Music is and has been, as long as I remember, a part of my life. I
remember have been told that when I was a child, my parents used to sing lullabies to me (and I still know some of them by heart), so perhaps that’s where the roots of my interest in music come from.
What I do remember is that as a child I had (in fact, probably still have) a nice collection of cassettes of all kinds of music, ranging from children’s music to Tapio Rautavaara (for those of you unfamiliar with this name, he was one of the most famous Finnish singers in the 1950s and 60s). In that pre-historic era of no digital music files or minuscule mp3-players, what luxury it was when I got a Sony Walkman and was able to take my music with me whenever, wherever!
I guess I can say that on some level I grew up listening to music, singing to it (there is at least one really precious tape of me, aged 3 perhaps, singing the same song – in fact a song of Tapio Rautavaara – over and over again, even though I am requested to give some other song a try…) and even playing it. I attended piano lessons for 11 years and learnt some Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, along with easier pop stuff – almost all of which I’ve also very well unlearnt in the past 11 years of not attending piano lessons…
Nevertheless, even though the skills in performing music might not be there in their full force anymore, the love of music remains. Over the years my taste in music has evolved quite far from the childhood cassette collection and mostly encompasses metal in various forms, with some notable exceptions (for instance, I do have a cd of Tapio Rautavaara’s music in my collection…).
If the past 11 years have been spent in not performing any music myself, during the same 11 years I’ve become a more and more active concertgoer. What began quite modestly with my first real rock concert in 1996 – Bon Jovi performing the last show of their These Days tour at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. I can still remember the excitement! – evolved over the years from one or two gigs per year to perhaps around 10 gigs per year.
During the last 4–5 years, however, things have (for various reasons), well, how to say it? Accelerated, exploded, gotten out of hand, whichever term you prefer to describe my current rate of going to around 40–60 gigs a year – counting festivals as one gig here, not including each band I see there as a separate gig. In other words: going to gigs and concerts is a very dear (in all meanings of the word…) hobby of mine. A passion, really.
Nightwish is one of the first bands in the (Finnish) metal genre I really liked, back when I was in upper secondary school. Their melodic songs, combined with a female vocalist, really touched a chord, and I was a really big fan (at the fandom scale of back then) of the band. I saw them at a few concerts and festivals, but when my taste in music evolved to new directions, my biggest interest in them waned.
When they quite spectacularly fired their first singer, Tarja Turunen, after a sold-out end-of-a-tour concert in 2005 and then reappeared with a new vocalist Anette Olzon in 2007, it seemed like the band got a new start also for me. After their latest album, released earlier this year, I saw them live at two summer festivals and liked what I saw, but not that much that I would’ve bought myself a ticket to their special show in Helsinki this November.
Things changed when the band again changed their vocalist in the middle of their US tour. I read the news with only mild interest (“They’re doing this again? Geez…”) but I was nevertheless tempted to discover what kind of a replacement they had found to front the band. The name Floor Jansen was unfamiliar and I had no idea what to expect when I clicked open the first Youtube video I found of their first gigs together.
It would be an understatement to say that I was positively surprised. I was completely blown away by her vocal range, sound, presence and performance on stage – and that only after a few shows with the band! I kept checking out videos on Youtube as their US tour progressed, thinking that I might want to see if there still were tickets for the Helsinki concert, when…
…on one afternoon I discovered a live video of the band performing one of their best songs, Ghost Love Score. I remember clearly how my whole body was in gooseflesh for the entire duration of the song, and in the end I was in tears. And I knew I had to get a ticket for the concert, and not just any ticket, but a standing ticket, because for the first time ever I absolutely wanted to see Nightwish from the first row, if I could just make it happen.
With only a few weeks to the concert, the ticket shop of course had no standing tickets left, but I found what I wanted at an online auction site. (Thanks to the guy who sold me his ticket!) During the last days before the concert I watched with growing excitement videos that were uploaded from the band’s gigs in the UK – not only had Floor’s performance and her rendering of the songs obviously gotten better, but it also seemed that the band was really having a great time on stage. And what’s more: for the first time since I first discovered the band, I felt the tingles of excitement that signify to me that something special was going on.
Luckily I have two good friends that share the passion for going to gigs and who, being bigger Nightwish fans than yours truly, already had not only the standing tickets but also a
wish need to be in the first row as well. I’ve long ago lost count on how many gigs and festivals we’ve been to together, but we’ve seen quite a bunch, and in almost every case from the first row (unless we choose otherwise), so I was somewhat optimistic that we could make it to the front this time as well.
Two things need to be said here though: 1) Nightwish has a certain group of fans that always (as far as I know) are in the first row, simply because they come to the doors so early, even sleeping there overnight (yes, also in winter); and 2) the concert was at Hartwall Areena, a hockey/multifunctional arena that for concerts holds about 13 000 people. Due to special seating arrangements (this was also the premiere of the Nightwish movie Imaginaerum, but that’s a different story), this time there were “only” around 10 000 spectators, but in any case there were quite enough people, in addition to us, wanting to make it to the first row.
