You know that feeling when you meet up with a good friend you haven’t seen in a while, and find that you can still talk and joke around like no time has passed?
That is what Eric Nam’s sold-out There And Back Again show in New York felt like. Although it had been two years since he last stood face-to-face with the people of the city that never sleeps, the singer-songwriter and Nam Nation quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm of easy banter and laughter.
While everyone at the concert—from Eric himself to the 3,000 fans just short of stuffed into Terminal 5 and those working behind the scene—was “relearning how to go to shows,” the There And Back Again tour had nothing to worry about. Sure, a few things had changed (cue a paragraph on pandemic lockdowns, Covid-19 variants, mark mandates, and booster shots). But the experience of an Eric Nam concert had not.
Eric may jokingly describe his shows as “extended TED Talks with musical intermissions,” but they are more than that. They have this special magic to them, a magic of reconnection despite the passage of time that always escapes our notice. “There and back again,” indeed.
There And Back Again, Eric’s first album as an independent artist, celebrates a deeply personal reflection of his Korean American identity. His tour of the same name mirrors this sentiment and the trust he has with fans to share these emotions. The mixed setlist of Korean and English tracks accomplishes this: the oldest song on the setlist is from his 2016 EP Interview and the newest, of course, selected from There And Back Again.
The anticipation to see Eric Nam grew following opener Audrey Mika and her set, where she cultivated a hyped energy within the venue. Eric kicked off the show with “Any Other Way,” its relaxed and recognizable whistle hook automatically causing the crowd to scream even louder. When the chorus arrived, the repetition of “I wouldn’t want it any other way” rang all the more true as Eric and the audience sang with one voice.
A live band also accompanied the artist—another new addition to this tour—bringing an irreplaceable energy to Terminal 5. Although there was only a drummer, a guitarist, and a bassist, Eric’s performances did not need anything else to submerge the crowd in his music from head to toe. (Live band versions of your songs are now desperately needed, Eric.)
“Don’t Call Me,” an unapologetic anthem from the 2018 album Honestly, drove the energy even higher with dancers Tristan Edpao and Pauler Lam joining the star on stage. These two familiar faces flanked Eric from time to time, adding some more complicated choreography to the upbeat tracks on the setlist. Pop-ballad “What If” slowed down the pace, while There And Back Again’s lead single “Lost On Me” guided the energy to a new height.
Unsurprisingly, when it was finally time to talk, the first words out of Eric’s mouth were “I’m overwhelmed.” A small chuckle was close behind his spontaneous reaction to the deafening screams in front of him.
Despite this relatable reaction, Eric and his 3,000 fans were soon building on each other’s mutual chaotic energy. As is becoming tradition at his concerts, Eric began with asking the crowd questions, saying that he likes to do so “because I want to know who I’m dancing and singing with.” A valid point.
He demonstrated these interactive plans with his first question, which surveyed who had gone to his other shows and those who were new. The natural follow-up was to ask about the first-time concert goers and the more veteran ones, but Eric had a momentary brain-fart and asked “Anybody seeing me for the first time?” again. Good-natured laughter from both himself and the crowd bubbled up as he caught himself mid-question.
If Eric’s “Before We Begin” tour was all about his “TED Talks,” then his “There And Back Again” tour was tinged with a touch of stand-up comedy. The singer-songwriter, now a kind of stand-up personality, could not help but deadpan, “I have some bad news… everything beyond this, every show after this, is just downhill.”
He walked with an air of familiarity, mic comfortably at his lips as he went on to impersonate future Nam Nation commenting on other concerts. Eric’s face crinkled as he paused for a moment to face the crowd, “But it wasn’t Eric Nam.” No one contested that statement once he launched into summer hit “Runaway” and “Down For You,” a sensual b-side from his 2020 EP The Other Side.
The night marched on with a growing chant of “Eric, Eric, Eric” during one of his ments. He paused once again mid-speech, this time to crown New York as the “most unhinged crowd [he’s] had on tour.” Of course, the audience continued to live up to this title throughout the rest of the night.
For example: the shrill scream that pierced the momentarily still air when Eric took a breath in the middle of a talk segment. As one does when one hears their name thrown out as passionately as that, Eric turned around, a bit stunned. Amazement colored his voice as he responded, “Wow… that was a feral cry.” Welcome to New York, Eric, welcome to New York.
