It was a first for Brisbane – the king of K-pop in an arena concert in OUR city?! Brisbane fans are accustomed to travelling to Sydney or Melbourne to see their idols, and for the second time this year (following GOT7’s visit in April) they’re coming to US? But it happened, on a chilly Tuesday night in August, and today Brisbane’s K-pop community is basking in the bittersweet post-concert blues, many doubtless still clutching VIP lightsticks and wearing their gold and silver streamers salvaged from the Entertainment Centre floor.
At 7:30pm, the Entertainment Centre – Brisbane’s biggest venue with a capacity of 13,500 – felt oddly intimate. A weeknight show, the second of three in our Great Southern Land, and steep ticket prices meant the space was far from packed to the rafters. The top rows of stalls had been covered, the seated punters invited closer to the stage. Lucky fans by the dozen found themselves winners of last minute tickets in the 24 hours before showtime, myself included – my section 20A-3 Row Z seats in the sky somehow transformed into a VIP lanyard and I found myself standing with the diehard fans who had paid upwards of $500 for the privilege of proximity. Though it seemed disappointing at first to see the room less than full, it proved a blessing in disguise as time wore on and the nature of the concert was revealed.
At 8pm, half an hour after the scheduled start time, the lights went down and the anticipation went through the roof. The staging screens showed a heart monitor going into cardiac arrest, and when the screaming hit a fever pitch, Kwon Jiyong appeared in the centre of the elevated platform – one man, a huge stage, dazzling pyrotechnics, a mullet (how Australian) and his very first solo hit, “Heartbreaker”.
The setlist followed the chronology of G-Dragon’s career – from his 2009 solo debut through the One of a Kind era and ending with his most recent offerings from his self-titled mini-album Kwon Jiyong. It was a setlist that did not disappoint fans, although the title track from his 2013 record Coup d’Etat was noticeably absent. The live 4-piece band bring a new life to his music beyond that of the recordings, with searing guitar solos, Caribbean beats and synth horn stabs adding new textures and showmanship.
A lazy, effortless performance style is GD’s signature, and this show was no different – he sang and rapped only the most important lines of his songs, allowing the recorded guide track to take the rest, and danced with an easy and practiced flow. Often he was the only person onstage, and he used it to great effect – at times expanding his presence to command the space, and at other times letting it engulf him.
Halfway through the show things started to change, and a more vulnerable, human element pushed through the bombast. After a video sequence interviewing the idol’s friends and family (including fellow Bigbang members, celebrities and his own mum and dad) about the duality of his career persona versus the man, the son, the friend, G-Dragon returned to the stage as Kwon Jiyong. This is when the smaller crowd made the biggest difference – as Kwon Jiyong stood inviting us into his world, sharing his troubles and baring his soul, individual calls of “we love you” and “you aren’t alone” rang clear across the arena. It was easy to tell he heard every one of them.
There was one big issue with the show: the audio mix. G-Dragon is a tenor, meaning his voice is in the higher range for male singers, but it was often barely audible over the all-consuming bass. Bass player Omar “ODub” Dominick is an incredibly skilled player, and it’s not at all his fault that his instrument was most forward in the mix, certain bass frequencies actually rattled the whole venue, and I kept waiting for the sound crew in the bio box to fix it – but they never did. I have a theory the foldback mix wasn’t much better – GD abandoned his in-ear monitors during his fourth song and let them hang free for the rest of the show.
The master of drawing a response from a crowd, Kwon Jiyong gave out plenty of finger hearts throughout the show, and caused minor hysteria during his song “Missing You”, when he pointed at fans all over the arena – “I’m missing you, you, you, you…” He spoke English eloquently and almost exclusively every time he addressed the audience, and he let that vulnerability into his words, as though speaking to old friends. “Hello Brisbane. This is Motte Part 3 and I’m Kwon Jiyong. Welcome to the show.” “It’s my first full show in Brisbane ever. Is it enough?” His finale, the stripped-back “Unwritten, 2014” saw him disappear into the pit in front of the stage, just feet from the fans, a warm smile on his face and an apparent reluctance to let the night end obvious as he stopped to chat with guitarist Justin Lyons on his way off the stage.
With his military service looming, it may be quite some time before Kwon Jiyong can return to Brisbane, but I hope that when he does he finds a bigger crowd to share his passion and more light sticks than phone screens in the air. After all, he gave us his word – “I’m not sure when I can come back, but I will, I will. I promise you.”
Image Supplied. Courtesy of YG Entertainment and IME.