I was dropped off by my Lyft (shout out to you, Steve) in a Snuffers parking lot, right next to the venue just as the doors opened; a personal best for me, as I’m far too used to being late. Walking up to the front doors, I was pleasantly delighted to read “YAEJI” in the vintage marquee. Noticing an absence of people milling about the front doors, and assuming that meant we were the first people to arrive, we ducked into the front doors of the “Hollywood-glitz” era Granada Theater, a staple in the lower Greenville neighborhood. Inside was a very different scene; there were groups of people sauntering about, killing time until the concert started. We saw a person with a drink in one hand and their phone in another, loudly reflecting on the development of Yaeji’s career while showing off the ‘With a Hammer’ tour merch that was displayed for sale. It was slightly annoying, but they were right; from creating buzz after her boiler room set in 2017 to her Coachella performance this year, it’s safe to say that Yaeji has broken in to the mainstream and is here to stay.
With songs like “Raingurl,” a deep house track with lo-fi accents, she’s an artist whose sound has been slowly gaining popularity. With roots in house and other club music, Yaeji’s electronic sound is informed by her Korean upbringing, as well as club origins. She got her start as a DJ while she was attending Carnegie-Mellon University, and it was there that she was able to shape her initial sound and launch her career. But enough about her background; her concert that night was less of a walk down memory lane and more of a commemoration of her career this far. The energy and presence that she brought to her show was unique, and engaging. I loved it.
Yaeji was preceded by Jesse Lanza, along with her sister and a friend. It was a good opener, with her sister and friend playing live electronics like synths and drum pads. Jesse Lanza’s music complemented Yaeji’s well, as it was a synth-pop influenced music with heavy electronic elements; it evoked a sort of ’80s pop sound, like something that would fit perfectly alongside the other tracks that accentuated Stranger Things.
While most of her music was synth-pop influenced, I couldn’t help but hear some post disco in her music, and some dance music influences. All of this blended together masterfully to craft a fun and eclectic music that paired perfectly with Yaeji’s music. While some songs were more downtempo, it still played well into the dance atmosphere, evoking feelings of a club more than a concert. It was sublime.
Yaeji’s show was an emotional rollercoaster. As much as it was a concert, it was a performance; and as much as a performance, it was a conversation with the audience, a letter addressed to the crowd at the Granada. There were multiple parts, or acts, that were broken up by vocals sung by Yaeji. I won’t go into much detail, as that would be cheating; if you’re interested, catch her on tour at one of her stops (she’ll be in Brooklyn on the 19th and 20th, make a trip out of it). She was joined on stage by two dancers, and throughout her concert, they danced in tandem, riffing off of each other’s moves and looking like they were having fun the whole time.
More than just performing the music, Yaeji incorporated visuals that accompanied each song, complementing the dances she and the two dancers would perform. She opened with “Submerge FM” off of her debut album (did I mention it’s her first album tour?) and quickly pivoted into “For Granted.” Her new album was different from the rest of her work; while I mentioned earlier that her music had deep house influences, this new album was a turn away from that. It was more electronic pop and dance-centric, and Hammer was a great alum that showed Yaeji’s dexterity, her attention to detail, and her lyrical finesse. Blending Korean with English seamlessly to create a story, it’s no wonder the concert was as engaging and creative as it was — any less would be doing her music a disservice.
Drawing from all of her bodies of work, we also heard songs off of WHAT WE DREW, and a couple of other singles. In total, there were 3 acts, each one different from the last. It was a performance that encapsulated the meanings of the songs themselves; it all added up to the last act when Yaeji performed with the guest that was missing up until that point, her titular hammer. She later explained the meaning of the hammer, but seeing it then, one could infer what it meant: It was a symbol and physical manifestation of her anger, with which she smashes the ideas or menial things that piques her annoyance. (With a hammer. Get it?)
For the entirety of the last act, Yaeji could be seen traipsing around with her hammer, smashing the screen when there was a video playing of her singing some vocals. She whimsically alternated between anger-fueled madness and blissful movements, all deftly crafting an intricate message. It drove home the idea that her album was more than just music, but a personal diary of musings of some sort, something deeper than what you’d mindlessly dance to. But it was hard not to bop your head and dance, as the electronic and dance elements were mesmerizing.
Afterward, Yaeji had a heartfelt moment with the audience where she explained everything behind the audience. It was nice, as you could tell that she valued the support from the audience. She talked about what With a Hammer meant as an album (no, I will not say; somethings should be gatekept), thanked the audience profusely, and shouted out everyone from Jesse Lanza to the dancers to the people helping behind the scenes with the concert. It was a good performance; way better than anything I could have expected, probably because up until this point I hadn’t experienced a concert like this one. If I could, I would have clamored onto the stage and shook Yaeji’s hand personally for a concert well done.