Live Review: KCON 2017 LA – M Countdown Concert Night 1 – Staples Center, Los Angeles (19.08.17)

The first night of the 6th Annual KCON LA M Countdown concert got off to a sweet start at the Staples Center with a special stage duet. Leo of VIXX opened at a baby grand piano and Minah of Girl’s Day joined him in a cover of ‘City of Stars’ from the Los Angeles-centric movie-musical La La Land (2016). The piece was a nice showcase for Leo’s piano skills and both singers’ voices.

An off-stage MC greeted the audience and shepherded all the acts onto the stage for a welcoming wave, and then off again to begin the show. This year’s M Countdown stage was once again arranged in the round, providing the whole of the audience with great views of the stage.

Rookie boy group, SF9 of FNC Entertainment was first up in green school-esque uniforms and a whole lot of energy. They treated the crowd to vibrant performances of Fanfare, Jungle Game and their pensive ballad, Easy Love.

Cosmic Girls (aka WJSN) came next, surprising the crowd with pep-band fanfare as all 13 members, clad in matching red and white cheerleader outfits and matching red pompoms, filed through the house floor and up onto the stage. The rookie South Korean-Chinese girl group was created in partnership by Starship Entertainment (South Korea) and Yuehua Entertainment (China), and like SF9, debuted less than a year ago.  Their rookie status was charmingly apparent as the girls adorably, if imprecisely, marched through their three-song set of Kiss Me, I Wish, and Secret.

VIXX members N and Hongbin appeared from somewhere in the audience to serve as MCs, reading from cue cards in a mix of Korean and English.

Twelve of Pledis Entertainment’s 13-member boy group Seventeen then made their first appearance of the night, but in pieces. The group’s three subunits, Performance Unit, Vocal Unit, and Hip Hop Unit, each performed one song. Member Hoshi seems to have been out sick. (Get well soon, Hoshi!)

The appearance of Girl’s Day brought the audience to their feet. The ladies emerged from under the jumbotron clad in casual garb (cropped-tops, 3 pairs of denim micro-shorts, and one pair of wide-legged, high-waisted denim slacks that would make Kitty Forman proud) and what looked like undanceable 4 inch heels.  Dream Tea Entertainment’s fab foursome opened with their recent single I’ll Be Yours, and followed it up with the ever-steamy Something and their 2015 hit Ring My Bell. Minah’s voice came close to soaring a few times but she kept it mostly reined in, and the girls proved their shoes were, in fact, quite danceable. It was a fun, casual performance and the crowd loved it.

Cosmic Girls re-appeared in white blouses and black hot pants for a cover of the ubiquitous BTS hit I Need You, and SF9 followed them with an appropriately black-suited cover of the Super Junior classic, Sorry Sorry.

This signaled it was time for D&E, a subunit of SM Entertainment’s Super Junior, to appear. Donghae and Eunhyuk emerged into spotlights through traps in the floor, sporting jeans and coordinated black and gray Chanel jackets (and unfortunately, misappropriated hair braids) to make what may have been their first post-military performance. The crowd was ecstatic. Defying expectations, they opened with their 2015 ballad, Growing Pains. They followed it up with the uptempo Saturday Night and closed out their set with their delightfully campy single, Oppa Oppa.

Like every group that night, D&E took a quick moment between songs to speak to the crowd. Eunhyuk put on the 3000-Watt charm and professed, in English, his undying love to the whole stadium (the magic power of seasoned K-pop idols is that you find yourself believing them) and stated that Super Junior was hard at work recording a new album. Donghae looked a bit tired throughout, and the crowd proved somewhat dense when they completely missed the part in Saturday Night where they were supposed to participate in a call and response, even after some heavy-handed prompting by Eunhyuk. Regardless, Eunhyuk appeared to be in his element and it was refreshing to see stage veterans at work, especially after some rocky rookie moments earlier in the evening.

VIXX pushed the mood of the evening a bit beyond PG-13, bringing charisma and drama with black suits and a pair of singles off their latest EP: the record’s eponymous Shangri-La (complete with gender-norm defying fan-dance) and the tense but sultry Black Out. The Jellyfish Entertainment sextet closed out their set with their 2016 angst-ballad, Fantasy. With five years of idol-ing under their belts, VIXX has hit a stride as a smooth operating machine and they know how to deliver live stages. And the crowd was appreciatively ecstatic, with many Starlights in the house busting out fan chants at appropriate moments during the set.

Unfortunately, the gravitas of VIXX’s performance suffered a detractive break as their talking portion gave way to a planned K-variety show-style game of digital Piñata. The jumbotron cycled through a variety of named challenges and as the crowd yelled “Piñata!!!” on cue, the image of a popcorn box burst and revealed an assigned challenge. VIXX received “Photo Time” which demanded members walk around the stage and pose, allowing the audience to revel in taking photos of the idols. VIXX was collectively cute in handling the unavoidably sluggish mission, but the twee nature of the challenge contrasted starkly with the group’s broody musical set, and the mission went on a bit longer than necessary.

For the final stage, Seventeen reemerged, this time as a major unit. The boys opened with their latest single, Don’t Wanna Cry, and the crowd immediately chimed in singing “Ulgo sipji anha” (울고 싶지 않아) – a reminder that this track peaked at #3 on Billboard’s World Digital Song Sales chart back in June. Seventeen followed it up with a solid performance of their 2015 tune, Rock – and it should be noted that the 12/13ths of Seventeen present on stage demonstrated throughout their set that they are an accomplished dance group. Then came an a effusive talking session that included a fond Hello from member Joshua to his hometown (L.A.), a second round of Piñata!!! (a somewhat drawn-out Random Dance Play that attempted to include the audience), and a round of t-shirt cannon volleys (which sent wearable KCON swag into the crowd). Seventeen’s final song, and the final song of the night, was their flirty, frantic 2016 single, Very Nice.

The concert’s end was signaled by an abundance of confetti blasts and the disembodied voice of the off-stage announcer ushering all acts back on stage for a curtain call and farewell. This style of ending often feels abrupt and a bit too blunt and leaves the audience to filter out dazedly without a firm sense of finale. But the K-pop fans in attendance were consoled knowing this was only Night 1 of the KCON 2017 LA, and M Countdown Concert, Night 2 was still ahead.