REVIEW: Amber Liu lets the past go at self-affirming Warfield show

Amber Liu, Amber, f(x)

Amber Liu performs at the Warfield in San Francisco on Jan. 18, 2020. Onome Uyovbievbo/Staff.

SAN FRANCISCO — Los-Angeles-born singer-songwriter Amber Liu, formerly of successful K-Pop group f(x), was all smiles at The Warfield on Saturday, the second night of her second tour as a solo artist.

Liu, who just released X, her second EP, and first since leaving South Korean label SM Entertainment, made it clear early and often that she was her own artist and her own person now. As she mentioned a couple of times, she was finally “the real me.”

Amber Liu, Amber, f(x)

Amber Liu performs at the Warfield in San Francisco on Jan. 18, 2020.

Her headlining set began with a recorded message: “It’s been 10 years. So much has happened. Some good, some bad. … I wanna be me again.” Liu had nothing specifically negative to say about her past, but the implied message was that only now was she free to be herself, and she rode that wave throughout a show that often felt more like a motivational speech or an intimate fellowship. This despite the frequent bombast of the material performed.

Backed by a drummer and a DJ, Amber Liu took the stage clad in white demin pants, a white-long-sleeve shirt and sparkly suspender-like accessories. Her short mop of hair was dyed bright red. It was an androgynous look somewhere between Robyn and David Bowie. Two dancers then hopped onto the stage as the first notes of 2018 single “Countdown” rang out. The two dancers Liu included were stunning in their moves, instantly ratcheting up the energy in the room, which had started as surprisingly downcast for a Saturday night in the City. In unison, they moved in quick, jerky motions, filling much of the bare stage. Like the opener, second song “Other People,” off X, was also a banger. By the third song, “Get Myself,” Liu was bunny-hopping across the stage.

Following the brassy “Lost At Sea,” ballad “High Hopes” and “Hands Behind My Back,” another faster song, Liu slowed the pace for the middle portion of her set, often taking the time to tell the stories behind songs like “Numb,” (a soft piano ballad about falling numb to things that don’t change or improve in life), “Borders” (which had a spoken-word delivery that bordered on rap and on which Liu pushed fans to find their own way) and “Beautiful,” a guitar-led ballad, even though the guitar was piped in on a backing track.

Amber Liu, Amber, f(x)

Amber Liu performs at the Warfield in San Francisco on Jan. 18, 2020.

Liu, who talked about how she picked which songs to perform and how to arrange them earlier that day at soundcheck (indeed, the song order varied quite a bit from opening show in Fresno the night before), then got even more personal. She explained how she began having panic attacks two years ago and had to turn to the people around her for help, which led to writing the next song, “Stay Calm.”

“Talking to people [and] taking care of your mental health is extremely important. Everyone deserves happiness,” she said.

Another series of empowering and self-affirming songs followed, like “Ready for the Ride” (a love is love anthem), and more traditional ballad “Three Million Years.” There was obviously some in-joke between the performer and audience. Liu mentioned she has trouble singing the song without laughing, and then proceeded to laugh all the way through it. It likely didn’t make sense to someone who just walked into The Warfield, but fans seemed to enjoy seeing Liu lose her place over and over as she and her dancers, who sat next to her on the stage, fell over backward laughing.

This middle section of show was bit slow, though Liu eventually got back into a groove with the funky R&B stylings of “Get Over It,” banger “White Noise” and throwback pop tune “Curiosity,” which was spiced up with a snippet of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.” That transitioned into the similarly empowering “Shake That Brass,” the choreography for which had Liu blending in some Western line dancing moves.

The biggest surprises were yet to come, however. Following a short break, Liu romped back onto the stage dressed as Elsa from “Frozen.” Her dancers followed dressed as Anna and Olaf. A pretty faithful, yet hilarious, cover of “Let It Go” followed. After that Liu changed into Ash Ketchum from “Pokémon” for, yes, the show’s theme song. It was on this song that the roomful of fans joined in to sing as one.

Justice Carradine

Justice Carradine performs at the Warfield in San Francisco on Jan. 18, 2020.

Singer-songwriter Justice Carradine opened the show with a four-song set that showed his different styles, from the R&B-inflected pop of “Dangerous Love” to ’80s-inspired jam “Can’t Feel a Thing” and moody rocker “Necessary Evil,” his latest single. He even threw in a cover of Harry Styles’ “Falling.”

Carradine was followed by rock duo Meg & Dia. Sisters Meg and Dia Frampton were backed by a drummer and second guitarist to complement Meg’s playing. The band blasted through eight songs, most of which came from 2019 album Happysad. Dia’s angelic voice shines on opener “American Spirit” as echoing guitars rang out behind her. It was followed by the explosive “Better at Being Young” and “Warm Blood,” which had the sisters harmonizing.

Following the skittering and grungy “Teenagers,” the band came to “Monster,” off 2006’s Something Real, the only older song in the set. It was reworked as a slower, meditative number with ringing guitars and no percussion, and served as a transition to the final three numbers: power ballad “Lit Match,” the bluesy “Boys Can’t Cry” and “Koala,” during which Dia got onto her knees at the lip of the stage to serenade the first few rows.

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