At some point in the middle of Billie Eilish's show at MSG on Friday night (2/18), she paused to talk about how much we all have to be grateful for, and exclaimed, "We're at Madison Square Garden!", as the crowd responded with an uproar of cheers. And we really do. Just a month and a half ago, there were almost no shows happening in NYC at all, and now, here we all were, as part of a packed house at Manhattan's largest indoor venue, two years after Billie was first supposed to play the venue until COVID got in the way. And judging by the way Billie emphasized "Madison Square Garden," she seemed genuinely excited to be headlining one of the most iconic arenas in the world, for her first of two consecutive nights, bookended by Long Island and New Jersey arena shows. Her rise to fame has been truly anomalous, and I think even Billie is still a little shocked that an artist whose songwriting process is so DIY and whose music is often so anti-mainstream has gotten to this level in just a few years. Still, whenever she performed, it was clear that she was born to be a superstar. It's not just that Billie's music has resonated with such a large, diverse group of people -- as Friday night's crowd proved -- it's also that she can command an arena with the best of them.
The show opened with Billie's brother/core collaborator Finneas and her touring drummer Andrew Marshall on stage together, pounding away at some thunderous percussion, and then Billie rose up from beneath the stage, was met by an eruption of screams, and went into "Bury A Friend," the song that gave her 2019 debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? its title. Right off the bat, she had the massive crowd in the palm of her hands, and that never let up once throughout the course of her 90-minute set. Just two songs later, she seamlessly transitioned "NDA" into "Therefore I Am," just like she does on her 2021 sophomore album Happier Than Ever, and by the time she hit the chorus of the latter song, the crowd was drowning her out with their singing. "Therefore I Am" is one of Billie's biggest hits, but even when she was playing deeper cuts, so many people sang every word.
One thing that already stands out on Billie's albums but stood out even more to me in a live setting is how many of her most crowdpleasing songs sound nothing like the music you'll typically hear on pop radio. She had the crowd screaming to "NDA" and "Oxytocin," dark, clubby tracks that sound straight out of the electronic music underground. She had the place in a daze when she did bare-bones acoustic performances of "Your Power" and "Male Fantasy," songs that feel far too intimate to work in an arena setting, but Billie managed to make Madison Square Garden feel like a coffee shop. Even "When the Party's Over," a major standout from When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? that already feels like a classic, is a deeply weird song and it still feels like a triumph that Billie is able to get tens of thousands of people sucked into it at once. And it feels worth noting that the song that got the biggest reaction of the night was Happier Than Ever's title track, which closed the show. Even more so than her chart-topping "Bad Guy," which she played directly beforehand, "Happier Than Ever" had the crowd screaming every single syllable from start to finish. It is one of Billie's more straightforward, accessible songs, but its second half is also basically a grungy alt-rock song, and Billie and her band rock the fuck out every time they play it. In an era where people complain that Coachella headliners don't rock anymore, "Happier Than Ever" suggests otherwise.
On top of sounding great and having a ton of command over the crowd, Billie also had boundless energy. She ran and jumped around the massive stage throughout the entire night, and she took advantage of every square foot. (She also did part of the set floating above the crowd on a crane, as she's been known to do.) She kept encouraging the crowd to live in the moment and go as nuts as possible and not feel self-conscious or too cool, and she was looking out for crowd safety too. She asked the people in GA to move back a few times to give everyone enough room to breathe, and she called security over when she noticed that an audience member up front had fainted.
From her music to her documentary to her live show, Billie comes off incredibly genuine, and that's a big part of why so many people connect with her. She didn't even bother with an encore, a totally fake thing but something you almost always expect at an arena show. Billie's lyrics have resonated with so many people, and the energy she brings to her live show is truly contagious. Whether it's a dance song or a rock-out song or a somber acoustic song, Billie delivers it like a pro and she makes all this different stuff fit together seamlessly. Happier Than Ever expanded Billie's musical palette to include a handful of musical styles that she'd never explored previously, and her live show reinforced how much of a natural Billie is at all of it. When Billie swept the Grammys with her debut, people worried that she wouldn't be able to live up to the hype going forward. But now, one album and two years later, she's bigger and better than ever and her possibilities seem endless.
Billie does it at MSG again on Saturday night (2/19) and then plays Newark's Prudential Center on Tuesday (2/22). Tickets for both are still available. Like at Friday's show, Dora Jar opens (WILLOW was supposed to open but dropped off the tour). Watch a few videos from MSG night one below...
Billie Eilish @ Madison Square Garden - 2/18/22 Setlist (via)
bury a friend
I Didn't Change My Number
Therefore I Am
my strange addiction
lovely (Billie Eilish & Khalid song)
No Time to Die
you should see me in a crown
Billie Bossa Nova
when the party's over
all the good girls go to hell
everything i wanted
Happier Than Ever