"You should see them live. They're much better live."
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
I saw the inimitable 2NE1 on 29 July at Seoul's Olympic Park and it will rank among the best shows I've ever seen. I'd been itching to see a Kpop show as soon as I'd started listening to them and other groups last year, but despite the abundant TV music show performances, Kpop concerts don't occur as often as one might think. They're often expensive as well--this so was no exception, but it had to be done because I've rocking their records all year and because it's a unique cultural experience. Sometimes one has to put some money down because that's the way it has to be. Some bands are just that good. My girlfriend, Rochelle, and her friend Illie concurred.
2NE1 went on without an opening band and played for two hours to a packed house. Despite the stadium setting, the sound was among the best I've heard in a large venue. There was none of the blurred, over-reverbed qualities of most stadiums or large concert venues. 2NE1's backing band came through loud and clear and so did the group's vocals. We were in the back and we couldn't see CL, Minzy, Bom, and Dara too closely, but the two big video screens on either side of the stage made up for it. It helped that 2NE1 moves with the energy and charisma of AC/DC's Angus Young; they strutted, danced, and jumped around the stage with authority. Moreover, the show featured an excellent light show and stage effects. I should note that this marked the first non-rock show I'd attended, so I'm not too used to costume changes, special effects, and video screens, but even so, it was well done. Despite the running and jumping, the show stayed well away from camp and overblown theatrics. It was high energy party action from start to finish. 2NE1's band (especially the drummer!) deserves mentioning here for holding down the taut and rocking grooves. My head was bopping throughout the show.
And then there's the songs: rocking, hook-filled nuggets of electro-pop bliss. They opened with the badass "I Am The Best" and proceeded to play every track from their smokin' 2nd Mini Album, most of their 1st mini album, 1st album, and their two recent singles "Scream" and "I Love You." Not a song in the mix. It flowed like a particularly excellent mix tape or best of compilation. The "I Am The Best" opener showed a break from their usual opener of "Fire," the hard charging opening track of the 1st Mini Album. Illie and I took great surprise in hearing a live rendition of "Scream" because they'd originally sung it in Japanese and we didn't think they'd play it here. Such surprises equal concert bliss. A mark of a quality live band is how they pace their shows and what songs they play. Including rare or non-album tracks is one of the things that makes going to concerts such a thrilling experience, because even though I enjoy the hits, I also enjoy the deep cuts equally well.
2NE1 and Girls' Generation represent the first two pop artists I cared about after Amy Winehouse, and while Girls' Generation has plenty of good songs, it's the 2NE1's attitude and presentation that sets them apart from the Kpop pack. They're four attractive girls who eschew "cute" and "sexy" and go for crazy patterns on vibrant costumes. They show skin, but that's because they want to--not because it's what they should do. Not only that, but they're out to rock as hard and have as good a time as they can--yes, I said rock because that's exactly what they do. They sing driving, uptempo, and damned catchy pop songs, yes, but as their live show proves, their songs seethe with rock and roll energy.
Top photo: The concert goodies: one of four notebooks (one for each member), the ticket, and two sticker sheets.
The "New Evolution Tour - I Love You" towel.