9/11 HYUKOH @ New York Irving Plaza Live Report

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This was my first Korean Indie Rock concert. It really was. I had zero exposure to Korean indie music until I knew about Hyukoh. Of course I have been brought to see one or two K-Pop concerts by friends and felt that from an entertainment perspective they are not at all bad, but it’s still far from the kind of music I was used to. A land that is known for its well-developed idol group driven music industry now presents to us some fresh-blood indie band. How cool is that! My curiosity has taken me again. I wanted to see this band and their fans so bad. I said to myself, this could be another beam of light pointing to where Asian indie music should be going. OK. The band did not fail me, their audience did.

One advice to all the fans of Hyukoh who has got the ticket to the rest of the tour: You either be an early bird and stay in line for six straight hours so you don’t have to see no one in front of you but the band, or stay in the back of the crowd, flush two beers down your throat and dance your head off. Else you won’t really enjoy it. New York has proved itself a complete dull buzzkill. I don’t suppose other cities to be any different. Don’t get me wrong though. The line for entering the show was long enough that it actually circled around the whole block. The thousand-people-capacity venue was packed, packed with people who were anxiously waiting to broadcast the world about their night life which can be proved by posting 20 Instagram stories.

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It has been ages since the last time I saw so many phone screens held up glittering in the dark when the band took the stage. There were no opening acts and people loved it. No opening acts means no long wait through other unknown emerging bands playing songs they have not heard of nor cared to pay attention to. Of course, this was fairly rare for any American gigs. I thought at least they would have invited some of their local friends to the show considering the fact that they have numerous fellow band buddies across the world. Those include some notable Japanese bands like Never Young Beach. Maybe it was because their management wanted these young blokes to be the only rock stars, although to most people present in the venue, more like the “Infinite Challenge” stars.

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The set started up dry with “Tokyo Inn”, one of my favorites. As I fully understand that without opening acts you would need a strong enough track to get the shot fired, I believed it was a waste to position this song at the very beginning. People were not ready yet with them still struggling with what filter to apply and what caption to make up for their new post. Meanwhile the band were trying to get comfortable but could not get sufficient feedback vocally or physically. Into “Panda Bear” the mellow vibe turned hyper with “2002WorldCup” immediately linked up with intensive riffs and time-traveled us back to the nostalgia of us 15 years ago cheering to the TV at summer nights.

“Wanli” was a song that I never have expected to be played on this show not just because the song was written in Mandarin and this was a North America tour. In spite of my appreciation for a vivid vision the song could provide, I disliked the thinness of structure in the album version. The band played it anyway and totally blew me off. How could it be so much more layered live that the original recording almost looked like a disgrace?

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“Mer”, “Gondry” and “TOMBOY” were a WOW. At this point the band began to seem wilder and invasive. Still no one was moving but I could hear constant cheering during intervals and felt the tension heating up in the house. Hyukoh’s vocal was phenomenal. With modern guitar rock we sometimes ignore the significance of vocal, but focus more on the chorus and riffs, whereas Hyukoh’s voice was utterly distinctive with a touch of darkness and frostiness. From the lyrics we saw he absolutely put himself out to define an identity of his own. What does being 23 years old and famous mean? We at least could be reassured this young man would never be teared down by all those fears and anxieties now that he let them out and saw them burn.

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I have always liked their way of piling up emotions, but it seemed a bit over during “Reserved Seat”. I don’t know if you’ve had the moment when you are attending some post-rock gig, you first devote to the hook so much that you drum along and head bang with the beats secretly hoping the song never ends, but then realize they do indeed stretch the song for too long that you grow tired of it? “Reserved Seat” was one of these moments of excessive repetition. Entering the encore pleasantly however, this never happened again. The ending track “Surf boy” was also the last song of their 2016 album “23” while the live version has given so much more that it sublimed the jolliness to a greater level with a subtle amount of delicacy. If I have to point out one thing that has made the song not that perfect, it might be the lyric “Plan for the worst. Hope for the best.” which was sounding somewhat cliche.

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Despite the overall slightly-above-mediocre experience, there was one thing in my favor: The setlist was newbie-friendly. They have performed almost every song from their latest record in the same order. Meanwhile I would definitely catch up with their previous EPs and unofficial released works since they are such a special band, not just as a successful Asian pop band, but a brilliant indie band on top of the whole scene. I just cannot see yet what their future would be like in America down the road. A decision has been made a few years ago when they appeared on a TV show, and that decision has led to a huge target audience however, may not be very well desired when a band wanted to shake off the burden of being idols and seek pure music breakthrough overseas. What’s even worse, the struggle with sudden fame and popularity isn’t just theirs. Many other young Asian artists definitely saw it too and have battled against it since. Deny it or not, it’s an everlasting topic that has always been there, will always be there, and there’s nothing we can do about it as long as the conflict among alternative forms of entertainment exists.

Setlist:

1. Tokyo Inn
2. Comes and Goes
3. Leather Jacket
4. Panda Bear
5. 2002WorldCup
6. Wonderful Barn
7. Wanli
8. MASITNONSOUL
9. Jesus lived in a motel room
10. Die Alone
11. Mer
12. Gondry
13. TOMBOY
14. Simon
15. Reserved Seat
16. Paul

Encore:
17. Hooka
18. Wi Ing Wi Ing
19. Surf Boy

Photo Credit: Dasom Han
Special Thanks: Modern Sky USA

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