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BIGBANG. For K-pop fans, it’s the name that sends hearts racing and butterflies in stomachs tumbling. For many, boy group BIGBANG were the catalyst for their K-pop initiation, the first Korean idol group to capture their attention. K-pop concerts are still a recent development for Australia, with semi-regular concerts starting in 2013, but K-pop fandom has existed here for much longer. Enthusiasm was high and anticipation through the roof as hundreds of fans converged on Rod Laver Arena yesterday to spend an evening with the golden boys of K-pop.

A dreary Melbourne morning is no match for BIGBANG‘s most dedicated fans, fondly known as VIPs. Clad in plastic ponchos and clutching yellow crown-shaped light sticks, fans with standing tickets were out in force from an early hour to nab the perfect view.

Fast-forward to 6:30pm – as the arena slowly filled with fans, the room became a sea of yellow light sticks, the air thick with excited chatter. The member’s hadn’t even taken the stage yet when the cheers began as BIGBANG songs and the member’s solo videos were broadcast on large screens in the lead up to the show.

The arena setup was an unusual one – VIP ticket holders positioned immediately opposite the stage, flanked by two movable catwalk-bridges leading to a second smaller stage separating the VIPs from the general ticket holders. This meant VIP ticket holders were afforded a 360 degree concert experience, general standing ticket holders got to be just as close to the action, and those seated (myself included) were also able to catch every moment, regardless of their position in the stadium.

The intro video began just a little later than the scheduled 7:30 starting time, featuring the members in a Reservoir Dogs-inspired car chase action sequence, then the screen split in two and gave way to five godlike figures bathed in red light, high above the stage on raised platforms. Seungri, Daesung, Taeyang, TOP and G-Dragon had arrived. It was time to party! Immediately bouncing yellow light sticks filled the air.

‘We waited a long time to see you guys here,’ member Taeyang shared. Oh Taeyang, you have no idea. Things kicked off with a definite party starter – the recent hit ‘Bang Bang Bang’, followed by 2011 single ‘Tonight’.

Being one of the most widely known K-pop groups internationally and having spent a lot of time in the States shooting videos in the last few years has its benefits. Each member spoke enough English to make themselves clear onstage, even if wasn’t technically correct – which was charming in itself. Seungri in particular seemed eager to please – and eager to garner applause, which the crowd was in turn eager to give. ‘You guys can dancing tonight; you guys can singing tonight and you guys can SCREAMING!’ He urged – we’ll forgive him the grammar, because dance, sing and scream we did.

The show ran for a full two hours, followed by another 20 minute encore. It featured largely the band’s most recent hits, peppered with few nods to their past. It left older fans pining for their earlier singles but new fans highly satisfied – and with a discography dating back to 2006 and spanning three languages, it would be impossible to please everyone. The crowd kept up a solid string of applause, making it difficult to pick a crowd favourite, but 2012 smash “Fantastic Baby” still managed to take the cake and transform the arena into a fully-fledged dance party.

The energy that a live band brings to a show can’t be matched with a backing track, and it seems BIGBANG’s label YG Entertainment know it. The five-piece band accompanying the group was second-to-none and gave the entire show an edge. Visibly rocking out at the rear on each side of the main stage, the band was finessed and flawless – quite obviously a team of accomplished live and session players. The flexibility of having bass, drums, guitar and two keys players on stage allowed the group to revamp their classic songs with a twist – ‘Haru Haru’, already an emotional piece, became a tear-jerking stripped-back acoustic ballad, TOP‘s solo track ‘Doom Dada’ gained a gritty hard rock element and G-Dragon’s 2013 Britpop-inspired anthem ‘Crooked’ pumped with a new funk flavour through the prechorus.

Though the boys of BIGBANG still sang with a vocal guide track, their musicality was undeniable and their pitch on point. Taeyang in particular made for many goosebumps-worthy moments with his vocal agility, humble presence and passionate performance.

‘Til now we’re just warming up, right?’ G-Dragon, ever the picture of nonchalance. ‘From now we go crazy, right?’ You don’t have to tell us twice GD. The leader, primary songwriter and co-producer for the group, effortlessly stands out on stage – though it’s not widely advertised, G-Dragon is also a gifted dancer. He moves with a cat-like fluidity and laziness, oozing ease without ever missing a beat, unassuming during his fellow members’ sections one moment and commanding and charismatic the next for his own parts.

The show was punctuated with humour, the boys obviously comfortable with communicating with their vast foreign fanbase in just-less-than-perfect English. During his introduction Daesung teased the crowd through his long hair – ‘do you guys want to see my eyes?’; after Taeyang gave us ‘his little heart’ (his thumb and forefinger held together to make a heart shape) TOP offered us his ‘brain’ – his fist – and mimed throwing it into the crowd. ‘Now you have no brain,’ Taeyang commented. ‘Yeah,’ TOP replied. ‘I don’t know. Who are you?’

Not a cent was spared on staging for this tour – elaborate sets included a rotating stage, a huge gargoyle statue and staggered platforms with screens inside were used for just one song each and struck from the stage. Fireworks and streamer blasts punctuated the show, adding an even more powerful element to a concert that was already visually spectacular.

My personal highlights included Daesung‘s feature on drums for the recent release ‘Sober’, where he looked as though he was having the time of his life as the crowd chanted his name, and Seungri’s performance of ‘Strong Baby’, his 2008 solo debut and one of my favourite K-pop tracks to date.

The boys closed the night with a reprisal of “Bang Bang Bang”, the perfect bookends to their crazy party, and as fans filtered out to the cloak room and tram stations, they were entertained by their fellows performing BIGBANG dance routines outside the arena to help ease the onset of post-concert depression.

Though BIGBANG promised to return soon, with mandatory military service looming it seems unlikely we’ll see them on Australian stages again with any immediacy. But Australia’s VIPs are patient – we have been before, and we will be again. And when you do return, BIGBANG, we will keep our promise to see you again too.

Photo by Johnny Au from BIGBANG Sydney Concert