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Billie Eilish makes an arena feel intimate in her long-awaited D.C. return

Finally touring in support of her stunning sophomore album “Happier Than Ever,” Eilish brings cheers as deafening as her bass-heavy sound.

Billie Eilish performing at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 10, 2022. (Matty Vogel)

On Wednesday night, Billie Eilish made a jubilant return to Washington, D.C., nearly 700 days after she was initially scheduled to play Capital One Arena. For Eilish and her fans, absence made the heart grow not just fonder but stronger.

The capacity crowd of young people — some young enough to enjoy the show from their parents’ shoulders — seemed entranced by the singer’s every whisper and gasp, their cheers as deafening as her bass-heavy songs.

Since her last tour stop in D.C. in 2019, the 20-year-old singer-songwriter and pop phenomenon has been busy. She’s starred in “Act I,” a documentary about her life story; survived a handful of teapot tempests on social media; and sidestepped a sophomore slump with last summer’s stunning “Happier Than Ever.”

On ‘Happier Than Ever’ Billie Eilish delivers a second album that shows she wasn’t just a whisper

Eilish’s latest album is a confessional and introspective Bildungsroman. It finds her confronting the constraints of fame, the ebb and flow of friendships and romances, and what it means to be a young woman in this smartphone-addled time. But while it sits nicely next to her shock-of-the-new debut, its sound reflects that internal gaze, mostly avoiding the cathartic drops and surging bass of “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”

“Happier Than Ever” is intimate on headphones or hi-fi. But in an arena, the distance between performer and fan often feels insurmountable. On Wednesday night, Eilish’s key to success was scale: making those internal feelings sound as loud and look as harrowing as they are inside.

Amid lights and smoke, Eilish emerged onstage in a Goth Spice get-up typical of her iconic style (itself a large part of her appeal). She wore a baggy T-shirt and gear — biker shorts and knee pads — that would make dancing, writhing and “Exorcist” backbends possible all night long. A huge ramp connected the stage to a second-story riser where a drummer and her multi-instrumentalist brother and producer Finneas performed. Behind her, a screen lit up with transmogrified ghouls, howling dogs and gigantic spiders serving as metaphorical accompaniment.

Halfway through her set, Eilish played two songs acoustic, causing the crowd to hush in a way that made the arena feel smaller than it is. In a meditative video interlude, Eilish spoke about objectification and submerged herself into a watery abyss. After it played, she emerged at the back of the arena and performed atop a moving crane, hovering just above the audience — but still out of reach.

Eilish’s greatest power is her ability to make a one-to-thousands connection feel one-to-one. On Wednesday, her music did most of the heavy lifting, but her lighthearted and often sarcastic banter gave fans that extra dose of oxytocin they sought.

“Forget about what’s going on and just have fun,” she entreated. “We’re all the same here.”

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