I just bought tickets for the Spring 2023 tour of my absolute favorite band, Trivium. Usually I just buy two, but this time I’m buying three. That’s because, for the first time ever, my 12-year-old is going to the rock show with Mom and Dad.
I’ve been going to concerts since I was 16. I absolutely love live music. There’s something about hearing the songs you love, feeling them reverberate through your chest, and seeing the raw energy of the crowd that makes it an experience for all five senses. There is something immediate and yet precarious about live music. It’s this coming together of complete strangers to create a shared musical experience that would never have existed if not for that shared belief in a thing that could be. A crowd with good energy makes a concert, and being there means you’re part of the show — part of the music, in some small way.
Every time I go to a concert, I’m reminded of the class I took when I was an English Lit. major in college. It was called “Theory of Literary Criticism,” and it was the class where I met my wife (though that is a story for another day). One of the essays we had to read was all about this thing called the “Original Experience”. For the life of me, I can’t remember the title or the author’s name, but the gist is that the bulk of pleasure-seeking experiences are really a quest to recreate an “original experience” — or as I call it, the “OE.”
An original experience is just what it sounds like–an experience or pleasure that is entirely new and opens your mind to something you never knew existed. So every time I go to a concert, what I’m really trying to do is re-create that original experience from when I was 16. The depressing part of the whole thing is that we never quite get there. The experiences we obtain are always somehow derivative and thus a shadow of the OE.
For the most part, that pattern has held true for me. The OE is like chasing Nirvana. The more you yearn for it, the less likely you’ll attain it. The OE sneaks up on you and hits you when you’re not looking. You don’t always know when it’s happening, but you sure as hell know afterward.
There was this one time, though, that completely flipped the script. This time the second experience was so much better than the original. It was the second time I saw Trivium in concert.
A Ten-Year Yearning
2008 was the first time I ever saw them play. I had no fucking clue who they were. They opened for Slipknot and Coheed and Cambria, had a minuscule set and made our ears bleed, then peaced out to make room for the headliners. Something about that set stuck with me, and after that concert, I threw myself into their discography. I bought every album, watched every video I could find. They became a part of the soundtrack of my life.
If you asked me why exactly they’re my favorite, I don’t think I could give you a definitive answer. That Metalcore genre in general tends to grab my ear more than most, but why does Trivium end up at the top of the pile? Part of it is the lyrics, part of it the sound of Matt Heaffy‘s voice. Part of it is the combination of melodic riffs juxtaposed against a Thrash-style tempo and aggression. It just hits right. And in a lot of ways, I grew into adulthood along with them. All the band members are just a couple years younger than my wife and me. We’ve all grown older, had kids, bought houses, and said goodbye to loved ones in the same span.
I’ve never met these guys, but there’s an (admittedly one-sided) kinship there that makes their music resonate more than most. One of their songs, “Forsake Not the Dream,“ was the mantra that got me through some of the roughest patches in my marriage. Another tune, “Until the World Goes Cold,” is like an encapsulation of our commitment to each other. It always makes my wife tear up and reach for my hand when she hears it.
After 2008 I desperately wanted to see them in concert again, but things never seemed to line up. Year after year it was the same. Either I was out of town, or we had a newborn, or the nearest show was too far away. Something always came up.
And Then It All Came Together
Fast forward to June 2019. I had just been tapped to travel for work to Utrecht, The Netherlands. Utrecht is an old medieval city in the north of The Netherlands. There are canals and cobblestone streets and all the picturesque stuff you’d ever want out of a Dutch town. If you get the chance to go, do it. You won’t regret it.
As I did whenever I traveled for work, I did a quick search to see which rock bands were playing near Utrecht that week. I had recently been listening to the new album from a band called While She Sleeps. They’re from England, and I thought, “England’s not too far from The Netherlands. Maybe they’ll be in town, haha“.
Off to the Google I went, typed it in, and guess what the fuck? They are going to be in town the exact day we fly into the country. I was ecstatic. Getting to go to my favorite country, drink some badass beer, and see an awesome band I would likely never get to see stateside. But then I saw that While She Sleeps was only the second opening act. Huh… wonder who the headliner was?
