Review: Billie Eilish’s packed Coachella debut was worth the wait

Billie Eilish performs Saturday at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Pop Music Critic

With a closely watched live stream to consider, Coachella generally doesn’t allow tardiness.

But the festival made an exception Saturday night for Billie Eilish — in part because there wasn’t another act due on the Outdoor Theatre stage for a while but mostly, one gathered, because folks on the ground (and at home) were willing to stick around to see her.

Last week Eilish’s debut album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart with the sales-and-streaming equivalent of 313,000 units — the second-largest week of 2019 behind “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande (who, as it happens, is due to headline Coachella on Sunday night).

And here that enthusiasm was still strong enough that tens of thousands of festival-goers waited 30 minutes past Eilish’s scheduled start time.

When she finally appeared, wearing her trademark outfit of baggy shorts and hoodie, the 17-year-old Los Angeles native opened her set with the same song that begins her album: “Bad Guy,” in which she makes clear that she’s a different kind of teen-pop star than we’ve seen in some time — darker and weirder, for sure, but funnier and more self-aware, too.


Accompanied by a drummer and her older brother, Finneas (with whom she recorded her album), Eilish ran through tunes from “When We All Fall Asleep” — including “My Strange Addiction” and “You Should See Me in a Crown” — about obsession and domination. For “When the Party’s Over,” huge screens onstage played her creepy music video for the song, in which Eilish cries black tears.

As it is on the record, the music was spare — often just a vocal, a bass line, a beat and various effects. But the minimal arrangements allowed Eilish’s vocals to carry through the desert air, even when she wasn’t doing much more than whispering, as in parts of “Bury a Friend.”

Fans generally sang along with every word, which came in handy during “All the Good Girls Go to Hell,” where she forgot some of her lyrics (or at least pretended to).

For “&Burn,” Eilish brought out a crew of dancers to execute a sequence set on a bed suspended on chains; she also welcomed Long Beach’s Vince Staples to do his guest verse on the song, though his microphone appeared not to be working — another rare technical snafu at Coachella.

Throughout the show, Eilish carried herself with a confidence beyond her years. But she didn’t disguise the fact that her Coachella debut was a big deal.

“I don’t deserve this at all,” she said at one point, to which her fans roared in disagreement.

Twitter: @mikaelwood