All 4,000 seats at the iconic Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park were taken as indie bands byebyesea and JANNABI took the stage for the Korean Cultural Center of New York’s (KCCNY) K-Indie Music Night on July 27. Open to the public, the performances of the two groups were meant to show New Yorkers the diversity of Korean music and culture. As the outdoor venue began to fill with longtime fans of the bands and casual concertgoers, the crowd buzzed in anticipation.
Starting the night was byebyesea, whose appearance at the event was also the final stop of their 2022 Live in USA tour. Members Namu (guitar, vocals), Sunje (guitar), and Myungje (bass), were joined by touring band members Sangjin Kwon (keyboard) and Sungje Kim (drums).
The rousing and vivid acoustic guitar riffs of the emotional opening song, “The Sea of Tears,” immediately captivated the crowd, turning the excited chatter into reverent attention. The band then moved into the soft and introspective track, “Tear Drop.”
Following the band’s sentimental start, Namu introduced himself and byebyesea members to the crowd.
“Before, music was the only thing that comforted me,” Namu remarked in English. “I hope this show means something to you, too.”
Namu then switched his acoustic guitar for an electric one as the band moved into a dreamy rendition of “Arrange,” a slow number driven by passionate vocals and a lush instrumental break. byebyesea then transitioned into a melancholic cover of R.E.M.’s angsty hit, “Everybody Hurts” – a well-known song that added a sense of familiarity for alternative rock fans in the audience.
Next up was byebyesea’s fan-favorite breakout single, “Star Shower.” Introducing the track to loud cheers, Namu said, “I believe this song and ‘Starlight’ have brought us together to this moment here.” The song’s ethereal vibe and synth chord progressions were complemented by the “sha la la’s” of fans who sang along.
Shifting gears, byebyesea turned away from the somber tunes into the upbeat, jazz-inspired track, “City Complex.” The earlier awed mood of the audience was replaced by excited claps as some began to dance in their spots, matching Namu’s energetic skips and jumps onstage as the band performed. The newly upbeat mood provided the perfect segue into “Paris,” where Myungje’s fun bass line, Namu’s raspy vibrato, and Sunje’s harmonies and flatpicking blended together for a classic alt-rock performance. The punky-pop vibe and synths of “The Devil” rounded out this spirited section of the set.
The climax of byebyesea’s set kicked off with a drum solo by Sungje, leaving the audience wondering what they would be hearing next. Myungje then added the jazzy bass line of “Last Night,” accentuated by Namu and Sunje’s lively freestyle dance moves that delighted the crowd. For a moment, the band stopped playing, feigning the end of the song. The audience was fooled – soft applause was heard before Namu unleashed a surprise high note and the band went back into full swing.
With the true end of their set on the horizon, Namu addressed the attendees again.
“This was the best time ever, ever, EVER!” He said excitedly to whoops and claps. “I hope to see you all again, and I’m gonna miss you guys.”
A velvety piano intro by Sangjin led into byebyesea’s final song of the set. “Damdam,” a sublime and nostalgic ballad, once again mesmerized concertgoers. The crowd waved their arms in the air and sang along to wish the band well.
Performing in the U.S. for the first time, JANNABI hit the stage for the final half of the evening. Normally a trio, member Jang Kyung-joon was absent due to military enlistment, leaving frontman Choi Jung-hoon and guitarist Kim Do-hyung to perform as a duo. They were accompanied by session musicians Moon Seok-min (guitar), Park Cheon-wook (bass), Isaac Shin (drums), and Jeung Ha Eun (keyboard).
The band’s performance was highly anticipated. Fans erupted into cheers at the smallest glimpse of JANNABI from the sides of the stage. Some even ran forward to watch and wave as the group briefly soundchecked prior to the formal kickoff of their set – a warm welcome for Do-hyung, who had been discharged from military service just two days earlier.
Finally, the stage lights dimmed and JANNABI began their performance with “bad dreams,” a lively track that was almost drowned out by the screams of the audience. The band then transitioned into “The Secret of Hard Rock,” a toe-tapping classic rock homage that was accompanied by fans yelling the lyrics, “Rock will never die; I will die for you,” into the night.
Up next on the setlist was “Good Boy Twist,” an energetic song reminiscent of the 1950s all the way down to Jung-hoon’s Elvis-like gyrating dance moves and two-steps. The song was followed by a vibrant rendition of “Baby I need you” – a beloved song where Jung-hoon often held the mic out for the crowd to scream the words back at him.
After a brief introduction, Jung-hoon pulled his acoustic guitar over his shoulder and the band moved into “Legend,” a passionate ballad that also gave Do-hyung’s soulful guitar solos a chance to shine.
Following “Legend,” Jung-hoon took a moment to pause and acknowledge the night’s warm weather, teasing at the next two songs. Without further delay, the band progressed into “Summer II” and its predecessor, “Summer,” two romantic and wistful slow jams. Keeping with the mood, JANNABI’s next song was the fan-favorite “For lovers who hesitate.” Lincoln Center was lit up by Jung-hoon’s radiant falsetto and audience members who turned on their flashlights to wave along to the song.
For the perfect vibe shift, JANNABI then performed “Surprise!” a bouncy number that again got the audience moving. Jung-hoon then encouraged everyone in the audience to stand up and dance for the next song, “Tell Me.” It didn’t take long for attendees (many who were simply New Yorkers interested in seeing a free concert), to shake off any awkwardness and dance and clap to the song, which evoked childlike playfulness and smiles all around.
With everyone on their feet, Jung-hoon invited audience members to come closer to the stage for the next song on the setlist, “AlokDalok,” an original JANNABI song from the romantic comedy TV series, Ex-Girlfriends’ Club. To top off the setlist, the band performed the high-energy, “JUNGLE,” again calling for the crowd to jump and have fun.
The highlight of the night came in the form of JANNABI’s cover of “What’s Up,” originally performed by 4 Non Blondes. Spanning nearly eight minutes, the rendition featured Jung-hoon’s smooth falsetto, a thrilling guitar solo (performed behind his back!) from Do-hyung, crashing cymbals, and plenty of headbanging all around. The audience at Lincoln Center was absolutely roaring.
For the final song of the night, the band performed “Come Back Home,” a song that radiated comfort. Jung-hoon taught the audience the call-and-response of the mixed Korean and English chorus: “우린 돌아갈 거야, come back home.” Satisfied with the way it echoed across Damrosch Park’s courtyard, the band kicked the song into high gear. “Come Back Home” was both exuberant and rueful, reflective of the mood between both the audience and JANNABI. With attendees dancing along, it was as if they were both saying, “I’m sad that this night is over, but I’m glad I was able to experience it with you.”
Fans received one last joyful goodbye after the final bows from the band – after taking photos as a group, each member of the band (session musicians included), threw their ‘JANNABI’ branded neck towels to fans lucky enough to catch them.
Attendees were glowing with awe at the night’s performances as they dispersed out to Lincoln Square. Many were overheard talking about the concert as they walked back to the subways and local restaurants. Though it was for only one night, it was an experience that both fans of byebyesea and JANNABI, along with music lovers in attendance, will remember forever.