'Billiechella': Eilish stuns with career-making Coachella Saturday set

INDIO, CA – APRIL 13: Billie Eilish performs at Outdoor Theatre during the 2019 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 13, 2019 in Indio, California. (Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella)
INDIO, CA – APRIL 13: Billie Eilish performs at Outdoor Theatre during the 2019 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 13, 2019 in Indio, California. (Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella)

Perhaps no Coachella performance will ever top Beyoncé’s from 2018. But the Saturday set by horror-pop wunderkind Billie Eilish came closer to feeling like a “Beychella”-level event — something culture-shifting, Zeitgeist-capturing, and just plain important — than anything else at the festival this weekend.

Call it “Billiechella,” if you will.

Although Eilish was only playing the second stage, she attracted so many thousands of fans — including celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Travis Scott, members of 5 Seconds of Summer, and, in a bit of a game-recognizing-game moment, Lady Gaga — that she could have easily headlined the entire evening.

“I don’t deserve this at all,” the 17-year-old insisted modestly, staring out in amazement at the densely packed field and repeatedly exclaiming, “This s** is crazy!” However, this felt like a bit of a humblebrag — not just because of the unflappable bratty swagger Eilish exhibited throughout her show, but because the indie-electronic chanteuse has actually been working towards this goal since she released her first bedroom music recording four years ago. “I used to sit in my room and cry because I wanted this s*** so bad,” she sweetly confessed towards the end of her triumphant set.

Eilish went on 33 minutes late due to technical difficulties (at one point, the crowd chanted, “F*** that screen!” as stagehands tinkered frantically with her audiovisual displays), and there were a couple other hiccups — a giggly lyrical flub during the live debut of “All the Good Girls Go to Hell,” a microphone snafu during unintentionally silenced guest rapper Vince Staples’s verse on “&Burn.” But this was an otherwise flawless performance, well worth the extra half-hour wait — and the fact that the audience stuck around when there were plenty of tempting options on neighboring stages (Weezer, Aphex Twin, Wiz Khalifa, even a Yuma Tent DJ set by actor Idris Elba) spoke volumes about the anticipation and excitement surrounding Eilish’s appearance.

And any tardiness was immediately forgiven when Eilish bounded out in blue Björk buns and her signature XXL streetwear, moodily whisper-singing “Bad Guy” and “My Strange Addiction.” This was the first time both new tracks had ever been performed live, but the young, adoring, largely female audience of course knew and sang along to every word. Highlights of Eilish’s 13-song tour de force ranged from thrillingly over-the top (Eilish intoning “Bury a Friend” while striking an Exorcist pose on an iron bed suspended on chains in mid-air) to the stark but effective (a stool-seated “When the Party’s Over” against a backdrop of that song’s freaky, inky-crying music video; the hushed ballad that started it all, “Ocean Eyes”).

Eilish’s critically acclaimed first full-length album, WHEN WE SLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, just went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and smashed chart records as the biggest debut of the decade for any new artist. And backstage at Coachella before her concert, she celebrated another milestone in the YouTube Artist Lounge, as she was presented with an award (and a Louis Vuitton-patterned cake) for hitting 10 million YouTube subscribers.

Warming up the Outdoor Stage for Eilish was gender-bending French art-pop provocateur Héloïse Letissier, a.k.a. Chris of Christine and the Queens, the other breakout superstar of the day. This transcendent performance was pure theater, reminiscent of an Emmy-winning Mia Michaels/Travis Wall routine from So You Think You Can Dance or David Byrne’s jaw-dropping performance on the same stage last year — and it was “weird and glorious and scary,” just like the self-described Chris herself. Chris joked that the last time she played Coachella, in 2016, she said she was “tiny, French, and angry — I’m still tiny, I’m still French, but I’m just horny now.” Chris’s daring performance in this “safe space” was indeed aggressively sexy (“I’d rather be the one desiring than waiting to be desired. … I’m grabbing it,” she explained), but it also featured a simple, near-a cappella cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”

While Eilish and Chris may be the future faces of pop, Saturday’s lineup was otherwise the only day of the weekend that bore any resemblance to the alternative-rock Coachellas of years past. Australian psych-rockers Tame Impala, who’d previously performed in 2013 and 2015, headlined the main stage amid a Sabbathy swirl of lysergic lighting effects.

Indie darlings like Ty Segall, Mac DeMarco, and attitudinal South London punks Shame performed, the latter inciting an old-school moshpit as rabblerousing, shirtless frontman Charlie Steen crowd-surfed.

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F yeah @shame! #coachella

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Weezer, who played the second annual Coachella way back in 2001, showed up with special guests Tears for Fears and Chilli from TLC for the Teal Album covers “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “No Scrubs.”

Canadian electronic duo Bob Moses paid tribute to 2002/2005 Coachella act the Prodigy’s late frontman, Keith Flint, with a faithful cover of “Breathe.” And rising R&B star Bazzi unexpectedly sang MGMT’s “Electric Feel” — referring to it as a “Coachella classic,” which surely must have made anyone who actually saw MGMT do that song at Coachella 2008 feel mighty old.

Coachella 2019 promises to offer a different sort of nostalgia on Sunday, as headliner Ariana Grande is rumored to be performing with members of *NSYNC.

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