I just about lost my mind when I saw the name in the headliner slot on the concert bill. I had been trying to see them live for over a decade, and here they were, playing in another country on the exact day I arrived. I also worked with my best friend at the time, and he—another metalhead—was going on the trip too. It felt divinely ordained.
We rolled into Schipol Airport around 9 a.m. that Sunday morning. One of my Dutch friends picked us up from the airport and we went to have some beer and lunch at the most Dutch restaurant ever—a brewery housed in the base of an old windmill. Properly toasted, we checked in at our hotel, had a little nap to stave off the jet lag, and went to downtown Utrecht for dinner before the concert.
The venue was a place called Tivoli Vredenburg. I’d never heard of it before, but my Dutch friend assured me it had some of the best acoustics of any venue in the whole country. It didn’t disappoint. The venue has multiple concert halls, and we were in the upper hall. Filing into the place, I could tell it was going to be a capacity crowd. There was a bar along the back, a large upper balcony, and lots of open floor space. By the time the first opening act was ready to go on, even the stairs along the sides were standing room only.
My buddy and I sat through the opening acts, enjoying it, but still antsy with anticipation for the main event. The first act was a thrash band called Power Trip. The second was While She Sleeps, of course. Both were great, and I have footage of each. But this is about Trivium, so we’ll save those for another day.
The roadies did their thing for about fifteen minutes and then the lights went out. The first whining chords of a familiar song rang out, and a cheer went up from the crowd as we collectively realized what it was. “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden played through as illuminated beachballs bounced back and forth across the pit. They let it play through its entirety, the crowd shouting through each chorus at the top of their lungs, “Run to the hills. Run for your liiii-iiiiife!”
And as soon as the final crescendo was over, the drums started up, the lights came on, and a wall of sound slammed into us. It was on.
Trivium. On stage in front of me. After 10 fucking years.
I won’t bore you with the uber fan setlist details. I could go look it up, but it would probably be meaningless to anyone who isn’t a diehard Trivium fan. But I will leave you with some of the videos I took that night. They don’t do it justice. After all, they’re but a pale imitation of that OE we’re all chasing. But maybe they’ll give you a bit of an idea.
The Weight of Realization
I didn’t realize I was in the midst of the OE that whole time. I was too busy trying to soak in every bit of sensory input I could, body and soul vibrating with each raucous note. It was only when I got back to the hotel later that night that it hit me.
It was about midnight. I was sweat-soaked and utterly spent. The usual mosh pit fatigue was compounded by the fact that I’d gotten about 5 hours of sleep over the last 36 hours. I turned on the shower and sat on the edge of my rented bed while the water warmed up. And in that moment of stillness, a sudden wave of emotion hit me. Joy, gratitude, and remorse, all of it swirling together and inextricably linked. I broke down and sobbed.
It may seem stupid, crying over a concert. And if you think my utter exhaustion might have played into it, you’d probably be right. But in that moment, I recognized I had experienced something special, something rare. For ten years I’d been pining for that moment, building it up in my mind until the very idea of it was a marble god unto itself. It wasn’t the first time I’d done that, but it was the first time the event had lived up to the hype.
How many times has it happened in your life, where the thing you’d been yearning after for so long finally happened and it was everything you wanted it to be? Not often, I’d wager. More often than not, it fell flat for one reason or another. The idea of the thing was bigger than the thing itself. But not this time. It was everything I’d dreamt of for ten years. It was that one perfect experience.
I was deliriously happy and thankful, but there was a bitter note as well. Because now that the moment had come, it would never be again. There would be other concerts, sure. But never that concert. Never that one perfect moment. It now lived only as a ghost in my mind.
That’s the reality of the OE. It’s joy. It’s magic. But it’s also heartache for the knowledge that it might never be that sweet again. And yet still we chase after it, over and over again. Because what is life without it? Each day just a pale imitation of the one that came before?
The OE is that thing we’re all chasing. It’s elusive, yeah. But it’s the chase that makes the thing worth having in the first place.
Will my son find his own OE at a Trivium show? Maybe. Probably not, though. Dear old dad’s musical tastes aren’t likely to strike that perfect chord. But maybe it will set the stage a bit. He’s got to find it on his own, the thing that resonates with his soul. And that’s the way it should be.