I don’t know for sure, son. But a recent experience I had leads me to believe I might have a slight idea.

The other night, I enjoyed a performance of Epica here in La Paz.

For those who are unaware, Epica is a symphonic metal band from Holland and they are currently touring their latest album – Design Your Universe. It’s one of the few times that a current, relatively popular (hey… America is not the world) band has played in Bolivia. So, it was a bit of an event.

And there I was… I’m not particularly a fan of this. Hadn’t heard much outside of a few isolated songs, but I went for the experience of being to a heavy metal rock concert. Something that it dawned on me I had never done before. And I was curious to see them. To see if I could come away as one of the fold. I’m not a connoisseur of this type of thing, but I do really like Within Temptation and they’re in this ballpark. I figured, why not?

What follows is not really a “review” of the concert per se. I can sum that up pretty quickly right now. Short version? Good energy, a high-powered set of forceful – if surprisingly forgettable – songs, entertaining lead guitarist; and a beautiful lead singer, named Simone Simons, who is about as charismatic and interesting as a block of cheese. But she has a very nice voice. I’ll give her that.

And that’s all I’ll give.

Now then, here’s how it went down:

I’ll skip to the good part. The concert itself. Because there’s not much to say with regards to lining up some 5 hours early to be as close to the front as possible. Unless you’re curious to hear about a bunch of assholes standing around drinking beer and talking about bullshit, which you’re not. So I won’t bore you.

This performance took place at the Coliseum of a school called Instituto Americano (or: Amerinst, as the douchebags who graduated from there – such as my ex-wife, for example – sometimes call it). But wait… Before you put this image in your head:

Let me just say that the Coliseum of Instituto Americano is really just a glorified gym. A rather large one, yes. With bleachers on the sides going up to the high ceiling? Sure. But, it’s basically the same size as the place where Mr. Dershowitz (Hey Mr. D!) had us play dodgeball on Thursdays at IS 70 over on 17th St in 1991. What that means is, essentially, that Epica – a band that has millions of fans throughout Europe and the world and is considered perhaps the premier exponent of this sort of music right now, a band that plays huge arenas and amphitheaters and so on and forth….

They came to La Paz, Bolivia and played in a high school gym.

Just throwing that out there to make sure you’re paying attention. And it’s not necessarily a knock or anything. Just one of those odd Twilight Zone-type things that makes me laugh, since I am a man who enjoys laughing at the absurdities of life.

So there we are… I was with a whole bunch of friends while lining up. But, in all the excitement and rush of reaching the stage, my sector of the crowd (some 7 rows from the stage) was reduced to myself, Curly Fries and The Witch. (Not their real names, by the way). So… There we are.

Now, Curly Fries and The Witch are 5’6″ a piece. (Another friend that I can’t come up with a clever nickname for is even shorter) So, already there are groans. We won’t see shit! And that sort of thing. (Well… The word “shit” was not uttered by any of them. That was just me paraphrasing.) And so I make a cute comment about: Oh, don’t worry, you can take turns piggy-backing on me once the show gets started (hoping, of course, that they will NEVER take me up on this generous offer). And, throughout all this, the crowd is getting more and more compact. Before we know it, we’re boxed in. Surrounded by fans chanting EPICA! EPICA!! EPICA!!! while waiting for the show to begin.

I say to myself: This is going to be interesting.

And it will be.

Then the show begins.

Immediately… The shit hits the fan.

How? The crowd begins to rush FORWARD… Crushing us mercilessly against each other as we are forced towards the direction of the stage by the inertia of the assholes that are pushing us. My first instinct is to reach out and grab Curly Fries and The Witch. To protect them… To shield them from this horror! But I can’t find them in the darkness and excitement… For a brief moment I wonder what has happened to them. But I don’t have much time to concentrate on their plight as I am shoved forward and side to side. I bring both my arms down and stiffen my shoulders. This keeps me steady and from actually hitting the floor as the crowd begins to uncontrollably sway from side to side as one… And I shoot upstream like salmon as people fall and lose their balance around me. Meanwhile, Epica is on stage performing a song that I can’t fucking remember right now because my thoughts were of this:

I begin to suspect (or is it hope?) that Curly Fries and The Witch somehow found a way out of this lunacy.

I later found out that they made their way out of the crowd through the side and enjoyed the rest of the show from a vantage point just by the bleachers. Some would call that cowardly. Some would call that missing out on the action. Some would say they are not true metal fans because they chickened out and did not join in the communal experience of grooving to Epica.

I wouldn’t call it that or say those things. I call it sensible thinking and applaud my friends. Not because they’re my friends. But because they are smarter than me. The fact they did this is proof. And I applaud their genius.

I applaud it as I continue to be shoved forward and backward and side to side, while the band segues into another song that I can’t remember. Now, this getting shoved back and forth, side to side and all that… This continues for the remainder of the concert. So just keep that in mind as a continuous event. Just imagine that it is constant so I don’t have to keep referring to it and I will now go into some highlights of the experience.

