· Cities visited: 3
· Concerts attended: 2
· Sound checks attended: 1
· New friends made: 1
· Current friends seen: 4
· Alcoholic beverages consumed: Just 1 (by me anyway… I was the designated.)
· Bruises earned: 2 (two inches above both knees. I have no idea how I got them. Rock, apparently, can hurt.)
I’ve been a big fan of Tokio Hotel since 2010, discovering them via You Tube right around the time they closed up touring their last album. Ah, to recall my naiveté at the time, watching music videos and thinking casually to myself, “huh… cool band. I’ll hop on their website and see when they’re going to be in Philly so I can catch the show.”
Five years later...
It was sheer bad timing that I became interested just as they went on hiatus, but since there was nearly a decade of touring, four (or six) albums depending on what language you’re listening to them in, and countless interviews, music, and concert videos to enjoy there was a lot to keep me busy. And nobody in the band has even yet reached the age of 30 – these guys started young, y’all.
Over the past few years I got involved in a community, and I made friends. Some live only an hour from me and others halfway around the world. There are things to love and to hate about the internet, but one great positive is its ability to bring together people of shared dreams and interests who would otherwise never have a chance to know one another.
So it was that the wonderful, diverse group of individuals I spent last weekend with, concert road-tripping, singing, dancing, laughing, being crazy and generally rocking out with were all folks I could directly credit the band for bringing into my life. Annette I see often as we live close to one another, Gina and Claudia are a bit further away and I see them as often as I can, and Annica I met for the first time in person only this past weekend and yet felt instantly as though I’d known her for years.
Back in May the US tour dates were announced, and after a few days of planning, decision making, and generalized squee I had tickets secured with these friends to two of the three shows happening locally: one in my home town of Philadelphia and one nearby in Baltimore. Abruptly, the indefinite wait to see my favorite band play live became something that was happening in three short months. It didn’t quite seem possible or particularly real. On top of that it was a club tour with small sized venues, so I wasn’t just going to see them live – but up close. As in count-the-facial-piercings-close.
A week ago Saturday I kissed Ted goodbye and picked everyone up in my large vehicle for the drive into Baltimore. I passed the time absorbing my companion’s stories about the concert they’d already seen a few days previous in New York City.
In Baltimore we ditched the car and tumbled out onto the hot summer street. Already people were lining up in front of the venue, but since none of us were keen on getting tossed into the human salad spinner that is the area directly in front of the stage we bypassed the longer wait in favor of food. Here you can see a fundamental difference between concert-priorities as a teen versus a grown up: proper fuel is important and you remember to hydrate.
When we got back the line was snaking its way around the side of the building and with our general admission tickets we hopped into the end. The space behind us quickly filled with more people and I was glad to see such a good turnout here in the US. This is because despite generating a Beatle mania-esque level of hysteria in their native Europe and parts yonder, my fellow American’s response to my telling them I like a band called Tokio Hotel is usually a slightly blank look followed by the queried, “who?”
The crowd was a lot more diverse than I expected. The majority of TH’s fan base has traditionally been female and young, but over the years as the band grew up so did it’s fandom. The line outside the Soundstage had women, men, people younger than us, people older than us, fanciful hair colors, inventive piercings, an array of tattoos as well as more conservative and low-key looking folk. There was even one lady pushing a stroller with a toddler inside; a concert-going decision I admit I found somewhat questionable (TH is loud). People were also really nice; relaxed, happy, and chatty. I admired someone’s beautiful lavender hair color and she enthusiastically encouraged me to get the same for myself (and I would really love to sport lavender one day).
Soon after joining the line a fan walked by and passed us all little signs that read: “Thank You: Ten Years with Tokio Hotel”.
The day of the Baltimore show was the 10th anniversary of the band’s single Monsoon, the song that initially made them famous (and, amusingly, whose popularity made it impossible for them to return to school like normal kids after a summer break of touring when they were around fourteen.) When the band played the song, you were supposed to hold up the sign. I was doubtful they would be able to see such small print from the floodlight-bright area of the stage, but we were game.
There was also apparently a banner going around for people to sign that was given to the band after the show. Sadly, I missed getting to give Tokio Hotel my autograph (heh) but this is what it looked like:
I’m not a great judge of crowd size but I would estimate that Baltimore Soundstage holds somewhere between 750 and 1,000 people. I heard the concert was sold out, and the venue was full, but thankfully not sardine-packed. My friends and I scored great standing room at the front of a raised platform toward the back of the venue with a clear, totally unobstructed view of the entire stage and plenty of room to move.
The first opening act was on when we came in; Ex Nations reminded me a tiny bit of Imagine Dragons. Not bad. The second opener, MXMS, was very low key. I thought they should have switched the order of the two since EN would have been a better choice to rev up a crowd.
