Thursday night Epik High took the stage in the heart of Chicago, the sixth of eleven concerts scheduled for their North American tour, and I was lucky enough to be one of the many who flocked to the House of Blues for this evening of epic awesome.
Arriving at the House of Blues about three hours before show time, I was immediately met with good fortune as the very person I needed to talk to just happened to be standing right outside the venue. With a quick introduction and a friendly smile, I was taken inside, given my press pass and my ticket and in no time I was less than ten feet away from Epik High themselves, snapping pictures during their meet and greet. Now we all know that I’ve been to my fair share of concerts and I’ve shelled a ridiculous amount of money for a two second meeting with my beloved idols but I have never, in all my concert going days, seen a meet and greet like this one. In small groups, fans were granted permission to not just slap a quick high-five on their way out the door, but spend minutes (I repeat, MINUTES) chatting with Tablo, Tukutz and Mithra Jin as if they were old friends. It was incredible to watch as this sort of fan interaction is something you usually only see in pictures from Korea but never get to experience in real life. I have to say, if ever there was a show worth spending the extra cash for a chance to meet a group, this would be the one. I can guarantee you not a single person walked away from this meet & greet disappointed. Heck, I was happy just watching the whole thing. (In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t get to meet Epik High but they did walk right past me on their way backstage after the meet & greet, which was pretty cool.)
With the meet and greet over, it was time for the VIP ticket holders to take their place at the front of the stage and once they were all settled in, the next tier of ticket holders were allowed into the venue. From that point on, it didn’t take long for the House of Blues to fill with High Skoolers, all excitedly chattering away as the minutes before show time slowly ticked away. With the ever-growing crowd cramming themselves into the building, it was time for me to take my place in the press pit, a rather more difficult feat to accomplish than one might expect, but I managed. For not the first time that evening, I was impressed with the way things were managed as those in charge did a fantastic job of keeping the energy in the room up and the crowd excited. From chants to cheers to unexpected freebies being tossed into the crowd, everyone in the room was equally entertained and hyped so that when the house lights finally dimmed, the energy in the room was so high you could feel it, like lightning coursing through your veins.
Taking the stage to the tumultuous roar of the crowd, Tablo, Tukutz and Mithra Jin kicked the night off with “Encore” before making a brief introduction that began with the “baby” of the group and ended with “Haru’s Daddy”. From there it was back to the music with a five song set that included “Fly”, “Get Out The Way”, “Free Music”, “Top Gun” and “Light It Up” followed up by a more formal introduction. However, with Epik High, nothing is formal which was fine because no one in the building actually needed any sort of introduction. We all knew exactly who it was we’d come to see.
Slowing things down a bit, “It’s Cold” and “Umbrella” were next on the set list. Tablo was kind enough to compliment the vocal talent of his Chicago fans as we sang along, telling us “Younha would be jealous” to which the crowd responded with much laughter and cheers. I know for a fact, Younha would never be jealous of my singing voice but it was a generous compliment to the crowd and I appreciated the sentiment, even if it did make me snort with laughter. Never letting things slow down for long, “Burj Khalifa” got the crowd jumping before moving into “Map the Soul” and “Rich”.
As the lights dimmed, Epik High disappeared for a brief intermission but they didn’t leave us to wait in the dark, bored and alone. Instead, the house filled with Tablo’s voice as he read a thank you letter to his fans. The letter began simply and honestly with this: “We’re not on TV where you are, so we don’t know how you know us, but we wrote you a letter…” From there he went on to list all the random things Epik High loves about North America. From cheeseburgers to grizzly bears, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Walking Dead, Tupac, Michael Jordan, bagels and Chuck Norris, Epik High had much to be thankful for and we, as the audience, couldn’t help but laugh and cheer, especially when the things most closely related to Chicago just happened to come up. (Imagine that!)
