Call me a grouch, but when you need both ear plugs and a blindfold to survive a gig in any degree of comfort you have to start questioning the wisdom of some of the sound and lighting judgments. Ear plugs, handed out for free at the entrance to Jambinai’s Purcell Room gig that opened K-music 2019, were totally necessary if you wanted to protect yourself from the extreme volume of some of the explosive metal sections. And some of those passages were accompanied by strobe lighting so aggressively bright that even with eyes screwed tight shut the flickering still penetrated painfully deep into the skull. The spots suspended from the ceiling were not the problem: it was the lighting on the floor at the back of the stage, pointing out at the audience like headlights on full beam. Alas, blindfolds were not provided.
Fortunately the worst of the lighting episodes were few and far between, but the deafening passages were frequent enough that you eventually resigned yourself to leaving the plugs in your ears permanently, to avoid the annoyance of constantly taking them out and putting them back in again. This of course meant that in the wonderful quiet passages you missed some of the subtleties of the ethereal wisps and loops of sound.
I say all this as a huge Jambinai fan. And because I am such a fan I am delighted that they have expanded from their original regular trio of Lee Ilwoo (piri, guitar), Kim Bomi (haegeum) and Sim Eunyong (geomungo) to include a permanent bassist (Yu Byeongkoo) and percussionist (Choi Jaehyuk); and for this tour, and for their latest album, they were further augmented by yanggeum player Choe Hwiseon. With regular forces they are better able to push their experimentation in new directions.
I love their music, which oscillates between the peaceful and meditative and the raw and raucous, pushing the traditional instruments to their physical and musical limits and weaving together the different musical traditions in strange and exciting ways. And with their latest album, Onda, they bring in more vocals, which I do not recall featuring in previous albums.
I know I am in the minority in being noise-intolerant. And I can appreciate that for the vast majority of the audience present, the unleashing of such blistering forces of light and sound is an essential part of the enjoying the physical presence of the band in the hall. To be blown away by the torrent bursting from the stage is all part of the live music experience. As confirmation of this, at the end of the concert I needed to keep the ear plugs in place because the cheers and applause of the capacity audience were so enthusiastically loud. And rightly so. This band is awesome in so many ways. In future though I’ll content myself with listening to their albums at home, yielding my seat in the sold-out concert hall to someone else who will hopefully also become a convert. If I need both earplugs and a blindfold there’s really not much point in seeing them live.