11th September 2017
The Tuning Fork, Auckland, New Zealand.
Review by Sarah Kidd. Photography by Shahlin Graves.
She has been touted as “pop’s best new hope” by the BBC with just one EP under her belt. Billie Eilish may only be fifteen years old, but her work which has rolled across the world like a tidal wave speaks for itself. Tonight an all ages (and very much sold out) Auckland audience gets a chance to bathe in those cool waters before her appearance at next year’s St Jerome’s Laneway Festival.
But before the room full of clamouring teens can let loose their cries of adoration towards Eilish, New Zealand sensation Thomas Stoneman aka Thomston takes the stage for a six song set. Appearing on the local scene and turning it upside down back in 2014 with his experimental EP, Thomston has moved from strength to strength proving that he can indeed share the stage with some of the biggest acts around. Tonight his set is a little more stripped back, as he is accompanied by three very talented back-up singers and a guitarist. Dressed in a simple oversized crisp white sweatshirt, his bleached blonde hair almost matching in brightness Thomston began with his latest hit ‘Ride’, the audience screaming their approval and immediately joining in on the chorus.
It is often easy to dismiss pop acts that are caught in the gravitational pull of the overarching genre title – but Thomston easily proves with his performance tonight that he is not just another standard act. With impressive vocal skills and cleverly composed songs, he easily holds the audience (including the semi-circle of parents down the back) in the palm of his hands. After dedicating a beautiful solo keyboard performance of ‘Heart of Cement’ to a mystery girl by the name of Shania, Thomston duets with back-up singer Phoebe (a friend since childhood) on ‘Window Seat’; the crowd transfixed by this wonderful pairing. Finishing with his “favourite track and next single” entitled ‘Acid Rain’, Thomston unfortunately experiences some slight technical difficulties – however he handles it like an absolute professional, comically singing explanations of what was happening to the audience while flashing them a smile. Back on track he begins the song from the beginning – capturing the hearts of almost all who are present.
When Billie Eilish steps out in front of the audience it is almost like staring into the sun; her long blonde hair pale against the vivid orange of both her baggy long sleeved tee and bomber jacket; vivid blue ski pants highlighted by heavy ropes of gold swinging from her slender neck. She flashes a smile at the audience and the room erupts, cell phones immediately being held up on high like hundreds of miniature spotlights, all trained on this young woman holding a microphone. Without a word she begins to sing ‘Bellyache’, barely making it through the first line before the mainly female audience has joined in in unison. But this isn’t any ordinary pop song of crushing on boys or dreaming of faraway places. This is the story of guilt, of regretting decisions made but not caring anyway. These are dark and ominous lyrics being delivered by a ray of light. It is the perfect juxtaposition.
Eilish is supported tonight by a tall figure in a bright yellow top – Eilish’s self-confessed favourite colour; for many in the audience they have already recognised the familiar face of Finneas O’Connell, Eilish’s older brother by approximately four and a half years. Some may know him for his acting role in TV series Glee, or for his role as Spencer in the film Bad Teacher starring Cameron Diaz; others as the front man for his band The Slightly’s. But the majority of the audience tonight know him as co-writer and producer of Eilish; the siblings working together in stunning harmony both lyrically and musically.
“There’s so many of you – what the fuck” Eilish exclaims after the first song, chuckling into the microphone as she sways gently back and forth on stage. The fans cheer so loudly that even Eilish herself looks surprised, Finneas behind the keyboards smiling and shaking his head. Following ‘Copycat’ – a rather self-explanatory track whose bridge features within the next song ‘Idontwannabeyouanymore’ pairing the two as opposites seamlessly (the latter featuring outstanding lyricism that shines like a diamond in a sea full of generic pop glass) – Eilish exclaims that she is having trouble standing in her ski pants “I am wearing ski pants and I have gone skiing like once in my life” she laughs, before asking the crowd “what’s up guys, let’s get hyped” not they needed any further encouragement to do so. A delightful cover of ‘Hotline Bling’ by Drake is shortly followed by Eilish informing everyone that her brother is about to perform a song and that they are not to “zone out” and check their phones. “You better listen, because he is fucking good”, the obvious love and respect for her sibling wonderful to see.
Delivering his recently released single ‘I’m in Love Without You’ under his solo moniker of FINNEAS acoustically on guitar, Finneas showed exactly why we should all indeed be paying attention, his voice, gentle at first, soaring to great heights before crashing down around our feet. It was a superb performance and illustrated exactly why as both a co-writing team and as individual performers in their own right both Eilish and Finneas are a force to be reckoned with.
Eilish, returning to the stage still encased in orange and blue winter splendour, delights the audience with latest track ‘7 Days in Limbo’ – finishing her set with ‘Ocean Eyes’ the song written by Finneas that first catapulted Eilish into the limelight. Following continual calls for an encore and chants of ‘Billie’, the songstress returned to stage and once again played ‘Bellyache’ – sure the audience had already heard it once tonight but there wasn’t a single soul complaining; this second rendition even more vivid than the first.
If this is indeed the future of pop – then sign me up.
Were you there at The Tuning Fork for this perfect pop performance? Or have you seen Billie Eilish perform live somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!
- Out Of My League
- Heart Is Cement
- Window Seat
- Acid Rain
Billie Eilish Setlist:
- Six Feet Under
- Hotline Bling (cover – Drake)
- Party Favour
- I’m In Love Without You – FINNEAS Solo
- 7 Days In Limbo
- My Boy
- Ocean Eyes
- Bellyache (encore)