With the letter over, it was time for Epik High to take the stage once again, this time starting things off a bit slower with “Happen Ending” before moving into “Love Love Love”. From there the guys took a little break from the music to do a short Q&A session which Tablo made very clear he hated doing but because he loved us so much, he was willing to answer three questions from the audience. The first question was actually a request for the guys to have a light-saber battle with the audience’s light sticks so Tukutz and Mithra Jin battled on stage while Tablo stood off to the side conducting the audience as we hummed “The Imperial March” (aka Darth Vader’s theme song). Honestly, it was a rather lame duel but that’s probably because Tablo made it very clear this was one of the weirdest requests they’d ever gotten from the fans. “You could have had us do anything and you had us fight with light sticks?” he asked in a way only Tablo could. The second and third questions were, “Show us your aegyo” and “Show us your best impersonation of each other” and again Tablo’s sarcastic humor was out in full force. Being one who hates aegyo with a passion, (I believe “It makes me sick inside” were his exact words) Tablo wasn’t a fan of the request but he did it anyway, for about half a second. Tukutz was up next with, what Tablo dubbed his “disgusting” aegyo dance, and though Tablo warned everyone with weak stomachs to look away, the rest of us died as Tukutz did his own abridged version of “Fantastic Baby”. While the audience tried to catch their breath from all the laughing inspired by Tukutz’s “Fantastic” aegyo, Tablo lamented over not being able to go to the top of the Sears Tower which just so happened to be a super slick segue into their next song, “Up”.
A brief blackout brought Tablo to the stage alone as he began his performance of “Airbag” but he didn’t get far before he was joined by Tukutz imparting his own deep emotion to Naul’s original parts. Unfortunately, Tablo didn’t appreciate this interruption while he was busy pouring his heart into the song and stopped the track around the third verse. After a stern lecture and a whole lot of laughing from us, the audience, Tablo asked if he could continue pouring his heart into a different song which led nicely into the ever popular, “Eyes, Nose, Lips”. After pouring so much emotion into this set, the stage darkened once again.
When the lights came up, all of Epik High was back to get the crowd jumping with a four song set that included “Kill This Love”, “High Technology”, “One” and “New Beautiful”. During this last set, Tablo took some time to reminisce about the time he spent in Chicago some fourteen years ago. He talked about a show he’d attended at the House of Blues at the time, he remembered where he’d been standing (very close to where I was, actually) and how he’d had a moment, watching the show, where he’d thought to himself, “That looks so awesome, I really want to do that someday.” He also talked about how a former member of the Bulls had been at the show that night and had stolen all the thunder by tossing $100 bills into the crowd and then pointed out the guy in the balcony who’d been dancing so hard he’d done the very same thing, stealing the show with his awesome dance moves. Tablo then went to tell the guy he wanted to take him to Dallas with him as he was having so much fun watching the guy dance. As was the case all night, everything Tablo said was hilarious and we spent so much time laughing, there were times I could barely breathe. Especially once Tablo decided to translate Mithra Jin’s goodbyes… Oh my gosh! Tablo embarrassed Mithra Jin so badly, stating there were so many pretty ladies in Chicago he wondered which of them would like to go back to Seoul with Mithra. Needless to say, countless hands went up on that one and everyone, Tablo especially, was cracking up while Mithra turned about fifteen shades of red.
With their goodbyes said, Epik High closed out the evening with “Fan”, disappearing into the dark while the audience begged for more. After much chanting, cheering and pleading, Epik High returned for an encore that included “Born Hater” and “Don’t Hate Me” as well as a whole lot of fan interaction. Each member brought a black t-shirt on-stage with them which they signed in-between verses of “Born Hater”, tossing the shirts to three very lucky High Skoolers. Many of those lucky enough to be in the very front rows were granted selfies and videos on their phones as Tablo, Tukutz and Mithra Jin were very generous in that department. Of course there were countless high-fives and smiles from the stage and at one point, Tukutz wandered into the audience, giving high-fives and smiles to everyone around him. It may have been a short, two song encore but it was packed with fan-service and it left everyone in that room happy. With the final goodbyes said, the lights dimmed once again and our epic evening with Epik High came to an end.
I have to say, out of all the concerts I’ve attended, this evening with Epik High tops the list as the most fun. There’s something to be said for seeing a veteran group like Epik High live. They may not have all the all the flashy costumes and slick dance moves but they have something that rookie groups don’t, they know where they’ve come from, they sincerely appreciate the fans that have stuck with them through both good times and bad, and they really know how to put on an amazing show. The atmosphere of the evening, the energy and vibe in the room was so very different from most of the shows I’ve attended and I know a lot of that has to do with the fact that Epik High is a veteran group; they know what they’re doing, they know what their fans want and they know how to have a good time which means we, as the audience, also have a good time… A great time… An amazing time… A fantastic time… An epic time… Yes, that’s it, an epic evening with Epik High and one that I will never forget.