I was taking the scenic route home from a gig the other night and listening to the crickets filling the evening tranquillity as I passed through a clearing by the river. I was in a mild state of shock, overwhelmed by a severe case of nostalgia having had a profound experience at a Nightwish concert of all places. This write-up is, however, less about that particular musical event and is more of an essay of personal observations using Nightwish as a pretext and an example.
I wasn't even really planning to attend this gig but managed to score a decently priced ticket on the aftermarket at the last minute. I've never regretted going to a gig as much as I've regretted missing out on one, but after this time, I'm beginning to reevaluate this stance. It's not even the time that has passed between the concerts that's affecting me, but rather the changes that have happened in between, either to the band or to myself. And this is what rubs me the wrong way.
Approaching my forties, I've been going to concerts throughout approximately half of my life. I've been listening to and actively searching for new music for slightly longer than that. In about two decades I've seen bands emerge, disappear, and even reunite again. I've noticed my musical preferences and listening habits change over this time. I've found many a band I love and I've parted ways with some. In short, 20 years seems like enough time for me to have gained some perspective and to exercise hindsight. When I started diving into musical discoveries, Nightwish was one of the cornerstones of my mental library of aural experiences and emotions. I saw them live for the first time way back in 2004 and you can imagine it being the highlight of those early days of music exploration. The next gig with them was about three years later after Tarja had been replaced by Anette. That was, in fact, her first gig with the band before the official start of the tour. Three's the charm, they say, and I’ve now been to a third show, this one in 2022 with Floor on vocals.
After the Night of the Prog festival in 2015 I tried to understand how I relate to the entities within the realm of the music world. Or, to put it less elaborately, when do I listen to the music, when to the whole band, and when to the particular musician. While it's a well-known adage to follow the musician and not the band, it's rarely as simple as that. I can sort out most of the time who or what is the key, but the case of Nightwish is a peculiar one and I can't quite put my finger on why it is so.
What I think it boils down to is that I've lost connection with musicians, the band as well as the music itself. While Tuomas is Nightwish, Nightwish is not Tuomas. The band is more than each member but also each member is so much more than just a musician. But here's the paradox: each of them is also less without the band. Moreover, there have just been too many changes and this does not feel like my band anymore.
I'm missing the closure in a sense that I don't know who or what to follow. I've not cared for Tarja's or Anette's other music. Same for Marco, even though I think as a vocalist he is brilliant and was crucial to the band. Jukka as a drummer and a personality was likewise an important element in the band. Tuomas doesn't quite make it alone, and Emppu despite his skills feels like a tag-along. As for the new members, Kai is a good drummer but subdued, the new Jukka also feels nondescript, Troy while good with pipe melodies can't match Marco's vocals, and Floor...
I saw Floor perform at Hellfest '07 with After Forever when they as a band were already on the dead-end course. Still, she was fantastic. Around the time Tarja left, it was just about everyone's dream that Floor would ditch the already-spiralling After Forever and join Nightwish. Floor is fabulous, she's one of the very best vocalists around, and it seemed like a perfect match. But is it in reality? The way I see it, she's too good for the band. No matter how you view it, she's underutilized and she is comfortable. Seeing the ease of her performance on stage, Nightwish feels almost like a cushy retirement plan for her. As a singer she's done what was right with Nightwish's legacy. When performing, she's made the old songs her own. She could match Tarja, though doesn't. Through no fault of her own, however, I was seeing Floor but hearing Tarja in my head for those old songs...
I'm beginning to suspect that there are cases where the first live experience matters to the point where it's hard to move on. I was at Pure Reason Revolution's last tour before they split up. I have prints of the photos I took of the band at those concerts hanging on my walls. Yet, even if the reunion show years later was sweet and the subsequent albums have been great, I'm missing that half of the band that I saw live the first time. And they weren't even the ones on the magnificent debut album that I cherish so much.
The initial live experience seems to anchor the band's line-up into a personal timeline and that apparently makes change harder to accept. I saw Nightwish before Floor joined the band and I saw Floor with After Forever before she joined Nightwish. Somehow this creates a clash of past experiences in my consciousness that doesn't allow the present to become accepted. Instead of being an extension of both memories, the present situation has become neither and it does not stand on its own. Change has somehow become an obstruction across the path of appreciation of music and live performances and this I find tough to deal with.
I've always believed that change is probably one of the best things that can happen to any band during their career. Spectacular albums have been released amidst changes of musical direction, like Wildhoney and A Deeper Kind of Slumber by Tiamat or Alternative 4 and Judgement by Anathema. Some bands have found their path with new members, like The Gathering with Anneke, or, say, Amorphis with Tomi. I'm picking examples fairly at random, you understand. Between consistency and stagnation, however, change is the crossover area where interesting fusion of musical ideas can occur given the chance. It's change that can distinguish truly great from merely good and above average.
