“I have one rule at my show: This is a Be Yourself Zone!”
The magic of Amber is her earnest, affable personality, her odd-ball comic sensibilities, her firm individuality exemplified by her androgynous image, and her Choose Love messaging. All of which were on clear display at the Varsity Theater, Tuesday night.
Like its namesake album, Tour X is not about K-Pop idol Amber of f(x) -it’s about Amber Liu and her journey to find herself after K-Pop. She opened her 16-song set with “Countdown” (2018) in pale, washed-out jeans, a white long-sleeved T-shirt and a sparkly decorative chest harness -the kind you see sported by men on runways and red carpets in recent years. (Later in the show, Amber would be gifted a Genderfluid Pride Flag by a fan. For a brief moment, Amber draped it over her own shoulders before handing it off-stage. Whether she recognized its meaning in the moment is unknown, but watching her stand on stage with a powerful symbol of gender and sexual identity would have meant a lot to many fans, especially folks who identify as queer and/or who gravitate towards Amber for her androgynous image.)
Back-up dancers, Dom & Leo joined her in black hoodies and together, they cruised through the tracks of Amber’s new album X (2020) mixed with some of her earlier solo works. A live drummer assisted the DJ to very good effect. As the show progressed, Leo and Dom came to serve more as supporting cast members than back-up dancers as they helped Amber with her costume and mic changes, and made a running joke out of reminding her to stay hydrated.
Notable moments included some heart-felt real-talk about mental health and seeking professional help, balanced with some classic Amber-style silliness. Mid-set, she paused to explain, “Due to recent events, I want to open up about this. You deserve and have the right to be happy.”*
Amber went on to disclose that a couple of years ago she, herself, began experiencing panic attacks. She confessed that, at first she didn’t want to get help; she thought she could handle it on her own. But eventually, “I got professional help. I started opening up to my friends and loved-ones. …It’s manageable now and it’s good. Everybody hurts…and it’s ok to get help and see a therapist. You go to the hospital when you break a bone.” Amber went on to state that we should do the same for our mental health.
She also asked people to support friends who are having a hard time. “Please have an open heart. Sometimes listening is the best thing to do.” She wrapped up the real-talk with a suggestion for dealing with haters: “kill them with kindness” and she asked her fans to show their haters love, because haters clearly don’t know what it is. Her message was well-received by the crowd and seemed to reinforce many of the reasons fans had come out to see her.
The mood lightened in the second half as the set moved out of the introspection of the new album and into older pop tracks. Peak-silliness was reached with “3 Million Years” from her Rouge Rouge Mixtape (2018), which she preceded with an explanation:
“Originally Dom and Leo weren’t on stage [for this song], but they have become moral support because I can’t sing [it]. It’s the corniest song I’ve ever written. …[But] everybody loves it so I have to sing it!”
And then she sang it. Or, tried to…
Through giggle fits and cracking notes, she fumbled through the “corny” love song of her own making -at one point even lying on the stage floor, laughing. The crowd was howling, too. Dom and Leo tried to help, performing choreography from the music video and playing off of Amber’s cackling antics with some additional hamming. In the end, the dancers concluded that she was able to sing somewhere between 74-85% of the lyrics. They reported that this was a significant success compared to previous tour stops which witnessed 10% and 25% completion rates. Amber’s Minneapolis performance of “3 Million Years” was such an improvement that the drummer even got up from his kit to congratulate her.
Penultimately came “Curiosity” -a single from X– with a little bit of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” mixed in nicely at the end. And the closer was the peppy “Shake that Brass” (a 2015 single Amber put out while still with SM Entertainment), punctuated with one partial booty-drop, and some occasional cheeky hip action. Though there was much dancing throughout the night, this was the closest she ever came to displaying any of the stereotypical “feminine” choreography that is used by (or imposed upon?) female pop singers. As with her clothes and her music, Amber dances how she wants, in whatever style she wants – on her own terms. And her fans love her for it.
The encore, however, may have stolen the show and ensured that everyone left with huge smiles on their faces. Amber transformed into anime hero Ash Ketchum, and sang the most earnest and joyous cover of the “Pokemon Theme Song.” Additional chaos was provided by her dancers and crew who frolicked along side her in assorted Pokemon onesies.
For all those who love Amber, this was a rewarding show.
Circling back… Two acts from Utah warmed up the crowd ahead of Amber: twenty year old singer, Justice Carradine and band, Meg & Dia. Youtuber/Viner, Carradine was on first and delivered mellow grooves with DJ assistance, including his single “Necessary Evil.” Meg & Dia followed, with their guitarist and drummer making a four-person band. They had a lot of fun together on stage, which spread into the crowd. Songs “Teenager” and “Monster” went over especially well. A random audience dude even shouted “ONE MORE” at the end of Meg & Dia’s set. Alas, they had a schedule to keep and the band members all helped tear-down their equipment to make room for their headliner, Amber.
*The “recent events” statement likely alludes to the death of former f(x) member Sulli late last year, but Amber only explicitly discussed her own experiences during the concert.