We arrived plenty ahead of the time when the doors were supposed to open (they didn’t, of course, open then, but 30 minutes later) and found a group of perhaps 30–40 people already waiting there. When at some point the group was told to arrange into several separate queues, we lucked out and got almost to the front of one queue, and with our tactics of who goes in first, who takes our jackets to the cloakroom and who runs for the first row, we were all set for success.
Of course, things don’t always go as planned, when there are other people involved. When finally, after a what felt like a REALLY long (3,5 hour) wait in the windy and not-so-warm 4°C weather, the security people came to open the gates to let the fans in, we got to experience the old classic of picking the wrong queue. This one never gets old, be it in the supermarket at rush hour or in situations like this: the frustration is massive.
The security guy took his sweet time checking the bags of people in front of us, whereas from other queues people were already sprinting to the doors, and when we finally got to the doors, the man handling the electronic ticket reader didn’t really know how to use his tool and he, too, took his sweet time checking the tickets, whereas from other doors people were already sprinting down the hallway.
When we finally got in and when I had gotten rid of our cloaks and headed for the doors leading to the ground floor I discovered that everyone was standing in yet another queue – nobody was yet allowed inside the actual arena! So after another half an hour of frustrated waiting the doors finally opened to let people in.
The security people kept telling everyone not to run – in Finnish, of course, which meant that the non-Finnish speaking fans, of which there were quite a bunch, ran anyway. As I descended the stairs I was certain that we’d have no chance of being anywhere near the first row, because so many people had gone in before me.
Luckily my friends, who had been closer to the front of the queue, had somehow made it to the second row on the left side of the stage, roughly in front of the keyboard player and mastermind of the band, Tuomas Holopainen. Not quite what I had hoped for, but fortunately the two girls in the first row in front of me were shorter, and I was wearing heels, so I could see the stage quite well anyway.
I was just contemplating how close I had been to fulfilling this one of the “firsts” on my 30 new things list when I noticed that to my right in the front row two people were about to leave and offered their places to my two friends. In a split-second random rush the two people somehow wiggled their way out, my friend got a spot – and the two girls in front of me moved to the right, and before the guy next to them could move, I lunged forward and grabbed a hold of the metal fence, claiming my spot in the front.
Unfortunately only two of us three made it to the first row, and we were also separated by the two other fans, but at least based on the looks on my friend’s face during the concert she seemed nevertheless rather happy to be where she was, even if it wasn’t the first row. I, on the other hand, could barely believe my luck: the first and only time (so far) that I really, really wanted to get to the first row at a Nightwish gig, I made it.
Like I said, I’ve seen the band live quite a few times and enjoyed watching their show from further away because at least in big concerts and festival gigs they really put on somewhat of a spectacle on stage. I have enjoyed seeing the big picture of the show unfold, but this time – because of the long-awaited tingles of excitement I had experienced simply from watching the videos – I really wanted to know what it is like to see this band up close and personal.
It was fantastic.
I can’t really describe what their show actually was like because I only remember bits and pieces from here and there, due to the fact that from the first moments of the gig I was absorbed right into it, immersed in the feeling, the moment, experiencing such happiness and joy of being part of it all, feeling the heat of the pyros, feeling the music vibrate in my body, feeling the energy flowing from the stage…
And, needless to say, it was so great to at last hear Floor Jansen’s amazing voice, hear her sing the familiar songs, giving a completely different kind of life to them. I remember I got gooseflesh all over my body and shivers from head to toe already in the first song she sang, Storytime, and several times again throughout the concert.
From time to time, over the years, there have been moments at gigs where a song, for some reason, moves me so deeply in that particular there-and-then, that I would get tears in my eyes. However, never before have I actually cried at a gig simply because of the awesomeness of a song – so this was a night of firsts in this respect as well.
I remember that tears just started flowing down my face when Floor started singing Ever Dream, and again during some other songs that I can’t recall anymore. What I do remember is the feeling when the first notes of Ghost Love Score emerged in the air. I had hoped that they would play it, and when they did, it was almost too good to be true.
If simply seeing videos of Floor performing this song had already had me in tears, the only way I can describe my reaction when hearing her perform it live is “instant waterfall”. Needless to say, probably, that I was in tears and in gooseflesh all over for the 10-minute duration of the amazing song. If you asked me why, I wouldn’t be able to answer. Something in the way she interprets this song just goes somewhere deep inside, inexplicably.
The overwhelmingness of it all left me nearly speechless for a short while – and not only because I had sung along, shouted, cheered so loudly that my voice was temporarily almost gone. The experience is definitely among the best concerts I’ve been to, and absolutely the best Nightwish concert I’ve ever witnessed. I couldn’t have picked a better gig (or, to be honest, I couldn’t have had a better luck in lucking out) to experience their first row for the first time. Remains to be seen if this is the first and the last time…
EDIT: Here’s a great video from the concert, of the song I Want My Tears Back. Simply seeing this gives me the gooseflesh effect all over again… (Worth watching in full size & HD.)