t care/all you wanna do is kiss me/ oh, what a shame I’m not there.” And her star power makes itself known.

“Hey Chicago!” Billie says, adding, “This is the biggest venue I’ve ever played in my life,” as she shakes her head in disbelief. She’s 17 and sold out the United Center. And an audience with a mean average age of about 16 (along with some parents) filled that stadium, unperturbed by Eilish’s mature symbolism. She can quiet down a screaming audience so loud one can hardly hear her voice on the mic, though, as she encourages this young crowd to grab onto their feelings. And that’s a good message to share, to help teach young people that those feelings were there for a reason they’ll appreciate later.

This virtuoso pair wants to scare you but it wants you to be its friend. Billie Eilish is a human being. And so are you.

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