Outside New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center on Thursday night, a torrential downpour turned the scene into an accidental remake of Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” video. It was an appropriately epic meteorological moment, as the 20-year-old had just touched down in the city for the start of her new world tour. Finally.
In the spring of 2020, Eilish made it three dates into her biggest headlining trek ever before Covid-19 forced her to postpone then eventually cancel the tour. Her sudden free time allowed her to complete her second album, the sublime Happier Than Ever. She performs that album almost in its entirety for the new tour, which comes after scattered performances throughout late-2020 and 2021.
Opening night was hit with some opening-act bad luck: Willow dropped out of the first four dates of the tour because her stage show was not ready yet. Her replacement, Dora Jar, came down with Covid the day of the NOLA date. So tonight, it was just Eilish, who went on 30 minutes earlier than scheduled to a packed house of lookalikes in her early signature green-and-black hair and oversize T-shirts.
In time for the tour, Eilish switched her hair back to black, dropping the bombshell-blonde of the Happier Than Ever rollout. And though she made a bold statement in 2021 with a somewhat vampier look, this tour is not some sudden pivot to bedazzled bodysuits and heels. She ran, skipped, and twirled around the large, angular stage in a graffitied oversize tee, bike shorts, and gym shoes. If she had stepped out into the rain-drenched crowd at any point before the show, she probably would’ve blended right in.
As strobe lights flashed, ambient noise and the sudden injection of the “Happier Than Ever” line “You made me hate this city” bounced around the arena, immediately amping up the crowd. Eilish was launched onto the stage from below it, and kicked off the 90-minute set with “Bury a Friend” bathed in red lights.
Eilish perfectly blended her three projects together, transitioning quickly into the newer, slinkier tracks “I Didn’t Change My Number” and “NDA.” For the latter, the stage turned into a dark road that she was traversing in the middle of as cars sped by on the screen behind her.
There was a noticeable shift in how she presented herself: Eilish has been open about how she was at a personal, emotional low during her tour in 2019. There was a gloominess to her onstage that was as much a reflection of the nightmare-inspired songs as it was her own disposition at the time. For this show, she was flirty and floating, dancing through the songs on her own or winking and gyrating at the pit to get a rise out of it (it, of course, worked every time).
The pacing was masterful. For such a young artist, still at the dawn of what is likely a long career, the show was packed with already memorable songs. And for any detractors who believe all her songs sound the same or are too “mumbly,” this concert is the perfect argument against it: This was a show designed to keep the audience on its feet the whole time, and was effective at its mission.
Eilish seemed to get a kick out of instructing the audience to do something: During “You Should See Me in a Crown,” she requested everyone stay still “like Squid Games” until she instructed them to jump around. During the slithering “Oxytocin” (which interpolated a bit of “Copycat” into it), she made the crowd get as low as they could before jumping up from the ground all at once.
The visuals were top-notch. Song-matched colors bathed the stage and audience during each song (an oceanic blue for “I Don’t Wanna Be You Anymore” and golden light for “Goldwing” were among the choices). A giant spider crawled across the screen during “Crown,” and the legs of ballroom dancers moved in time to “Billie Bossa Nova.” Home videos of Eilish, her parents, and her brother Finneas (who has joined her again for this tour) complemented “Getting Older.” During “All the Good Girls Go to Hell,” a montage of our planet being destroyed by pollution, oil spills, trash, and global warming made for the show’s most sobering moment. Eilish noted that she cried several times watching it while putting the concert together, but knew it was crucial to show. (In alignment with her ethos, straws were banned from the venue, per her request).
In the middle of her set, Eilish rode to a giant crane that let her get closer to the back of the audience. There, she performed a mash-up of her earliest songs: “Bellyache,” “Ocean Eyes” and “Bored.” The only messily constructed moment was the transition between “Bellyache” and “Ocean Eyes”: She cut the former so short that it confused the thousands screaming along to the lyrics as it transitioned to the next track.
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The most stripped-down moment of the show was also one of the best moments. For “Your Power,” Eilish and Finneas came to the front of the stage, both strumming guitars and singing the intense single. Finneas then stepped away for Eilish to sing “Male Fantasy” alone, just her and her guitar.
Eilish decided to forgo an encore, announcing the near-end of her set by singing her Grammy-winning song “Everything I Wanted.” It was the perfect one-two punch: “Bad Guy” was up first, with Eilish slipping back into the gothic bravado with ease, then ending the show with the song that got the audiences amped up in the beginning: “Happier Than Ever.”
A heavenly projection of clouds accompanied the acoustic first half of the song before they began to brew a storm. Eilish morphed into headbanger mode for the electrifying second half, and so did her fans: It felt as good to scream along to with a room full of strangers — as good as anyone could have hoped.
“Happier Than Ever” World Tour Set List:
“Bury a Friend”
“I Didn’t Change My Number”
“Therefore I Am”
“My Strange Addiction”
“I Don’t Wanna Be You Anymore”
“You Should See Me in a Crown”
“Billie Bossa Nova”
“Not My Responsibility”/“Overheated”
“When the Party’s Over”
“All the Good Girls Go to Hell”
“Everything I Wanted”
“Happier Than Ever”