Review by Heather McMillan
Header photo by Liam Brown (fan photo)
Approaching Auckland’s Spark Arena a buzz was spreading around as fans from all across the country were set for an evening to remember; seeing 17 year old Billie Eilish on the first night of her ‘When We All Fall Asleep World Tour’. On entrance to the arena a sea of her style is present, with lime green oversized merchandise hoodies with red beanies visible everywhere. It’s not hard to recognise that Billie has a strong youth, almost cult like following, with avid fans ready to hear their favourite songs come to life.
Opening the show was FINNEAS known by most as Billie’s older brother and a major contributor to both the production and song writing of Billie’s latest album. Dressed in all white FINNEAS O’Connell‘s soft piano and vocals began the show in a humbling manor. Not for long though as his electronic pop then sparked the arena into cheering him along as his set carried out. He sung with passion as he edged closer to the front of the stage giving the fans, especially those who made it to barrier exactly what they wanted. Little smirks between songs alongside his conversations with the audience made it hard to not like him, regardless of his music. As a one man performer he showed his many talents as he went from instrument to instrument and note to note maintaining a stage presence that seemed to please the thousands of Billie fans. Throughout the set he carried catchy tunes across the stage, as the crowd lit up their phones turning the arena into a sky of stars FINNEAS stopped mid song as he could not help saying ‘Look at yourself Auckland, you’re beautiful’ . His gratitude and his thankfulness of being there because of the crowd, crew and his sister was expressed loudly not just through words but through how he performed. Personal highlight of his set was him mentioning the cheap seats at the very back of the arena and how he would not even do it. But also the sibling love he shared towards Billie and how much pride he held speaking about her.
The lights went down, this was it. Many did not make it to see the screen behind the stage turn to a theme of darkness, with animations of sadness and tones of declining health. If you could not feel the anticipation of the crowd building as they all awaited for her arrival onstage, you could definitely hear it. Billie Eilish fans were not scared to be heard, a theme that carried out throughout the night, with every word to every song sung with passion a level of fan dedication that honestly shocked me. Billie came running onto the stage rocking space buns and oversized all white fashion as she bounced herself around the stage jumping around filling every space onstage; her energy fit perfectly with the nature of the enthusiastic crowd. As she sang through radio hit by radio hit with artistically metaphoric visuals behind her the crowd was ecstatic copying her movements of bounce to slow movements from side to side.
Despite a day ago on Instagram admitting she was unwell she performed almost flawlessly giving the crowd the experience of her album and work come to life. The past competitive dancer in her glowed as her movement to sound reflected her long hours rehearsing pre-tour. It was hard to not be captivated by the 17 year old performer as she delivered both soft dark tones to high light pop ballads jumping high to lying on the ground. She was a definite loud presence to the sold out crowd but the audience some how managed to be an even louder presence creating a high intensity room. I watched as person after person song after song many were pulled out of the front of the crowd to be attended to by medics. Both alarming in observation of this happening and the darkness of Billie Eilish’s lyrics and overall theme of her set it was almost haunting to hear children stood alongside parents screaming “I want to end me”.
The reality of our local mental health crisis really hit me as I thought about the darkness of her lyrics and how easily everyone sang along to them with big smiles and drunken dancing. Despite all of this though Billie’s confidence held strong from singing to speaking as she too seemed overwhelmed by the audiences love and dedication to her and her music. As she took many a moment to look at the sold out crowd as a humbled 17 year old it gave an insight into her reality. Finneas her brother having been behind her playing guitar and controlling the backing sounds all set came down from his platform to kiss his younger sister on her head and give her a big hug, a really special shared family moment. It was obvious early on that even though she knew of her success she did not often realise the reality of it all as moments of tears to “thank you Auckland” as where she stood was like a dream and “my dreams be tripping sometimes” were shared a plenty throughout the show. From the striped down emotional track ‘i love you’ to heavy bass filled fan favourite ‘bad guy’ neither Billie or her fans missed a beat. With the young artist holding her own up on the large stage, giving Auckland her all.
I stood with a wonder outside the arena the set having finished. Visually seeing the tears of many audience members, the excitement, happiness alongside many who were now on crutches or in wheelchairs who started the concert comfortably on two feet and wondered how a show like this all happened in just a few hours. Admittedly I knew a few of her songs going into it but I did not expect the level of fandom madness that would unfold through the doors of Spark Arena on a Wednesday night.