Photos: Billie Eilish w/ Thutmose @ Schubas Tavern Chicago

15 years old and headlining her first international tour, Billie Eilish hit up Schubas Tavern in Chicago on Thursday night. The singer-songwriter filled the venue to capacity as she performed songs off her debut EP, don’t smile at me.


Eilish’s ascent started two years ago when she began sharing songs on Soundcloud and covers on YouTube which she recorded at home with her brother, Finneas. Buzz started to build around her off-kilter songwriting tactics (see the video for Bellyache here), textbook pop melodies and silky vocals. Since dropping don’t smile at me, her rise has accelerated to a whole new level with a recent cosign as Apple Music’s Up Next artist.


Thutmose opens the show with a set of pop-meets-trap rap. The Nigeria-born artist showcased a range of skills up his sleeve: he delivered Bryson Tiller inflections with “American Beauty” and wowed the crowd with a machine gun flow on his “Humble” freestyle.


Eilish is a natural on stage. Partly due to her background as a dancer, she commands the crowd with ease and floats over the dynamic changes of pace throughout her songs. On the explosive “Boy,” she’s stomping to the booming bassline, moving her fists in the air in-sync with the heavy piano chords. When the steady chorus hits on “idontwannabeyouanymore,” she mimics the layered harmonies with her hands, rising and falling while the vocals drift in and out.


When Eilish gets out her ukelele, the room falls silent for a moment in anticipation of her next move. A familiar tune rings and she launches into a cover of “Hotline Bling.” Everyone joins in to sing along with Eilish’s rendition until its interrupted mid-hook by a dial tone—the hall fills with screams as she strums the opening chords of her track “party favor.” As the night winds down, she closes the show with crowd favorite “bellyache.” She grins through the verses, building to the final beat drop. She takes a triumphant last lap dancing across the stage, fans’ arms outstretched toward her.


As Eilish makes her way across the globe on this tour, the sets of eyes watching her keep on multiplying. While her influence grows, access to more resources within the industry could present a double-edged sword for the young artist: with bigger names and higher stakes involved, the stories of rising musicians getting trapped into losing creative control are all too common. But Eilish has made it clear that she intends to follow her own path, continuing to work with her brother and getting more involved with production herself. With hints of clothing endeavors and more visuals in the works, Eilish’s potential seems like it’s not peaking anytime soon.


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