Low-key or not, by the time the second opening band finished up I was totally wired – somewhere between unbelievably stoked for the show and in utter disbelief that the five year wait was over, literally, right NOW.
One thing I’ll say about Tokio Hotel, they’re worth waiting for – but they do teach you about patience. What came next was a solid hour of downtime involving intermittent standing around chatting with friends and jumping up and down from pent up energy. Gina took the following shot of my overly-excited, totally wired self a minute or two before the intro began:
|I can't even blame caffeine or alcohol for this expression...
And then, quite magically, “soon” turns into right now.
I’ve always been a person capable of fan-love. I’ve been that way since I was a teenager and my very patient sister took me to see Bon Jovi over, and over (and over) again. Not everybody falls in love with things the way fan-folk do, and to those who don’t we can be a confusing lot. But to those of us with the predisposition to go totally crazy about Star Trek, or 80’s fantasy films, or a book series, or a quirky German band (or in my case all of the above) it’s utter magic to love and enjoy something with people who feel the exact same way about it as you. It’s magic to love that something for years from afar and then one day have them right there in the room with you, playing the music that’s been your life’s chosen soundtrack for a couple of years running.
Not going to lie, I was a teeny bit emotional.
It’s been a few days and it’s still difficult to describe how the show was. Technically you can see for yourself what the Feel it All tour looks and sounds like on a thousand home made You Tube videos, some of them fairly decent quality. And yet… no, it’s not the same. The band is made up of hard working German perfectionists and that work ethic shows in how flawless they sound live, in the attention to every detail meant to entertain and delight the audience, in the way they connect to the people they’re performing for with those million megawatt smiles, tiny waves, and a hundred other intimate little details that come off completely organic despite the obvious amount of work they put into making sure their show is as perfect as they can make it.
I once read a concert review from 2008 that described the experience as, “Fifteen hundred people spending an hour and a half trying to get one teenage boy to grin.”
This is largely still the case in 2015 – it’s just that the ridiculously pretty boy is now a ridiculously pretty man with facial scruff and a lot less guy liner. Bill’s grin, however, is just the same, and just as infectious.
The show’s intro is a light show projected onto a scrim curtain that covers the entire front of the stage. In Baltimore the ceiling was low so part of the projection was actually up on the ceiling. The intro music, an extended opener to the song We Found Us, is at that point prerecorded, and combines with the lighting to give the audience an inter-dimensional travel, lifting and moving forward feeling. It features the kind of heavy bass that can be felt as well as heard, and is perfectly designed to amp up a crowd. At some point while it’s playing the band quietly moves into their places on stage. Well, they’re quiet anyway, the crowd went positively nuts since it’s easy to spot them through the scrim, particularly Bill with his headgear.
Once they’re in place they just sort of drop seamlessly over into the live song, though you can distinctly hear when the guys take over playing. It gets even louder, for one thing. They play at a volume that is just loud enough to fill up all the spaces inside your chest with sonic vibration but not loud enough to cause any distortion. It leaves you with seriously ringing ears afterward, but it sounds just right while it’s going on.
At the first chorus they drop the scrim, and the crowd goes absolutely bonkers. The crew raised and lowered that curtain a couple of times throughout the show so that it could be used for various effects and oddly I never caught them putting it back up, I’d just notice it was there again.
That first show in Baltimore was more about listening for me than watching. I danced, nonstop, the entire time (and I was thoroughly grateful to my two Zumba instructors for giving me the stamina to do that).
I knew there were going to be vocal effects used during the show, I’d heard everything watching the European concerts on You Tube, but even good recordings do not compare to the blow-back-your-hair-awesomeness of the way it sounds live. They did everything possible to bring the unique sound of their current album to life on stage, and succeeded fantastically. My mind boggles to even think about how technically complicated this show has to be: with lighting effects timed for every beat, two guys playing three to four instruments each, one drummer, and one singer blending in with himself as his own backup while hitting all queues for vocal sound effects unique to every single song. And the effects do not detract in the slightest from how awesome his voice sounds live, and how much you can really hear him.
Not to mention they never stop moving around to interact with and enjoy the crowd. It was not a huge stage and they’ve added a whole other level of complicated by putting risers on it for Bill, Tom and Georg to stand on. This makes them a lot more visible from the floor area, but how they’ve gone through two legs of the tour without somebody pitching off of or tripping over one I have no idea. (Well, Tom almost did – but just that once…) Gustav is trapped behind a Plexiglas wall which makes him somewhat difficult to see. I notice though, that he comes out at the show’s beginning wearing a welding mask, I suppose because he finds wearing a welding mask and playing drums at the same time to be amusing.
