Last night I went to my first concert in . . . I don’t know how long. I’m pretty sure the last one was before Cindy and I got married, so at least fifteen years. It was quite an experience. For one thing, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the oldest person there, but I might have been the oldest who was there alone. All the other over-40 types seemed to be escorting kids. That didn’t keep me from being carded, though. The Palladium staff were simply carding everyone who wanted to purchase alcohol, which is totally fine with me.

The Palladium has, to put it bluntly, seen better days. It must have been a grand theatre once, but now things are in pretty serious disrepair. There’s paint and plaster hanging off the walls. Most of the balcony, where I had gone in hope of saving my ears, was closed for what were pretty clearly safety reasons. Somehow the only other unaccompanied 40-year-old in the place happened to be sitting next to me (hi Ben!) and I joked with him a little about the abandoned-theatre ambience providing an appropriate theme for this kind of music. I didn’t catch the name of the opening band at the time, but apparently it was 3. (Side note: naming your band “3″ in the era of Google search seems like a slightly bad idea, because it’s hard to search for.) I liked some of their songs quite a bit, though it also did occur to me that their style might not be the best possible match for the headline act. It was good hard-driving music, with some unique guitar technique adding a bit of flair. After a short break, Within Temptation hit the stage.

What can I say about the music? Of course it was amazing. Everyone has a certain set of musical features that get them excited. For many people, including me for most of my life, this has resulted in combinations that aren’t actually represented by any real-world act. I’m lucky, though, because the combination of mid-tempo high-dynamic range symphonic metal with strong female vocals is pretty well represented in Europe nowadays, and Within Temptation are clear leaders within that genre. Everyone else focuses on Sharon den Adel’s voice, and rightly so, but I think all of the band members play their parts just a bit better than anyone else. Special mention should probably go to Martijn Spierenburg’s work on keyboards, which is often hard to notice consciously but rounds out the sound in an important way. His band-member page also mentions his daughter among his hobbies, which I consider extremely cool. The most important thing about WT’s sound, though, is not the individual contributions but the way they all work together. The buildups are beautifully layered, and the timing when everyone comes in for a crescendo is flawless in both composition and execution. There’s a reason this is the first show I’ve gone to in a long time.

It’s a bit different hearing them in person, of course. First off, it was loud. My ears were still ringing when I got home, and the drive from Worcester to Lexington isn’t short. It wasn’t obnoxiously loud, though. From up in the balcony, at least, the vocals still came through and the overall distortion level was still reasonable so every song sounded just fine – just louder than I’m used to. Maybe that wouldn’t have been true down on the main floor. Also, Sharon’s voice wasn’t 100% last night. She was only twice as good as most other lead singers. ;) High notes were a particular problem, which might have led to disappointment on some of the songs where those particular talents are highlighted. Other than one “well, that didn’t work” shrug near the beginning (which I found endearing) and one not-even-attempted high note later on, though, I didn’t really notice. Like everyone else in the crowd, as far as I could tell, I was just far too enraptured to care about such things. Even at 99%, they provided a musical experience far beyond anything else I can recall. Listening to Within Temptation is a pleasure, but being immersed in the sound like that and with that much energy – from bands and audience alike – is something more.

Yes, I’m a fan. I’m even more of a fan now than I was at this time yesterday, and isn’t that what it’s all about?