Yes! Big Bang is back! Well, actually, chitlins, it’s the first time they’ve ever played on our shores. LMD had the pleasure of going VIP with the Korean super pop group, Big Bang, on the last night of their virgin US tour. Read on to see how we spent the night with G-Dragon, Taeyang, T.O.P., Daesung and Seungri.
Most definitely, incredible!
Prudential Center, NJ
During our Glorious Things wrap-up of the pop culture events of 2011 and predictions for what excellence awaited 2012, we put dibs on the world’s notice of the long-simmering kettle of Korean pop music poised to boil into screaming life any second. We reckoned we’d called it well earlier in the year when the most popular female KPop group, Girls' Generation made their US TV debut on The Late Show with David Letterman and Live with Kelly the following morning. Then there seemed to be a slump until the summer when a very bizarre thing occurred and a KPop oddity called Psy caught the eye of American bloggers with a video for his undeniably catchy synthpop ditty, “Gangnam Style.” The promo wasn’t so unusual to KPop fans, but amused the uninitiated into making the song the big sensation of the summer, but sadly seems without the follow-up single necessary to keep it from being dismissed as a one-hit wonder. However, while “Gangnam Style” stubbornly refuses to fade into the distance, Psy’s labelmates, the boy band called Big Bang made their US live debut with four concerts; two in Los Angeles and two on the East Coast. We caught up with them for their final show on our shores at the sold-out Prudential Center in New Jersey.
Originating in 2006, Big Bang was – typically for major Korean pop acts - constructed by their label, YG Entertainment. The company put together a group of good-looking boys and hoped their individual talents would combine to create chart-topping success. The difference between Big Bang and other acts became apparent quickly mostly due to their refusal to simply be propped up like pretty, singing, dancing dolls. In an attitude sadly atypical for KPop acts, Big Bang demanded to have a say in their destiny; from their presentation, including looks, videos and album concepts, and most importantly to their music. The group’s leader, G-Dragon, is plainly and simply a popstar genius. I’ve come to refer to him as “baby Mozart” for his innate, exceptional, hyper-creative composing skills and his voraciousness in finding collaborators to create pan-genre music that can compete for not only the ear of the Korean listener, but audiences across the globe (and maybe a few in space to hear some of his futuristic-sounding tunes). At the tender age of just 24, G-Dragon’s lead and nurturing of his group sees all the members writing and producing, investing them all in Big Bang’s success, which makes each man indispensable, which is not the case for the majority of KPop acts. Though they don’t play instruments onstage, Big Bang’s participation in their own songwriting makes them closest to an actual “band” than any of the other major Korean acts, which gives them a huge edge in their worldwide appeal, where looks and nice dance moves will only get one so far. The language barrier is another hurdle for Korean groups, some of whom have been made to cram through English lessons so they can sing in the international language of capitalism. As was proven last night at the Prudential Center; the level of Big Bang’s songcraft and their exceptional performance and delivery of those songs both poignant and party-hopping broke through those barriers and proved the group as a real global force.
Help! The world is in danger! Something very bad is happening, or at least that’s what the English voiceover narrating the movie playing at the start of the show is telling us … I think. It’s all a bit unclear, but very dramastic. Flying across the Galaxy (Samsung was sponsoring) at supersonic speed are five comets of light that have apparently landed behind a curtain on a stage in Newark. Isn’t that lucky? As the curtain dramatically drops, a pre-recorded version of “Still Alive,” the emblematic opening song of Big Bang’s latest album plays and a quintet of frost-covered capsules bearing the name of each member slowly opens, revealing the young men in oxygen masks stepping forward to save this concert hall from a very boring Friday night. Impossibly even better looking than in their videos and impeccably turned out in tailored white with gilt trimmings and ruffles like five modern Prince Charmings, they strolled forth amidst the shrieks of their adoring (mostly female) fans (called VIPs) and launched into “Tonight”, a pure pop bonanza that set up the celebratory tone of the evening. After the double whammy of Hurricane Sandy and a nasty nor’easter that knocked the area for a loop, the call to boogie down along with the high-energy whoops, shouts and moves of the group was a welcome respite from all the meteorological gloom. While there was most definitely the presence of backing tracks, Big Bang cared enough to bring in a live band and backup singers to bolster their sound (Perhaps for the day when prerecorded tracks won’t be necessary?). The group gave off a self-assured presence, but contrary to any idea that they would coast on the adulation of their fans, there was clear concentration on their vocals and the musical selection, which was chosen well enough that people who’d never heard of Big Bang or KPop would be caught up in the party vibe. The other concentration which I reckon necessitated the need for those click tracks was the spectacle of the production itself and the amount of love distributed in heaps upon their appreciative crowd as the boys mugged it up, waved, and generally reciprocated the adoration. Each member interacted in their own way; the youngest (or maknae), Seungri, flirted with every being within eyesight, and brought the comedy with his heartfelt attempts at the common verbiage, “I wanna kill my Engrish!” The powerhouse vocalist, Daesung, shined his megawatt smile - truly the most lovely in KPop - on the entire house, and looked ecstatic that anyone was there to watch them at all. During one sing-a-long the group conducted for their seminal ballad, “Haru Haru,” he seemed genuinely touched at the emotion of the thousands of voices belting the Korean lyrics back at the stage. Daesung, along with Seungri made the most eye contact with the fans, often to their own amusement and pleasure watching the English-speakers boldly muffle their way through the Korean lyrics of the songs. The pair made the night seem intimate and each audience member - or VIP - special, which is quite a feat in a sold-out house of 14,000 seats.