At the Philly show I could see two of the tech guys off to stage right rocking out while they hunched over their boards, and I was a little surprised that they looked like they were having fun instead of being completely stressed. Then again, you do this every night for several months running and I guess you must get used to the insanity.
The word I keep coming back to with this experience is fun. It’s a small word, and doesn’t seem big enough to encompass everything, but there it is. Forgive me Bon Jovi, I will always love you, but this was without question the most fun I have ever had at a concert.
There was also a lot of hugging. I was happy to be there, my friends were happy to be there, my friends were happy for me finally being at my first TH show. During one song a group of fans get to go up on stage, and in Baltimore one of them was my friend Liz. She looked totally calm, relaxed and groovy up there dancing. I think I probably would have frozen stiff with stage fright, they’d have had to wheel me back off stage on a dolly.
I have no idea how, but Liz managed to find us in the crowd after she came offstage, and there was a whole lot more happy hugging. She is another person I don’t get to see often, but spending that last hour of the show together was very special.
All too soon the last costume change occurred and the last encore was played (the entire show runs I think just shy of two hours). It was fun and exhausting and amazing and over all too soon, but I knew I would get to do it all again the very next day. My friends and I piled back into my SUV and headed over to crash at Annette’s house. I shared a bed with Pumba (a plushie version of Bill’s bulldog).
|That plushie had a long night...
I would be going my separate way from the others that night, so we took two cars into the city. Annica drove with me to keep me company. As a shy introvert I can be panicky when left alone with a person I’ve only just met, fearing awkward silences. I’d just met Annica the day before and yet spending time talking to her, getting to know her and about her different world, sharing stories of my own – felt both effortless and perfectly natural, as though I was chatting with someone I’ve known for years. I’m still struck by how dear people can become to me even from such precious few hours spent together. Music truly can unite.
In Philly we once again ditched the cars and made our way out onto South Street, one of the more popular tourist destinations in the city. I wished there was time to show my friends the Philadelphia Magic Gardens nearby, my favorite place inside city limits – but we had to get to the venue to check in.
One feature of this tour is the different types of tickets available. At the Philly show we’d obtained tickets that allowed us to be there for the band’s sound check that afternoon. We checked in at the front doors, were appropriately tagged and lined up, and went back to waiting. Waiting around seems to be something of a rite of passage at TH concerts.
On the upside, it gave us time for a group pic in front of the TLA:
Eventually making our way into the venue I realized I had failed to think my plan of coming to sound check through very thoroughly. The house lights were up, and there were maybe twenty people clustered directly in front of the stage, leaving a ton of empty space with absolutely no camouflage.
As I mentioned previously, I’m a shy introvert, so this presented something of a problem.
Also of note: when Bill Kaulitz grins and waves at you and your response is to try to hide behind a tall, beautiful Swede, he seems to find that amusing.
When the band came out there was a smoke machine turned on, I spotted Georg first waving his way through the fog and shooting Tom a bemused glance over it (they don’t use fog during the show so I have no idea why it was spewing).
Mostly it was really odd… to follow the careers of four people who have performed before 500,000 fans at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, travelled the world, and appeared on countless TV and radio programs, to then just be standing there in the TLA casually tuning up their guitars like it’s an ordinary Sunday afternoon. Gustav spontaneously burst into a short drum solo, apparently just to warm up/work off extra energy. He’s so good and I have a soft spot for drummers (there are three in my family), I hope they encourage him to solo during a show eventually.
Sound check is all business, and yet they were still obviously pleased to see us, and watch us enjoying the music (and after a minute or two I did manage to unlock my limbs and have fun).
Amusingly Bill was preoccupied with his phone during the bridge of one song, and we realized later he’d probably been posting this to his Instagram:
|This shot was taken in the back alley behind the TLA earlier that day, you can see some of the same mosaic artwork behind him that covers the Magic Garden.
Three songs later they waved goodbye as we were herded back onto the street. As I was leaving I watched Tom tug on Bill’s shoulder and say something into his ear that made his brother laugh. I’ve seen the pair of them do this a hundred times on a screen but seeing them be their adorkable selves together in person was very dear.
Again, at this time people were already lining up for the concert. And again, we went off to obtain food. I don’t remember saying much during dinner (though I’m pretty sure I did eat something) I was far off inside my head, pondering over everything I’d seen and heard so far.
Another thing our ticket upgrade provided was the ability to go into the venue prior to general admission, so when we got back to the TLA we were able to bypass into a shorter line for entry. Inside, Claudia spied out an amazing spot from which to watch the concert. The bar area is sectioned off to the left of the theatre, raised two or three feet higher than the general floor space, and walled off by a waist high concrete wall. We occupied the entire stage-facing portion of the bar, so we had both a higher vantage point and were only about twelve or fifteen feet from the stage (the TLA is not huge). I thought our spot in Baltimore had been great, but this was fantastic!