It’s dawned on me that this is very interesting because it is rather like attending a rock concert and going on a stupid amusement park ride at the same time. It really has that feeling. In fact, perhaps there should be a ride like this at Six Flags or something. A thing called ROCK CONCERT which consists of you getting shoved into a padded box, stuck on a gimbal that shakes and you get bashed around like an imbecile for an hour and a half – with miniature speakers blasting Manowar and King Diamond in a helmet fastened to your head.

I think it would be a popular ride. Primarily because people seem to enjoy subjecting themselves to stupid things. And I am counting myself as one of those people, since I willingly subjected myself to this.

As a subplot, I find myself distracted by looking at the bass player… A guy named Yves Huts, who basically looks like an asshole. And probably is. But I don’t care about that because I find myself fascinated with his t-shirt. It’s a wonderful depiction of Walter Sobchack* and huge block letters that say YOU ARE ENTERING A WORLD OF PAIN. I spend the entire concert wishing I owned that t-shirt and wondering why I don’t.

At one point, the band makes a big deal that the next song they are going to play is from a MOVIE and let’s see if everybody knows this MOVIE and can recognize the SONG FROM THE MOVIE.

Cue March Of The Empire. And of course……

Which means that I am shoved around like nobody’s business now more than ever. And it’s also fascinating because I don’t think I ever heard people singing along to just a melody before… THE ENTIRE FUCKING THING. People around me just chanting: Dah-Dah-Dah… Duh-Duh-Dah/Duh-Duh-Daaaaahhhh… to the tune of John Williams.

Granted, it was probably one of the evening’s most memorable numbers. And it gave Simone Simons a chance to take a breather and get some oxygen backstage. It can be hard on people to perform to the best of their abilities at this high-altitude city and I can appreciate their need to take a breather.

Simone Simons – taking a break backstage

In fact, lead guitarist Mark Jansen (the only person who ever really bothered to interact with the audience) alluded to this… He said, when they came back for the encore: You are officially the highest FUCKING crowd we have ever had. You guys FUCKING rock! You literally take our FUCKING breath away… We had to go backstage to suck on some FUCKING oxygen and I think that’s FUCKING AWESOME!!!

I love the way Europeans speak English.

Anyway… There is something else I have not commented on: The sweat.

Being crushed between people and shoved around like that causes one to share in the body heat of others. And so I sweat… And I was not the only one. It is an interesting notion to be stuck in a mass of humanity all sweating in unison… Heads shaking… Droplets splattering onto your face… Actual heat generating to the point that it may as well be the sauna. I would not be surprised to discover I lost weight just by attending this concert…

Crushed… Surrounded… Basking in the oils and scents of other men and women… We are one.

At the end I was soaked. And, as I touched my drenched shirt, I realized that not all that liquid was my own.

It was a comfoting thought.

A hot shower right before bed was equally comforting. Perhaps more so than the fact I had bathed in the perspiration of other men.

Back to the concert…

Songs began to bleed into each other. The one criticism I will honestly lay at the band’s feet: For all that sound and fury, the only thing I found myself humming on the way home (and very briefly, I might add) was that music from Star Wars. The songs sounded powerful and impressive at the time… And they sure give it their all with orchestrations and all that. But I’d have to hear this a hell of a lot more before it stuck. And that matters to me.

Now then… The climax of the show was the best part. I had made it my mission to make it towards the front row. I was determined to look the bass player right in the eyes and tell him how much I loved his fucking t-shirt. I was hoping it would be one of those cute rock and roll moments you tell friends about over a couple of beers.

And I made it. It wasn’t easy because it was near impossible to make eye contact with this focused motherfucker… But I managed. And I did the dorky thing of thrusting my index finger out at him and going: THAT T-SHIRT KICKS FUCKING ASS MY MAN!!!!

A light knowing, smile formed on his lips.

Was I hoping for something cooler? Was I hoping he’d rip the shirt off and toss it in my direction? A little memento for this bald asshole who never heard of him and only cared about his t-shirt? I mean, why not tear your shirt off? All these guys up there were cut like diamonds! Was I hoping for that?



But, you know? It didn’t happen that way. Oh well… The fact he appreciates The Big Lebowski has to count for something I guess.

Then, they went for their showstopper of an end song, which I imagined must be one of their biggest hits but what the fuck do I know? And then they said goodbye to their audience.

The typical stuff… Throwing guitar picks and drumsticks into the crowd. But they did something else too… They brought out a crate filled with ICE and tossed that in our direction as well.

Fucking ICE!

A huge block whacked me right on the top of my egg-shaped noggin. That hurt. I didn’t like that. And, to top it off, I was now drenched in ice water together with the sweat of a thousand men who all dressed in black how original… Anyway, this was a cold night so I didn’t like that either.

But I liked the show.

And I loved that t-shirt.

You take what you can get.

* Seriously? You have to look this up? What am I going to do with you?