Since his 1986 debut as the vocalist for the heavy metal band Sinawe, Im Jae Bum has become a rock legend in Korea, gaining unprecedented popularity and solidifying his reputation as one of the country's most talented singers. The introverted singer was also famous for his eccentric and difficult attitude, intimidating many people in the industry as well as some audience members. However, his rugged voice that powerfully reflects sorrow and a sense of longing has touched the hearts of listeners in Korea, allowing him to release more than ten albums as a solo artist, record numerous themes for major Korean dramas, and become a national icon.
Im Jae Bum recently traveled to the US, performing in the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on October 7. Im was living his dream, traveling and performing in America for his first solo tour in his 25-year career, filling up almost 7000 seats at the Nokia Theatre.
The audience was very homogenous: it was a full house, and almost everyone in the audience was Korean. A dramatic intro video -- a compilation of Im's quotes accompanied by epic music -- kicked off the show, and afterward, it was clear that the entire concert was going to be spoken in Korean.
Photo by Liuyi (Luisa) Chen
After a 15 minute delay, Im finally made his entrance, donning a hanbok, the traditional attire of Korea. He opened with a very charismatic song, "Empty Cup," a remake of a Korean favorite that he performed earlier this year on the variety show Survival: I am a Singer. The haunting rendition of the classic trot song -- originally sung by Nam Jin -- grabbed the attention of the audience by combining the commanding and majestic beats of the traditional Korean drum with electronica rock rounds and African chant-inspired vocals. However, there was an imbalance of sound between the mic and the instrumentals. The mic was too loud, and Im’s voice completely drowned out the instrumentals during the singer's shaky high notes (some of which, the singer unfortunately missed). The song definitely wore out his voice, which was noticeable in the couple of songs that followed.
The concert was highly interactive. Im made an effort to engage the crowd as much as possible, which was surprising considering his antisocial reputation. Even though some of his jokes were met by an unresponsive crowd, he was persistent, and it made him more personable -- and quite frankly, adorable in a way. Nevertheless, traces of his rebellious attitude came out when he threw out disclaimers to some songs. For instance, before he sang "Desperado" by the Eagles, he told the crowd the song was really for himself, not for the crowd.
I personally appreciated that he sang English songs, as there were a few non-Koreans in the audience. But as expected, the songs did not generate too much response for the Los Angeles crowd that night.
Photo by Liuyi (Luisa) Chen
In the middle of the concert, Im took a break to showcase some of his guests, a move that might have confused many members of the audience. People were under the misconception this was purely an Im Jae Bum solo concert, when it was really a concert for the new 2011 MBC reality show Swept By the Wind, about Im Jae Bum traveling across the U.S. with an RV with a couple of Korean celebrities to make music.
The show was filmed in a documentary style, but it was also a comic reality show that sought to unveil the mysterious Im Jae Bum, showing what he was like off-stage. These US concerts were sponsored by the show to act as the big finale of the cast's journey and to celebrate of their growth.That explained the seemingly random guest performers, who were actually part of the diverse cast of Swept By the Wind -- musicians, actors, and comedians that accompanied Im Jae Bum on his musical trip across America. (With the exception of the accompaniments in the first song "Empty Cup," who were from Im's I am a Singer cast.)
Photo courtesy of Kpoppanama.com
The first cast member to perform was the Korean hip-hop group Soul Dive. They gave a performance of "XXX" and "My Fist Cries," a remake of Im Jae Bum's original song. They tried hard to rile up the crowd without much success in the beginning, but they eventually got everyone -- not just the small percentage of young people -- on their feet, yelling out the lyrics on command.
Other guests included actors Lee Jun Hyuk, who played minor characters in hit dramas like City Hunter and Secret Garden, and Kim Yong Ho, a famous movie and TV star whose filmography boasts over 30 dramas and films, including Perfect Partner, Seo Dong Yo, and Blue. Both actors made their appearances between Im's costume changes.
Lee's singing was not impressive, but he served as eye candy to the audience. Kim on the other hand, sang a beautiful song "Mother" that seemed very uncharacteristic to his tough and rugged look. His smooth and soulful voice was an unexpected surprise. The actor even teared up during the performance, touching the audience's hearts with his exceptional singing. Kim definitely performed up to par with Im.
Once Im came back to the stage, the rest of the concert was predictable. Im sprinkled his crowd pleasers throughout the show to prevent people from getting zoning out. However, the remarkable thing was that his singing got better and better as the concert went on. The overall sound quality was also much better technically as the concert went on, and there was a great balance of sound that properly showcased some exceptional musicians from the band.
Photo courtesy of Kpopshow.com
My absolute favorite part of the show was the encore. Im Jae Bum rocked out with "Rock in Korea," delivering the song perfectly. Everyone was on their feet singing along, and you could really see Im Jae Bum in his element. He really bared it all in this concert -- literally. The rocker took his shirt off, proving you can still be bad-ass at 48.
While enjoyable, the concert would have made more sense if the producers were smarter about the timing of the concerts in relation to the reality show's airing. The first episode was aired October 2, the Saturday before the Los Angeles concert on October 7. Perhaps the guest performers would have generated a bigger response if the concert was held after the show had gained a stronger fan base.
After the Los Angeles concert, an episode of Swept By the Wind aired his September 20 performance of "Desperado" at UC Berkeley, which, in contrast, gained an explosive response, perhaps the audience was mostly made up of English-speaking students who had attended a guest lecture Im gave previous to his mini-concert. Even if the timing was beyond their control, they could have at least showed clips from the show that would have provided some sort of context -- both for Im's English songs and for these guest performers.
Overall, the audience expected a show featuring Im Jae Bum singing his hit songs. They did get all of that; they just got the three-hour Swept By the Wind version.