In the wake of many K-pop concerts here in New York, EXO returned to remind international fans who’s in charge. On the first stop of the North American portion of their Exo’ridum Tour, EXO came to Prudential Center for the second time. They were not at full power though as member Lay stayed back due to work commitments in China. His absence did not hinder them although it was clear the fans missed him as the stadium erupted every time he showed up on the screen.
Following on from their extended intro video which spoke of troubled times in today’s world and built on the mythic origins of EXO, the eight boys opened with a blistering trio. In shiny velvet suits against an angular metallic background they performed “MAMA”, “Monster”, and “Wolf”. It kept the tone intense, focusing initially on the choreography more so than vocals. The EDM version of “Wolf” was especially good. It cleverly doesn’t remix the song but just adds another layer of electronics, giving the track a clear punch when performed live.
From then on the structure of the concert was revealed. Groups of three of four songs would be punctuated by videos as the group got changed. These videos worked to change the feeling of the show, they can be cute, serious, or even silly. It meant that each section could feel unique while never losing sight of the bigger picture. For example right after that first part they introduced themselves which allowed them to get closer to the fans. It wasn’t cutesy fan service yet though as the tonal shift was not fully complete.
Instead the BPM rates went down and the sex went up. All of the members took the time to get up close and personal with the fans now. Building from the subtle sensuality of the synthy “White Noise” to the downright provocative “Artificial Love” EXO gave the New York fans a coming of age ceremony they will never forget. “Artificial Love’s” cane dance was the highlight here, the members played around with them at first before using them to do a sort of mini pole dance. Kai ruled this of course and he followed with a breathtaking solo dance with a blindfold. As the show would go on I found it hard to take my eyes off of him. He moves with such purpose and poise that even when he would break formation for some fan interaction he could make it look like a part of the choreography.
Kai wasn’t the only one to strike this balance between choreography and fan service though. The show as a whole worked so well in this regard never allowing only type of performance to take over. This was evidenced by the following section which slowed things down for an acoustic medley with Chanyeol on guitar (one for the K-pop/metal fan hybrids here: he managed to sneak in a riff of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” while warming up). Now Chen, D.O, and Baekhyun could shine as the music took a step back. It was a sweeter time although I wish they had performed “Call Me Baby” in its normal guise as well as it was shortened here.
Vocally they were on form with lip syncing kept to an apparent minimum. Chen and D.O stood out for me though. D.O, while not as vocally acrobatic as Chen and Baekhyun, has a range and he knows it. This means I always have confidence that he will hit his notes and hit them well. He looked effortless here, similar to Kai he could jump in and out of serious performing and messing around. Chen on the other hand, has a much wider range with more of a chance of missing his notes if he’s having an off day. Thankfully this day was not off. His confidence seemed sky high as he let his long high notes trail on longer than usual. If I was watching them blind, Chen is the only one I could have identified every single time. He projects his voice so well that made him the best hype man on the night as well.
As the show built back up it hit its apex for me when they focused back on the choreography. Another dance trio of “Overdose”, “Transformer”, and “Lightsaber” was perfectly executed. The use of “Transformer” here was a pleasant surprise, I didn’t expect a b-side to be so powerfully performed. EXO weaved b-sides like this and “Tender Love” previously to great effect throughout the concert which went a long way to making it feel so professional.
This part along with an encore should have been the actual climax of the show though. From there it began to drag as they shifted to a more party atmosphere. Usually I would be into this sort of thing but after the intensity of the previous segment it felt unnecessary. The try hard hip-hop stuff is hard to pull off as well and for the most part they did not succeed. It felt like it was supposed to be the most exciting part of the show but left me a little underwhelmed.
Thankfully they came back for an encore of their biggest hit “Growl” and one of their most underrated tracks “Lucky One”. It was a welcome and quick reminder of what made the show great. A commitment to like-minded sections, each with a unique look and sound. EXO offered little in the way of surprises but it never felt like they were missing. Constant communication with fans and the spacing of their hits (“Love Me Right” came right in the middle of the show to kick things up) meant that, for the most part, it flowed with ease.
The members personified this with a swagger to their every movement that seemed to say “you missed this right?” Judging by the adoring crowds constant reactions, they sure did.
Photos by Jean Libert. See her full photo gallery HERE