Stray Kids: MANIAC World Tour, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, February 17th 2023 – K-Pop Live Review

Global sensation and one of the most popular and successful K-Pop groups of the 4th generation, Stray Kids, finally returned to Australia as part of their MANIAC World Tour. Kicking off the first of four sold out Australian shows, Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, Han, Felix, Seungmin, and I.N. performed in Melbourne at the iconic Rod Laver Arena on Friday the 17th of February.

To explain to the uninitiated, Stray Kids aren’t some ordinary K-Pop group and their whole vibe is about being unique and different. ‘Oddinary’, is not only a word that they’ve curated representing this and who they are, but it is also the title of their sixth studio EP. Stray Kids stand out due to their multiple talents, their fun-loving personalities, and the fact they write, compose, and produce all their own music.

My Stray Kids journey has been a unique one. I had listened to Stray Kids before, since their debut in 2018, and couldn’t attend their last Melbourne concert in 2019 due to tearing a ligament in my right ankle. But I was not a Stay until Covid and lockdowns happened. I would not have gotten through those last few years of no live music and concerts if not for K-Pop online concerts. But especially because of the consistent and prolific content distributed by Stray Kids.

From their extensive discography (and I do mean extensive), official music videos and dance practice clips, to mini episodes, vlogs, ‘making-of’ clips, and cover songs, Stray Kids never lost touch with their fans (‘Stays’) during the Covid lockdown era and kept fans in the loop while picking up new ones along the way (especially after winning idol competition ‘Kingdom: Legendary War’ in 2021).

So, when Stray Kids announced last year that they’d be returning to Australia in February 2023, I vowed that this time I would not miss them.

In the blistering 40°C, fans across Australia gathered in Melbourne to attend quite literally the hottest concert of the year. Inside the venue, every merchandise stall was open, something I haven’t seen since before Covid, and there were two photo walls available for fans to pose with. Busting onto the stage and igniting an excited crowd that erupted with joy, cheers, and tears (myself included), the first Melbourne show launched with ‘MANIAC’, but every song performed by Stray Kids that night was an absolute pleasure to witness.

Stray Kids have no bad songs. None. Combine that with the technical marvel of a halo of screens, a big stage complete with a cat walk, clever lighting, a ‘giant mechanical spider’, rising platforms, impressive short film quality interludes that had a connecting narrative, phenomenal choreography, smooth dance skills, soaring vocals, a live band, and confetti canons, and it appears that no expense was spared to assist Stray Kids in putting on their best tour yet. I also lost count with how many outfit changes the members had as I was too distracted singing along and dancing to their catchy songs.

Being in Rod Laver Arena felt like one big safety net. It wasn’t just being in the same place as other people who like the same music, although I loved how diverse the audience was across age, race, and gender. But from all the lit lightsticks (‘Nachimbongs’ – the hottest ticket item at these shows), and after many years of following Stray Kids from a distance, seeing them and fellow Stays for the first time in person (and I have met so many lovely Stays this week), I felt like I was home.

This was cemented during the ‘Loose Screw Game’ in three parts where fans had pose like the photos of the Stray Kids members when the camera fell on them, a ‘Stay Dance Mission’ in the second part where you had to execute Stray Kids dance moves when the camera landed on you (so many were great too, knowing all the moves), and last but not least, a ‘MANIAC Scream Gauge’ where an arrow ticked over in colours and moved depending on how loud the audience would cheer. I was so happy just sitting there clapping and cheering for whoever landed on the big screens.

The overwhelming feeling of happiness was enhanced tenfold when Australian members Bang Chan and Felix shared with the attentive and passionate Melbourne audience on how happy they were to be back in Australia and perform here. Having both grown up in Sydney, four years is a long time between dance cards. It was even sweeter that the other members were very empathetic and shared that elation with them, even sharing what they had all done and enjoyed while being in this city. And they were just as happy to see us as we were to see them.

It was also amusing listening to the Aussie Line teach their fellow members on how to pronounce certain Aussie slang words including ‘Struth’, ‘Crikey’, ‘Fair Dinkum’ and referencing another phrase that you can say to a ‘good mate’ but is one that they couldn’t actually say on the stage (for obvious reasons, the moment was still super funny though), and essentially the wicked banter that the members had amongst themselves was hilarious. This includes Seungmin repeatedly referring to Bang Chan as “Old man” during their unit talk time. I, as well as the rest of the audience were in complete stitches.

When Stray Kids interacted with the audience, it always felt genuine and the perfect combination of chaotic energy and wholesomeness. This was evident when Felix, Changbin, and Hyunjin had a competition to suss out who’s side of the audience could scream the loudest and, in the end, declared everyone in the audience as winners. Cheeky and shamelessly sweet. Unfortunately, halfway during the show, Han disappeared (and he is my bias, so I noticed straight away) but returned and apologised for his absence, even bowing to different parts of the arena, assuring to everyone that he was okay.

While every song was great live with a combination of fan favourites and hits including ‘Back Door’, ‘God’s Menu’, ‘Hellevator’, ‘Cheese’, ‘Case 143’, ‘Side Effects’, ‘District 9’, and ‘Miroh’, it’s difficult to pick highlights as everything about the first Melbourne show and essentially this tour is sensational.

But if I had to choose, highlights include Stray Kids performing ‘Red Lights’ as a group (usually a unit number between Bang Chan and Hyunjin) with unapologetically sensual choreography complete with leashes (I kid you not, I was gaping in awe, and this was only song number 3 of the 3-hour setlist). The gorgeous modern hanboks Stray Kids wore during their ‘Thunderous’ performance which was electric (pun intended). Seeing the way these costumes moved while they were dancing made the performance even more captivating than it already was.

Changbin killed it when he artfully covered the entire rap back and forth portion of ‘Victory Song’ in Han’s absence. The gorgeous vocals during the unit ballad ‘Waiting For Us’ serenaded the crowd which responded by waving their lightsticks in unison. The members, only equipped with microphone stands, made sure that every inch of the arena experienced them effortlessly harmonising to ‘Lonely St.’. And last but not least, my favourite song ‘Star Lost’ from their second studio album ‘No Easy’ getting some love, where the members gleefully jumped around, interacted with fans, and looked like they were living their best life.

After each taking the time to say their thank-you and farewells, the night ended with ‘Haven’, more confetti, and while I didn’t want for the show to be over (they have plenty more incredible songs), the over 3-hour show had to eventually come to an end. I was grateful, satisfied, and would see them again in a heartbeat. Finally seeing Stray Kids live has cemented me as a Stay and I cannot wait for their next tour already, with Stray Kids assuring Australian fans that they will always come back to Australia.

Needless to say, I loved them. Stray Kids’ MANIAC World Tour is by far the best K-Pop tour I have ever seen. But after all these years of waiting and listening to their growth, I wouldn’t have expected any less and I can’t wait for more from one of the best K-Pop groups in the world.

Stray Kids have one more show in Melbourne tonight at Rod Laver Arena on the 18th of February, and two in Sydney on the 21st and 22nd of February at Qudos Bank Arena.
For more information and ticketing (although these shows are mostly sold out), visit:
https://straykids.jype.com
https://www.livenation.com.au/artist-stray-kids-1182958
https://rodlaverarena.com.au/event/stray-kids-maniac-world-tour-2023
https://www.qudosbankarena.com.au/Event-Calendar/Stray-Kids

Photography by Michelle Pitiris.

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