Illenium makes beloved throwback return at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Photo of Illenium in concert
Can Jozef Saul/Staff

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An Illenium concert is to the Bay Area electronic dance music (EDM) scene what sunlight is to a sapling — that is to say, something it just can’t get enough of. For the fourth night in a row, the DJ’s set Nov. 28 at San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium drew yet another large, rave-ready crowd eager to dance the night away.

Illenium, whose real name is Nicholas Miller, is widely known for some of the most thrilling EDM live shows in the industry, with state of the art lights, smoke machines and pyrotechnics emanating from brightly lit, moody backdrops. His stage name logo is symbolized by a phoenix spreading its wings to take flight, accompanied by fiery cover art that depicts lone figures experiencing what could be equally described as rebirth or redemption — an apt representation for what it’s like to experience one of Miller’s shows.

Since his emergence in 2013, the DJ has been the premier source of heartfelt EDM, taking full advantage of the genre’s diverse qualities to produce songs overflowing with sentimentality and hitting euphoric highs as their beats drop. As a result, he’s cultivated a loving fanbase who are as likely to cry at his shows as they are to absolutely lose their minds. With a discography that spans four albums all sprinkled with memorable EDM gems, it’s not hard to see Illenium’s mass appeal. Come for the communal energy, stay for the blissed-out emotional release.

Nearing the end of his latest tour in support of the recently released Fallen Embers, the artist’s final show at Bill Graham was filled with crowd favorite after crowd favorite, a throwback set for the ages. Largely avoiding his harder headbanging tracks, Illenium arrived with more than an hour of his “oldies,” prepared to send the audience into an elated cry-fest.

From the sound of things, it clearly wasn’t the DJ’s first throwback set; while previous Bay Area Illenium shows saw similar performances, this occasion was defined by marking the artist’s first time back since before quarantine. The set list pulled from deep-cuts across his four albums, as well as rarities and other popular EDM tracks. Early on in the set, Illenium pulled out his rendition of Fort Minor’s “Where’d You Go,” a remix that he originally unveiled at EDC Mexico 2018. The track washed nostalgia over the crowd, the perfect song for commemorating the return of live music.

Other covers included performances of Seven Lions’ “Rush Over Me,” Flume’s “Say It” and Marshmello’s “Silence,” turning the show into not only a homecoming performance for the DJ (who was raised in San Francisco) but for EDM music in general. Blue and pink lights colored the room and marked distinct shifts in the setlist’s mood, eventually giving way to a rapid-fire array of laser lights that shot out to seemingly every corner of the venue for some of the most hype moments. Fallen Embers tracks made their appearances toward the set’s final stretch, with the show’s highlight being the final run of tracks including “Feel Good,” “In Your Arms” and “Beautiful Creatures.”

Aside from the special effects, the show was filled with nothing but love, from Illenium’s between-song expressions of gratitude for his fans to the outpouring of physical affection from folks on the ground floor of Bill Graham. By and large, the most common looks at the event featured Illenium Fallen Embers jerseys, face jewels and body glitter; each attendee fully immersed themselves in the DJ’s live show, embodying the main character energy of each song as they blared from the venue’s giant speakers.

It seems like only just over a year ago due to public health conditions, dance music, as it was meant to be played, faced the threat of being forgotten. In a time where EDM has only recently been able to be played on the dance floor once more, Illenium’s throwback set made for one memorable return.

Contact Vincent Tran at [email protected].