I was a little iffy when I first arrived at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre for the sold out Epik High show. The group’s North American tour had been dubbed by the Internet as the biggest Korean tour in the US since Wonder Girl’s 20-date run back in 2010, so I was a little surprised to enter a fairly sober venue. I had been to my fair share of shows at the Vogue, and there was always a certain hum and buzz among the crowd before the show started. A mix of anticipation and restlessness, intermingled with the subtle aggression of teenagers and adults alike, silently strategizing how they were going to rush to the front once the lights went down. This is perhaps why I was a little offended when I overheard a girl at the Epik High show tell her friends, “Let’s sit. I don’t want to stand all night in that crowd.” Girl, for real? I heard a few more comments like this over the next half hour or so as the crowd started to filter in. I had worn my 3.5-inch Creepers, ready to stomp bitches that were going to mosh into me during the show, but apparently that wasn’t going to be an issue.
As Brandon and I set up in the press pit, I was still a little aggrieved with the timidity of the crowd. But that changed pretty quickly. At 6:59 PM exactly, the crowd started to count down from 10. The show was scheduled to start at 7:00 PM but being accustomed to a Vancouver itinerary, I rolled my eyes at the crowd, knowing that the show probably wasn’t going to start until 7:30 at the earliest. Then the lights abruptly turned off at the exact moment when the crowd reached zero. Holy shit, what is this sorcery? As the room went dark, the crowd was illuminated with fluorescent blue glow sticks – we’re not talking about the glow sticks you got in goodie bags as a runny-nosed 6-year-old though. I’m talking about someone taking a pool-side foam noodle, cutting it into quarters, and sticking fluorescent lights into it. The effect was pretty incredible. I had seen this in K-pop “Live in Concert” YouTube videos, but seeing the effect in-person is something else entirely.
I allowed myself to be hypnotized by the fluorescent blue wands for a bit, and then snapped back as the high-decibel screams of every girl in the crowd signaled the entrance of Epik High onto the stage. “막을 올리며 (Encore)” began playing as Tablo and Mithra Jin assessed the crowd with smirks on their faces. DJ Tukutz raised his arms to greet the crowd from his platform, his expression a little hard to read as he wore sunglasses on stage. I usually hate when people wear sunglasses indoors, but he looks a little like PSY and he’s smiling a lot so I’ll let this one slide.
If Epik High makes one thing fiercely clear within the first few songs of their set, it’s that they definitely know how to work a crowd. As they transition seamlessly into “Get Out The Way” from “Fly”, they throw in a sample of Snoop’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” in there for good measure, as if the crowd wasn’t hysteric enough already. The group itself has incredible chemistry, unsurprising as they have been together for almost 15 years, having formed in 2001. They are now signed with YG Entertainment, the same management company that oversees Big Bang and 2NE1, arguably the two biggest idol groups in South Korea.
The boys of Epik High have hilarious and light-hearted rapport throughout the set, often at the expense of DJ Tukutz who speaks in broken English. Tablo, who attended international schools all throughout childhood, speaks perfect English and alternated between interacting with the crowd and translating for Tukutz and Mithra Jin, who are both very good-humoured about their English skills, or lack thereof. As they close off the first half of their high-energy set with “Burj Khalifa”, the venue is immersed in a weirdly hilarious, blacked-out intermission where Tablo starts listing off things he likes about North America in a disembodied voice. Things included in this fantastic list include: Bubba Gump’s, hot dogs, the Pulitzer Prize, Charlie Sheen, Hotmail, Whatsapp, and frisbees. Tablo even includes Stanford University, a joke hinting at the high-profile scandal that shook both his professional and personal life just years earlier, which prompted uproarious laughter from the crowd.
The second half of the set was just as energetic as the first. As they played crowd favourites like “Happen Ending” and “Rich”, one thing I noticed was that Epik High thanks their fans a lot. I know that K-pop groups are famously known for their borderline scary ability to mobilize fans with militant efficiency, but it’s interesting to see the dynamic between the group and its fans. Tablo, Mithra, and Tukutz’s gracious appreciation of their dedicated fans is genuine. And this was blatantly clear when the group took the time mid-set to do a Q&A session. I personally get restless when musicians talk too much during their performances, but the way that the audience responded to Epik High’s interaction was actually very touching. Everyone was listening intently as Tablo read off fan questions, and the audience eagerly reciprocated the group’s enthusiasm. This was starkly different to some shows I’ve been to, where people in the crowd are literally shouting at the band or artist to get back to the music. Here, fans were keen to learn more about the band and were grateful that the trio were taking time to answer their questions.
As the Q&A session wrapped up, the band continued with their set and performed some of their “rave-ier” songs, including: “High Technology” and “New Beautiful.” The trance-inducing tracks made me feel like I was in a vodka commercial and I had a distinct feeling that I never wanted this show to end. For their encore, Epik High performed “Born Hater” and “Don’t Hate Me”, of which the former has more f&#@’s, b%!&%’s, and S#!*’s than some HBO shows. Needless to say, the crowd was riled up and the show ended in a blazing glory of K-pop extravaganza. As I snuck out quietly from the back to avoid the inevitable mob, I thought to myself, “K-pop is fucking awesome.”