Big Bang’s R&B soulchild, Taeyang, of the suave Ne-yo-esque crooning, thrilled the fans with provocative undulations and a diminishing wardrobe. He was nearly drowned out by the crowd during his solo, “Wedding Dress;” its soaring chorus elevated to an anthem. During one of the many chats with the audience, the earnest Taeyang related his thoughts and prayers for the east coast during the hurricane and how the band was determined to keep their promise to make the date despite having to change planes three different times to get to New Jersey during this latest storm.
The Leader, as G-Dragon is known, acted as ringmaster, guiding the various scenes of the concert from the rip-roaring opening, featuring classic dance-tastic jams like “How Gee”, “Stupid Liar” and “Gara Gara Go!!” and demonstrated why the pop world is his oyster as he freestyled a rap during his solo spot. He commanded an insanely energetic version of his newest psychedelic thumper, “Crayon” in front of a drill team of dancers that didn’t miss a beat and revved up the house. Later, just because they felt like it, Big Bang gave us a beat-box verse of GD’s moody groover, “One of a Kind,” with VIPs supplying the chorus. Interestingly, G-Dragon didn’t make as much of a personal connection with the crowds at his feet for a good deal of the concert. Not really making eye contact; he seemed very into his own head and primarily concentrating on the performance. That was the case until the second hour when he loosened up nicely and seemed comfortable at last; waving and smiling directly at the audience and fooling around like a happy kid. In fact, by show’s end, he carefully folded and handed a beautiful leather jacket to an adorable little girl in the front row (After some very loud, gesture-filled coercion by a certain blue-haired journalist). Big Bang’s relating to the crowd more personally made all the difference as that was the reason everyone was here; most of their US VIPs had only ever seen them on television or computer screens before and the human touch was tremendously important.
Big Bang’s bassman and rapper, the man called T.O.P., was the only one more reticent than his occasional partner in crime, G-Dragon, but T.O.P. is apparently known for his shyness and being slightly awkward, which only seemed to make the fans scream louder for him. Still, his is one of the most singular voices and facile rapping talents in the pop game and hearing him in person was no disappointment. T.O.P. live was as fierce, powerful and compelling vocally as ever on record. “Hands Up” and “Fantastic Baby” were standout moments for the rapper that had the Prudential Center losing their minds. G-Dragon and T.O.P. also duetted on two of their hits, “Knock Out” and “High High;” a sequence which began with T.O.P. seated on a throne of fiberglass speakers, with lovely, nubile dancers draped over every visible inch of him. It’s always the shy ones...
Seungri’s solo came with ammo: Back into movie phase, the young tenor appeared in a flak jacket in military formation, gleefully aiming a laser pointer rifle at the crowd for his Justin Timberlake-infused, “Strong Baby,” which segued into an unexpected but excellent mash-up of his solo hit, “What Can I Do” with Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It was an interesting mix considering the more dance-oriented, hip-hop and electro influences one usually can point out in Big Bang’s repertoire.
One of the most emotional moments of the night presented itself with Daesung’s solo called, “Wings,” where the singer, who’s got a voice that can knock down walls, literally took to the air. Wearing a huge set of white, feathered wings, the vocalist bravely hung on to a very unsturdy-looking device which hoisted him above the heads of the audience some fifty feet up (Though Heaven forbid, had something gone wrong I reckon VIPs would’ve been only too happy to cushion his fall.). The song is representative of some very rough personal issues that Daesung had overcome and was an emotional watershed moment for both the singer and his fans and he absolutely slayed it.
The group chose its moments carefully and well, inserting segments to show to one and all that they are a group of talented singers who have written some extremely well-crafted songs that hold up after the zillions of times they’ve performed them across Asia. The other sing-a-longs included the group’s first hit, “Lies,” the newer party track, “Feeling,” as well as the shoulda-been-released-in-the-US single, “Bad Boy.” We even had dance lessons from Seungri and Taeyang for the multiple renditions of their biggest hit to date, the aforementioned, “Fantastic Baby.” For their finale, appropriately titled, “Last Farewell,” the entire arena, armed with yellow crown flashlights and glowsticks energetically copied the group’s left to right arm movements. Once that last party moment was over, Taeyang led us in a sad chorus of “Na, Na, Hey, Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)” and moseyed off stage to the heartbreak of an entire arena.
Big Bang’s studio records are extremely well-produced, but do occasionally fall into the autotune/distortion zone, so it was quite a thing to hear them relatively unadorned. There were notes that occasionally wavered or fell flat or off-key (The live band actually fell out of time at one point.), but it was certainly a reminder they were actually live for the most part. For all their incredible polish and presentation (At least four costume changes, including no costume with Taeyang’s leather trousers barely hanging on to his wriggling, ridiculously fit torso and the equally in-shape Daesung being stripped and soaked with water by his bandmates), this is a band of young musicians for whom live expectations are quite different on these shores than at home, a fact that Big Bang seems aware of. While poised, confident and clearly comfortable on stage as a unit, they show every sign of wanting to be as perfect musically as they are in terms of their outstanding production values (I can’t even talk about the bling-infested, gold-plated Segways careening across the phallic-shaped stage.). Based on the excellent quality of the pop songs they chose for this exciting evening and their earnest appeal to the audience for their continued support with the promise of new and even better music; I absolutely believe that Big Bang will deliver on their ambition to be the Korean act that breaks the US for more than just a summertime novelty hit and I cannot wait to see it happen. For now, those boys gave us one hell of an unforgettable party.
~ The Lady Miz Diva
November 9th, 2012
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