In a hotel bar in downtown Atlanta, a man approaching middle-aged leans over and asks, “Are you going to the show tonight?” After receiving confirmation that yes, I’m headed to the Stray Kids show at State Farm Arena, he excitedly shows off his shirt that features a fox design for the K-pop group’s youngest member, I.N. Sure, he explains, he’s accompanying his teenage daughters to the show — but he can’t lie. He’s excited, too.
Stray Kids, the eight-piece act out of JYP Entertainment in Seoul, can charm people in that way, regardless of demographics or age. Bang Chan, Lee Know, Changbin, Hyunjin, HAN, Felix, Seungmin, and I.N were in Atlanta for two nights as part of their 2023 “2nd World Tour MANIAC” (tickets are available here) which just touched down in the US after stops in Jakarta, Bangkok, Singapore, and a particularly joyful stop in Australia (Bang Chan and Felix are the group’s resident Aussies). In the summer of 2022, Stray Kids found themselves in a difficult position when multiple members contracted Covid-19, postponing stops in Atlanta and Fort Worth, Texas to 2023, even tacking on an extra night in each city as a thank you for the patience of STAYs, the group’s devoted fan base.
The State Farm Arena, which holds 21,000 guests, was packed quite literally to the rafters for the entirety of the concert, which spanned over three hours and featured over 30 of the group’s original songs. Costume changes, dramatic set pieces like the enormous spider legs that reached over the audience during “VENOM,” and the physicality required for that much choreography is dazzling, to be sure — but the thing that makes a Stray Kids show feel particularly special is the energy. The energy between the members and the audience could probably power the entire Fulton County power grid; the energy and genuine, visible camaraderie between the members puts everything over the edge.
From the moment the group took the stage promptly at 7:30pm with “MANIAC” until the last notes of “Haven” rang out, that energy persisted. Stray Kids make a particularly good case for bringing a live band on the road, and the phenomenal group of musicians behind them elevated familiar favorites like “God’s Menu,” “DOMINO,” and “Thunderous” into earth-shaking territory. Lee Know, a commanding dancer, seems to always have an eye trained on the rest of the members; Hyunjin, sleek and confident, commanded the audience (and the cameras) with ease. Felix’s rumbling bass sent frequent shockwaves through the arena.
For a well-rehearsed and highly choreographed show, it’s impressive how often the members were able to carve out moments of spontaneity. When the time came for them to take turns performing solo tracks and covers, I.N deliberated with the band for a moment before diving into a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Bang Chan, perpetually (and seemingly happily) tasked with wrangling the seven other young men onstage, also checked in frequently with his members, ad-libbing when the group needed another extra minute to catch their breath and asking the crowd about their favorite spots to grab food. Changbin and HAN took turns flipping their jackets off their shoulders dramatically before Seungmin dove into his account of visiting the Coca-Cola Factory and the aquarium. It’s moments like these can make an arena of tens of thousands feel intimate.
Had someone managed to snag a ticket without knowing that this return to the US had been due to a schedule change, they wouldn’t have sensed anything less than another joyful, dedicated performance from a group clearly continuing to establish a foothold in the American market. The time has long passed since Stray Kids proved that they were ready for the global stage — between last year’s world tour, an upcoming headlining slot at Lollapalooza Paris, and assurances from the members that they’re working hard to prepare new music, it seems they have no intention of letting the momentum slow.