SF9 remains one of K-pop’s best kept secrets: an underrated group with a mindblowing discography and well-rounded, captivating members. Once you get to know them, it is impossible not to wonder how they are not a world phenomenon yet. However, FNC Entertainment seems determined to turn the tables for their first dance-focused boy group, and their recently wrapped up Unlimited tour is proof that they are only getting started.

Following the promotions of “Enough,” their latest release, SF9 embarked on a three-week tour spanning nine cities in the US and Europe. The last stop happened in London, on May 12, where I had the pleasure to attend.

2019 has been incredibly busy for European K-pop fans. With a deluge of concerts from top acts such as BTS and BlackPink being announced on top of each other (and often with little time between sales dates), smaller groups are getting the shorter end of the stick and suffering with slow sales and urgent measures to avoid cancellations. This situation clearly affected SF9’s tour, whose stop in Amsterdam was cancelled (although for undisclosed reasons), and the venue I attended was not completely packed as it might have been in another moment.

But this circumstance has a positive note, and it helped to bring out a warm sense of community between fans and the group. For instance, before the concert started, Jaeyoon, Inseong and Rowoon came out of the venue for a moment just to greet the fans — a rare display of attention from K-pop idols, as it puts them in an extremely vulnerable position. Fortunately, Fantasy — the fandom’s name — were polite and reinforced the connection with the group by respecting their boundaries.

Once inside the venue, excitement grew as the audience waited. The concert started with the dynamic “Unlimited,” followed by the equally high-strung “Roar,” and the tropical house of “Enough” sealing a powerful mood for the rest of the night.

After an introductory ment, Dawon, Youngbin and Zuho performed Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” and were later joined by the rest of the group for the moving “Fall in Love.” Soon after, the rearranged version of the group’s 2017 single, “Easy Love,” posed as one of the highlights of the night. Starting as a melancholic ballad with a gorgeous rainy backdrop screen, the song shifted to its original pace and choreography midway — an unforgettable performance that showcased the group’s best skills.

As usual in K-pop concerts, a VCR played while the group changed outfits. The VCR had the members doing funny challenges, such as counting bills while solving mathematical operations and watching old videos of themselves without cringing, and the crowd was thoroughly entertained, laughing and cheering loudly. As for the special stages that soon followed, Taeyang and Jaeyoon did an emotional cover of Justin Bieber’s “Nothing Like Us,” Hwiyoung and Youngbin spit fire with the self-composed “Zeroff,” and Inseong blessed the audience with his powerful vocals for Bruno Mars’ “Versace on the Floor.”

With so many good songs throughout their six EPs and one single album, the setlist inevitably left some favorites out. Personally, I wish they had performed the dark 90s-pop “Watch Out,” or the mind blowing choreographies for “Jungle Game” and “K.O.” But that meant deep cuts like  “4 Step” and “Let’s Hang Out” had their chance to shine, and overall there was a good balance between old and new, singles and b-sides, mellow and energetic tracks. Towards the end, another powerful trio of performances hyped up the crowd: “O Sole Mio,” “Fanfare,” and “Now or Never” made sure everyone was paying attention to the group’s magnetism.

Inseong and Dawon deserve a special mention as the showmen of the night, interacting with the audience in perfect English (jokes and slangs included). Inseong, who lived in London when he was younger, was evidently happy to be back as he reminisced about living nearby the venue, eating fish fingers, going to Tesco, and buying cookies “right over there,” in the multicultural neighborhood of Shepherd’s Bush.

Even though the strain of three weeks on the road was visible in all members (especially Taeyang, who apologized for an injury hindering his performance), the group still gave it their all, and ensured everyone had an outstanding experience. That was what made the concert so special.

Not only did they offer the usual fanservice of heart fingers, cute faces and sassy interactions, but they also took flags, signed banners, recorded videos on several fans’ phones, threw shirts, and even stepped down from the stage to be closer to the crowd. Beyond their skilled vocals, sharp choreographies, and charismatic personalities, it was the intimate atmosphere they created that struck me the most.

Witnessing that energy exchange from the balcony, I instantly wished to be be right in the middle of the pit. True vulnerability is not something you see every day in K-pop concerts, and hopefully SF9 will have many more opportunities to develop such special bonds with their fans.

(Images via Seoulbeats and FNC Entertainment.)