A healthy mixture of pride and shock laced into his voice again when he commented, “I see that the signs are as disgusting as ever”. A beat later, he adds, “They are absolute filth, but I honestly expect nothing less from this incredible city.” The crowd burst into laughter.
Above all, this New York concert reaffirmed that Eric Nam is an artist. He is a singer, a songwriter, a dancer (occasionally, he would probably say), despite all of the time has spent in the interviewer seat as a host, a podcaster, and a YouTuber. He is a musician that connects with others on a human level and brings people together after being apart.
The hour and a half show flew by with frequent laughter and cheers never allowing the venue to stay quiet for long. From the get-go, Eric showcased an even stronger voice, especially in the collaboration single “Echo” and the energetic earworm “Paradise.”
His dynamic vibrato, which tends to disappear in his studio albums, also made itself well known in Terminal 5. His warm aura—and musical tone—carried beautifully to all parts of the multi-leveled venue, from those at the barricade to those milling around on the third floor trying to catch a glimpse of the stage.
The power of Eric’s vibrato was on full display when he gave an impromptu acapella performance of “Stop the Rain,” surrendering to the crowd’s enthusiastic requests to hear the 2016 track reflecting the weather outside. It could have been just you and him in the room when he sang, his voice painting an emotional picture in the brief seconds.
Before this unplanned section, however, the singer-songwriter slowed things down for a casual chat and acoustic performances featuring his guitarist Ryan. But there was only so long that this New York crowd could calm down. So, naturally, when Eric threw out his call for song requests, everything dissolved on the edge of pandemonium with fans screaming titles from all parts of the venue.
Despite all of the wonderfully chaotic moments There and Back Again in New York brought, the highlight of the night was Eric’s Korean language check and his ensuing storytime. He seemed mildly impressed when the cheers supporting the crowd’s supposed Korean skills grew louder with each level, although he presented a challenge of his own when he replied, “that’s a lot of confidence.”
This interaction segued into a storytime akin to a stand-up comedian introducing a new topic. With the increasing popularity of K-pop and K-dramas, there are also more Korean language learners, some of whom approached Eric with eager “annyeonghaseyo”s and small bows. Since this is Eric Nam we are talking about, he acted out the awkwardly funny story, getting into full character(s) and even letting out a spirited “saranghae oppa!,” a testament to his dedicated storytelling.
Laughter filled Terminal 5 again after he recounted someone randomly yelling “Kimchi!” in the middle of his last show. “Imagine if someone from Asia walks into America and just says, ‘Hamburger’?,” Eric continued, a pointed look dancing with humor on his face.
“Good For You,” “One Way Lover,” and the mournful ballad “Love Die Young” created a 360 degree shift in the mood. The stage lighting reflected the emotional weight of the songs, sometimes casting the stage in soft blue or projecting intense spotlights around the star to further translate his music for a live audience.
But it is not an Eric Nam show, either, if the seasoned entertainer did not keep up his tradition of singing happy birthday to a few lucky fans. If the rest of the night was any indicator, chaos ensued with many pronunciation errors because of masks and the din of the crowd, and Eric poking amicable fun at a few enthusiastic concert-goers who were determined to get their friends’ birthdays noticed.
Soon the time drew near to 10:30 as “You’re Sexy, I’m Sexy” brought the upbeat dance energy back, and Eric teased the conclusion of the concert—the “last” song—with “Congratulations.” Before the lights dimmed, Eric gave a heartfelt speech: “You guys could be anywhere doing anything else tonight, but you chose to be here.”
His New York show went out with a bang as he performed “Wildfire” for the encore, a fan-favorite from There And Back Again. Woven with tightly layered harmonies and explosive high notes, “Wildfire” is a song that makes listeners stop in their tracks, and the effect was even more thrilling when experienced live.
“I Don’t Know You Anymore” ended the night on a humorous note, maintaining the pillar of laughter that will always be associated with Eric Nam’s concerts. However, for the final talk the musician grew serious. No quirked eyebrows or dramatic voices accompanied his sincere thankfulness for Nam Nation selling out Terminal 5. He referred back to his roots as a “Korean American kid from Atlanta” but went further to touch on the larger picture:
“Y’all being here makes it possible for other kids who look like me, who are Asian or Asian American, to dream and to pursue things that we were told we can’t do for so long.”
During his first ment of the night, Eric Nam looked around the packed venue, overflowing with fans anticipating hearing his music and witnessing his trademark concert TED Talks. After a moment he said, “The time has come.” Eric was right: it really did—and it will again.