You know something that's truly infuriating? Even though I now spend $11 a pair on earplugs which cut out fewer high frequencies, a rock concert isn't the same when I'm wearing protection. About halfway through the Nine Inch Nails set on Wednesday night, knowing that it would be my last chance to see them on this leg of the tour, I took out my plugs, and suddenly it was like watching NIN for the first time. I was mesmerized by the sound. My flesh broke out in goosebumps and my eyes watered. I rode every emotion that came pouring off the stage.
It's infuriating because I already have occasional tinnitus which began a decade ago when I played in the back desk of the viola section of the Queensland Youth Symphony Orchestra -- right in front of the brass. That was one hell of a brass section. Most of them were already playing professionally, so the conductor pulled out all the brass stops when choosing pieces. The first concert I performed with the QYO included Strauss' Alpine Symphony. The front desk suggested that those in the back wear earplugs, but, idealist perfectionist that I was, I wanted to have a chance of playing those four-octave chromatic scales in tune; I had only switched from violin a few months beforehand, so I wasn't comfortable enough to play them by touch alone. Idiot. The audience certainly couldn't have heard me over the brass; it wouldn't have made a difference if I'd worn earplugs or not. Besides, the scales were a storm effect and hardly needed to be in tune to be, well, effective.
I can't really complain, though. Tinnitus or no, you haven't lived till you've sat less than four feet from a brass section blasting through Fanfare for the Common Man. Or Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Sometimes I would be so overcome by the sheer intensity, I couldn't play, and had to put my viola down and breathe to keep from passing out. It was incredible.
At any rate, that's only when my ears first began to ring. I'm sure the time I spent in rock bands and goth clubs in my twenties didn't help.
When attending a NIN show, I have a choice between losing the visceral emotional musical connection which drew me to Nine Inch Nails in the first place, or continuing to destroy my eardrums. For half an hour on Wednesday night, I chose the latter, and it was wonderful.