Live Review: EPIK HIGH – 170 Russell, Melbourne (18.07.2019)

Within hours of tickets going on sale, EPIK HIGH‘s Melbourne show was completely sold-out; with it being their first Australian concert since their inception, sixteen years ago, it is only understandable that fans were incredibly eager to witness the trio’s rare live performance.

As expected, within half-an-hour of the doors opening, 170 Russell was full of hundreds of fans, hushed-yet-excited conversations overwhelming the melancholic piano melody that filled the venue; a piece that was gentle and sweet, yet also reflective.

In a way, the background music was soothing, calming me as I stood waiting for EPIK HIGH to come on stage. I was nervous, an excited kind of nervous – I could not possibly believe that I was here, finally seeing them live.

Undeniably, the legendary Korean hip-hop trio, consisting of members Tablo, Mithra Jin, and DJ Tukutz, have traversed into iconic status. In anticipation, I could not help but think that I was about to witness a show that I would never forget, in all the most brilliant ways.

Defying their megastar status, their punctuality was almost alarming; at exactly seven o’clock, the lights dimmed and the trio stormed the stage.

Starting off their set with one of their newest musical masterpieces, the group performed ‘In Seoul’, a whimsically mellow track from their latest EP, sleepless in ____ .

EPIK HIGH are honest in a way that only a few are brave enough to explore, through their strong lyrical and musical metaphors; the song masterfully builds on the memories of the past, further examined through nostalgic hip-hop beats, and dynamic, melodic raps.

I was ecstatic. Sleepless in Melbourne had officially begun.

After this initial foray, Tablo officially introduced his group-mates to the audience in a way that friends would introduce themselves to each other; the subtle in-jokes referenced stories of years ago, and the improvised choreography was altogether something simultaneously spectacular and extraordinary, and so completely ‘EPIK HIGH’, that the audience was quickly reduced to tears of laughter.

As much as EPIK HIGH is known for their incredible ability to capture the complexity of human emotion through their thematic and intricately constructed lyrics, the trio is also widely celebrated for their distinctive style; a wonderful blend of distinct musical styles and genres. The ninety-minute setlist was a carefully constructed, beautifully balanced blend of their long and loved discography. The group alternated between more recent hits like ‘NO THANXXX’ and ‘BLEED’, while also presenting nostalgia through other classics like the electronic ‘High Technology’ and ‘Love Love Love’ – satisfying old and new fans alike.

EPIK HIGH ended their set on a sentimental note with ‘Fan’ – unsurprisingly, a fan-favourite.

“This is our last song. We’re not like those regular groups,” he concluded, laughing, to riotous cheers and a hefty applause. Taking in the full effect of the crowds’ cheers, he continued, “I don’t know why you’re applauding. This means we’re not going to come back. There’s no encore. This is definitely the last song,” Tablo promised once again, a great, big, wild smile on his happy face.

He was wrong. It was not their last song.

Returning to stage for their encore, the group concluded the night with performances of ‘Born Hater’ and ‘Don’t Hate Me’, only stopping to leisurely draw stick figures and their signatures on a hotel towel, that was then joyously thrown into the crowd on behalf of Mithra Jin.

With a promise to come back to Melbourne again, and “to a much larger venue”, the trio left the stage, and their fans, in pure delights.

Leaving the show, I didn’t feel exhausted after standing for hours. I felt exhilarated; from start to finish, the room was full of the most intense and incredible energy. It was fun, in the most serious way; amongst my party, there was a mutual sense of joy.

Tablo was right on one thing, though – EPIK HIGH are not a regular group.

They are one of those unique acts that make you feel as if you have just spent a casual night out with good friends; incredibly successful and musically talented friends, but friends nonetheless.

In this way, going to an EPIK HIGH show is not a passive experience. Despite being successful performers, they are incredibly authentic, and just a whole lot of fun.