It’s pitch black when the music starts, a hollow steel drum, primal chant, and boosted bass lulling you into a trance. Even from a front-row vantage point it’s near impossible to tell what, if anything, is happening on stage, but within just a minute of pure sound, you’ve long been lured in. When green lights flash, revealing only the silhouettes of Balming Tiger on stage, the immersive spectacle has already begun.
The collective opened with ‘Kolo Kolo,’ accompanied by slapdash moments of choreography, stomping synchronously and lunging in the same general direction until the members burst into jumps that were telling of their personalities as performers. sogumm looked calm and comfortable while Mudd the Kid exploded; they exposed their identities so clearly from the get-go that they even carried the same navy boiler suit look uniquely.
By appearance, they fit the standards of what mainstream media has come to understand as a K-pop group: matching outfits, dancing in unison, even colorful hair on frontman Omega Sapien’s part. And the sound of K-pop has no clear definition other than splicing genres to create something new, which Balming Tiger efficaciously do. But with dissimilar backgrounds and ages, lyrics about sex, blow, and heavy drinking, and an overall unruly energy, it’s a far cry from the prim-and-proper polish of your average boy or girl group. That’s what makes them so intoxicating to watch—they’re following the general principles, but transmuting the genre into its rawest, most unpredictable possibilities.
“It’s good to be home,” shouted Omega Sapien, who spent some time growing up in New Jersey and performing in Times Square. But really, it hadn’t been long since their last NYC shows in March when they took Baby’s All Right in one night of back-to-back sold out sets.
With more space at Warsaw, from booty shaking to ‘Buriburi’ to holding hands and skipping akin to a game of Ring Around the Rosie, they put every inch of the stage to use. ‘Kamehameha’ found the group putting their hands in the middle, marching and hopping in an almost childlike ritual dance, a whiplash contradiction to lyrics like “Soju, beer, whiskey, all with a strong kick / Down it all, come on, don’t decline, just drink.”
They seamlessly directed the crowd in chants and movements like “Turn left! Turn right! No Break! Go!” in ‘Bodycoke,’ and instances like these forged a strangely cultlike nature. But instances of togetherness were broken up by moments of freedom to let the body move as it desired. When they roamed into punk territory with tracks like ‘Sudden Attack,’ they had everyone thrashing about, hardly anyone moving in sync. Meanwhile, bass-driven track ‘SEXY NUKIM’ (their notable collab with rapper RM of BTS) brought us back together, reminding the room that “We're all sexy.”
The group effectively simulate a silent disco, despite everyone hearing the same songs. The sensory overload leaves you spoiled for choice on where to focus your attention; whether you’ve zeroed in on the punchy, rattling beats or the theatrical display on stage, Balming Tiger is a singular experience. A Balming Tiger show is not a place to be self-conscious or pretentious, but rather, a place to let the entirety of the set wash over you, feeding off of the band’s energy just as much as the band is feeding off of you.
When they closed with the message to ‘Trust Yourself,’ an equal parts funk-jazz-rap-rock anthem with an electropop backbone (à la early N.E.R.D), the room was nothing but hype. They then exited the stage, leaving you to absorb everything that just happened. You realize then that Balming Tiger isn’t suited for anyone to critique or judge, but simply to feel.
While the Brooklyn show was the last formal tour stop, the collective are set to close their year in Bangkok, Thailand for the Maho Rasop festival, whose lineup includes other high-energy Asian acts like Atarashii Gakko! and Otoboke Beaver.