This is where nostalgia and the longing for something that hasn't happened or is no more kicks in. Looking around myself, I see change. I've begun to notice that the audience for bands like these has started to grow old(er) on average. Same for regulars whom I glimpse now and again. People with strands of grey in their hair (ditto), some balding, wrinkles appearing, slightly age-soft figures... Then I notice the same about musicians I haven't seen perform in at least five years. It gives me a start when I realise most Dream Theater members are in their mid-fifties, and Jordan even in his mid-sixties. A fair chunk of the audience around me has grown up with the band, and what might be their first chance to see the band live could just as easily be their last at this point. I can also see the younger people for whom the situation is likely similar. In a fleeting moment that is a live performance, it's a strange collision of perceptions of a life inevitably going by. The old see the old...and the young also see the old. Everyone clutches at this moment in time that can be–or rather for most will be–their last meeting.
I feel a strange kinship with the youngsters, however: I was there some twenty or so years ago for a Deep Purple gig, feeling like a young sprout amidst the gnarly geezers. Slowly I’m starting to see the experience from the other side of the table. I feel strangely apologetic before them. They have to see what the band is today rather than what it has been in the past when it was different and growing, though not necessarily better. This throws me off because I've always enjoyed the live experience anchored to the present time. Did I care that Deep Purple was decades without Ritchie? Did I care that they focused on the Bananas album? No, I loved it because I got to form my own bond with them in that particular moment in time. At that moment I claimed them for my own. So why should it be different for the youngsters of today?
Maybe I'm feeling apologetic because of the personal sub-par experience of what was, in fact, a decent show by Nightwish? Or maybe it's the knowledge of what was in the past and what has gone by without my participation in the time in between that I'm feeling sorry for the youngsters as much as for myself? For me it was bittersweet to experience my all-time favourites, Garbage, live three years ago for the first time ever. Spectacular performance, yet I couldn't detach myself from noticing the age and thinking back on why it's taken me so long. Likewise I was thinking about close to fifteen-year gap since seeing Nightwish live again. However, where I was happy with Garbage, I found Nightwish wanting and to some extent I blame it on having prior separate live experiences with the band and its members.
I also miss the simpler gig-going days of my youth where self-forgetting attention was on the overwhelming physicality of the sound that left room for not much else. The effort of trying to hear all parties involved on stage through a disbalanced wall of sound made the participation in the event somehow more immediate. What I have noticed, however, is that the better my earplugs have become, the more consciously critical I am of the sound. Nowadays I get annoyed at bands not getting their sound right. The less balanced the sound, the more distant is my mental (though not necessarily physical) observation point. I think I've reached the state where I often tend to treat the bad sound as a lack of basic courtesy on the band's part.
Earplugs create a form of detachment in a way that when the sound balance is off it's hard to enjoy the show. It's akin to listening to a badly mixed studio recording, or watching a live recording where the sound and the picture are ever so slightly out of sync. The end result is that the physical distance of space between the performer on stage and the listener on the floor is not often completely bridged in my case. Somehow, the immediacy of intoxicating self-destruction is nowadays less appealing than the moderation in order to avoid the inevitable consequences of ear damage. The rationality of thinking that comes with age and the realisation of this willingness to forego the finality of the present moment for a future possibility is also hard to come to terms with and makes the changes in me all the more apparent to myself.
So I was walking home the other night and besides the crickets I was hearing Riverside's "OK" slowly unfold in my head. "There's sadness in my mind – ok." It's as if already at that moment between nostalgia and regret there was a kind of feeling of acceptance that had come over me. Was this the feeling of nostalgia that I wanted when I decided to go? Or was it the conscious need to avoid this unconscious feeling of regret for having missed out (once again)? I think it's neither. It's bigger than that. I think it's the craving for a definite answer–for the answer–that drove me out. Not Douglas Adams's existential answer to being, but the one that defines conclusively the borders of a relationship in limbo.
Sometimes there are no easy answers. Every decision we make and every experience we (don't) have can teach us a little something about ourselves that we didn't know or chose not to know. The realisation that you've grown apart through no fault of either side is painful. The realisation that there's no turning it back is even more so. This knowledge is not something we want but it's something we desperately need to make closure. This is what I had been avoiding.
Seeing Garbage for the first time showed me that they are still very much relevant to me. Seeing Nightwish with Floor after all these years only showed me the abyss and the precarious nature of relationships in life. The hopeful autumn of denial has finally ended. Somewhere there a memory of colourful spring remains and, who knows, the wheel may turn 'round once more one day. The ignorance has given way to the bleak winter chill of inevitability and closure, and for now the longing for the times past and/or missed still remains. Hopefully I can soon move on because I feel it's become clear to me that Nightwish is not my band anymore. There are probably others like this that I choose to ignore. I just need to learn to accept this change.
Written on 17.08.2022 by
I shoot people.
Sometimes, I also write about it.
And one day I'm going to start a band. We're going to be playing pun-rock.
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