We got in that day before the opening acts went on, so there was plenty of time for me to make friends with the people around me. (Note, in Philly the first opening act was a local band called 1FM.) I met two sets of moms with their daughters at the Philly show. It put me in mind of my friends Jenny, Michelle, and Becky whom I’ve also met via the fan club and been fortunate to spend time with over the years. All of them share their musical interests with their children just as the ladies I met at the show were doing that night. It made me feel as though these far flung friends were with us too, I know they would have been if they could.
We had a little down time so I slipped out to the lobby to pick up a memento to take home. The merchandise guy recognized me from Baltimore and we got to chatting since there was not currently a line. He told me about the weather in Los Angeles and how beautiful he thought Pennsylvania was, about how he enjoyed travelling with the band but that it would be good to get back home again (Philly was the final show of the North American tour). How he’d been sick three times in just a few short weeks of travel (poor guy). And he also said thank you, because the fans let him do a job he enjoyed and feed his kid at the same time, and he’d really had fun meeting us all across the states.
And then there was the show…
The second time around was more about watching, primarily because they were right there. Close enough to see every sparkly thing that Bill had on and the sweat drops falling off of Tom’s crazy Duck Dynasty beard. Also close enough to be easily spotted by the band in return (yes, I had another scared rabbit moment when I realized that, but I got used to it). There are certainly moments of close-eyed rock-rapture from Tokio Hotel as they perform, but mostly they really seem to enjoy watching people enjoy watching them.
Energy plays back and forth between performer and audience at a live show, I’ve been fortunate to feel this effect from both sides due to my past acting endeavors. The audience surges their enthusiasm toward the stage, the performer takes it all in and gives that energy right back to the audience again. A receptive, happy, cheering audience will literally pull an entertainer to better levels of performance. This is particularly evident at Tokio Hotel shows, as the band gets positively exuberant off of the attention.
At one point Bill looked up, pointed directly at my friends and said, “I can see you having fun up there.” I believe I gave him what could best be defined as a dumb grin and sheepish wave in return. I am many things, but smooth is not one of them.
Annette put it best: our dancing and enjoyment is our gift to them. Their enthusiasm to see us and their music is their gift to us.
My phone camera is completely worthless in concert lighting and there are thousands of better pictures out there than the few I took of this show. I was much too busy bouncing around enjoying myself to take very many anyway, but here are two that aren’t totally blurry:
Three things I noticed being closer to the stage in Philly: one is that the fog gun Bill shoots at the audience sprays cold mist, which was refreshing at that point because it was turning into something of a tropical rainforest in the venue. Also the cannon effect that goes off during the last upward chorus surge in their finale of Great Day is soapy foam. After it finished settling and the house lights came back up, everybody on the main floor looked like they’d been snowed upon. Lastly, can we talk about Bill’s dance moves? My personal favorite was the human-clock-arms thing he has going on during Love Who Loves You Back. I’ve heard him say he knows the fans think his dancing is funny, but I think he’s epic. He is startlingly commanding and machismo on stage for someone who’s pretty much a total spaz in his down time.
It was a tremendous final show and I hope they were as happy with it as I was seeing it. We got to witness all the thank-you’s, the band’s grateful applause for their crew, and every drop of excitement poured out at the TLA that night. I’m still not describing it well enough, and I doubt I can. If you haven’t, you’ve really just got to go see and feel it all for yourself.
Afterward, Annica said it was the best TH show she’d ever been to, and over the years she’s seen them a lot.
We headed toward the cars, planning to go to a local bar and unwind over a cocktail.
I wanted to stay with them, to spend the whole night reliving every detail of the amazing concert we’d just experienced, but my heart was already yearning back toward Ted, who’d selflessly sent me off to enjoy this adventure all weekend like a kid again. It yearned toward my soul mate, someone who was waiting, needing to get up early the next day for work but staying awake for me to hear my stories and to welcome me back home. So I said what I knew I had to: “I think this is where I leave you.”
Saying goodbye isn’t easy, particularly because I have no way of knowing when I will see most of these friends again. I want more of these adventures, more laughter, more of these dreams shared together with people who love it all just as much as I do. But for now, the time had come to wake up.
On the ride home, I devoured the candy that someone had thoughtfully left for me in the front seat. The chemical sugar boost carried me along nicely as I mulled over my too-brief fall down the rabbit hole.
My car still smells faintly of Wild Berry Skittles, and I kind of wish it would forever.