Suga live in New York: a show-stopping statement of artistic intent at the BTS rapper’s debut solo tour

Suga’s first solo tour starts with a bang – quite literally. After rainy graphics pour down on the screen at the back of the stage, accompanied by the sound of continuous showers, a loud crash and an explosion of pyro jolts the UBS Arena into action. The attention-grabbing opening is a nod to the motorcycle accident the BTS rapper experienced during his trainee days. It’s depicted vividly in a video that plays before he takes the stage, featuring the star lying in a rain-soaked street, visions of the past and future cutting over shots of his prone body.

Dramatic stage-setting complete, the time comes for Suga – or Agust D, the name his solo work has been released under so far – to enter the spotlight for real. But instead of the usual route of bounding up onto his platform, he’s instead carried on by dancers, who lay him on his back on the stage, recreating the pose we’ve just seen on screen. Mystery abounds as lightning flashes across the screen, and the sound of traditional instruments reverberates in the background until the first notes of ‘Haegeum’ resound around the arena and he leaps up, accelerating the energy in an instant.

“I dare say it’ll be a totally different tour from previous BTS tours, and a tour beyond what everyone can imagine,” Suga told NME recently and, on the second date of the run (April 27), it soon becomes clear that was no exaggeration. It differs from the group’s concerts in its pacing and structure – two main segments that blaze and simmer and an encore, rather than multiple shorter sections – but it’s the latter half of his comment that really hits home.

The rapper’s stage is unlike anything NME has seen before. It is divided into nine panels that, one by one and at different points throughout the show, lift up to the ceiling. Every removal diminishes the space he has to jump about on, but each reveals a new hidden prop or allows a new element of showmanship to be added. When the first four elevate skywards during ‘Give It To Me’, spurts of fire shoot up in the gaps. By the end of the set, no panels remain, returning the star to floor level for an encore that, based on the preceding VCR, strips away the alter egos of Suga and Agust D, leaving just the person Min Yunki to close things out.

Suga Ryuichi Sakamoto

This might be Suga’s first solo tour, and though he’s used to being flanked by his six bandmates and sharing the spotlight – not to mention entertainment responsibilities – he looks instantly at home and unflappably confident. He jokes with fans that they “slay” and looks amusedly perplexed when the arena unites in barking at him. There’s not a moment on stage where he looks nervous or uncomfortable.

While those gathered would likely be satisfied with just seeing Suga rap – and it would be much easier for him to stay in that lane – he uses the concert as a chance to show off his musicality. First, he remakes ‘Trivia: Seesaw’, his solo track from BTS’ 2018 album ‘Love Yourself: Answer’, on an acoustic guitar signed by the other six members.

Later, he sits down at a piano, revealed when another panel moves up to the roof, to perform ‘D-DAY’’s ‘Life Goes On’ and ‘Snooze’. The latter is preceded by a clip from his Road To D-DAY documentary with late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, who features on the recorded version of the song. After the video of the musical legend plays, a message shows on the screens: “I wish you peace on your long journey. RIP Sakamoto Ryuichi.”

There are also chances for Suga to display his underrated vocal skills, adeptly nailing the hook of ‘Life Goes On’ and, in a surprise move, taking over collaborator MAX’s lines in a fiery, fierce version of ‘Burn It’. No matter how flawless these performances are, rap is still his forte and his bar-spitting abilities are second to none tonight. The quick-fire delivery of ‘Agust D’’s second verse – with barely a pause for air – is jaw-droppingly impressive, while a ferocious medley of ‘Cypher pt.3: Killer’, ‘Cypher pt.4’, ‘UGH!’, the deep cut and fan favourite ‘Ddaeng’, and ‘HUH?!’ goes so hard it feels like the entire venue could combust at any second.

Suga Agust D

A bruising version of ‘Amygdala’, in which Suga sings in increasingly raw and urgent tones, brings the main show to a close, flames licking at the feet of the final panel that forms the remainder of the stage. After a brief intermission, he returns, bathed in orange light that gives the impression he is rising like his own phoenix from the ashes.

Where ‘Amygdala’ centres on pain and trauma, his encore opener ‘D-DAY’ brings a positive outlook: “D-Day is coming, it’s a fucking good day,” he raps at one point, while the chorus adds: “Future’s gonna be OK.” It’s an (almost) optimistic closing note to a show that brims with artistic intent and pulls off an ambitious production with ease. “I promise, I guarantee you, I will come back,” Suga tells the audience before a powerful final one-two of ‘Intro: Never Mind’ and ‘The Last’. Let the countdown begin.


Suga played:

‘Agust D’
‘Give It To Me’
‘Trivia: Seesaw’
‘People Pt.2’
‘Burn It’
‘Interlude: Shadow’
‘BTS Cypher Pt.3: Killer’
‘BTS Cypher Pt.4’
‘Life Goes On’
‘Polar Night’
‘Intro: Never Mind’
‘The Last’