Zandari Festa — Galaxy Express @ KT&G Sangsangmadang Live Hall

Day 2 of Zandari Festa began late for me. A string of back-to-back interviews and a (mostly successful, if you count going in  completely the wrong direction but finding your desired restaurant successful) search for food meant I wasn’t able to see any performances until the night showcases started. Luckily for me, my first show began with Galaxy Express.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing them twice Stateside (granted at the same festival). Each time I’m blessed to see them, I’m always in awe of their show, their energy, their fire and love of what they do. They’re musicians who put every single ounce of who they are into their instruments, their voices, and their music. This isn’t to say no other band does that. That’s just foolish, of course every band does. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that a certain level of anticipation always clings to me when I see Galaxy Express.

Their warm-up, as with most, is very low-key. However, even in those moments when they’re just checking the sound levels, the audience is already buzzing with an anxious excitement. Galaxy Express has a legion behind them, an undeniable army of fans who hang on their every word, every movement, every breath. Being able to experience that on their home turf is a distinct pleasure and honor that once I’m in the throes of it takes my breath away.

To begin, I’m right in front of bassist and lead vocal Lee Ju-hyun. While he begins the night without his sunglasses on, once the music starts his shades are firmly in place and he’s ready to crawl inside your very soul with his stage presence. Trust me, he has it in spades. Naturally, I’m drawn to the guitarists, but there’s something absolutely hypnotizing about the way Ju-hyun performs. He’s all swagger and confidence, a man who knows his effect on the audience and completely relishes in it.

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From the way he holds the bass, fingers firm and balanced as if he’s forcing the thing to do his bidding, to the way he hovers over the mic, body in a fighting stance suggesting he’s going to war and the stage is his battlefield. And that voice…. It’s got all the gut-punching bite you’d expect from a rocker, and he uses the full power behind it to grab on to every audience member and squeeze the air out of their lungs. He’s relentless from the moment the music starts to the when it fades, leaving a sigh lingering in the air. Never letting up. Never once allowing the audience to settle.

To his left and toward the back is their drummer, Kim Hee-kwon. As I said, I’ve seen them perform twice, and have been relatively close to the stage during one of their performances, allowing me a perfect view of all three members. Hee-kwon is always an energetic time keeper, but there’s something… deeper in his performance tonight. Perhaps it’s just the way he performs when he’s home. A huge part of me feels like this is his way of saying goodbye*. Just in the way he pounds away at the thing, beating through the pulse of the music as if it’s the last time he’ll do so. It’s wild, unhinged at times. He’s moved to jump up, throw his head back and up to the heavens as if getting something out of his soul.

It’s in this moment I realize how blessed I am, how all of us standing in the audience are, to see him here, in his element, giving the performance of his life. The passion emanating from him crackles through the air with every swing he takes at his instrument. It’s an emotional moment that could very easily be swept away in the furor of the show. Watching him is humbling. In the same moment, however, it’s also got a tinge of heartbreak that’s hard to wrestle with.

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That’s when your attention moves to the far left of the stage to guitarist and vocal Park Jong-hyun. When I first saw Galaxy Express, I was instantly attracted to him. Not in the romantic sense. No. There was just something in his performance that drew my eye, kept me captured through his entire performance. He’s a pretty face with a rugged soul, a voice like crags in a mountain, and the way he plays that damn guitar….

He completely melts into the performance, giving every inch of himself over to its power. There isn’t a moment of rest from him when he’s in his zone. He’s uninhibited in the best kind of way. His body moves as the guitar moves. His face contorts as he urges the guitar to get out a hard piece of blues for him. Jong-hyun is the absolute epitome of someone who makes his instrument an extension of who he is.

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Thus Galaxy Express, really. Every ounce of strength, emotion, raw energy infuses this performance. The charm, love, unyielding power of the moment dripping from their instruments and showering each and every one of us with its headiness. They’re on a journey, a musical voyage to reach some sort of pinnacle of rock excellence. We in the audience are right there with them, screaming, shaking, urging them to continue even though we know they can’t.

They leave the stage, something heavy following them as they descend. But even in those moments, we can all feel them, their pulse still throbbing through the floorboards and giving us all the urge to follow them wherever they might lead us.


*Note this would be one of Hee-kwon’s last performances with Galaxy Express, as he and the band would go their separate ways soon after.

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