Aqua is a 90s Euro-Pop/Euro-Dance group who is best known for their 1997 single “Barbie Girl” from their freshman album “Aquarium.”
Daddy Google says the last time Aqua was in the States was in 2016. Before that it was in the year 2000. It is easy to say they don’t come to the States often.
Spotify sends its subscribers concert notifications. That’s how I found out about Aqua touring the States. The tour includes four dates in California, including San Francisco, Riverside, San Diego and Hollywood. I bought tickets for Riverside and Hollywood that same day.
I really didn’t think anybody around me would care enough to see Aqua. I really didn’t think anybody from my current friends circle would care to see an act close to 30 years old, I was wrong.
I was asked the week before the Riverside show what my week was going to be like by Anne Marie, a dear friend of mine.
My voice cracked and I said, “Nothing much, my usual classes, I have a doctor’s appointment, and I’M GOING TO SEE AQUA IN RIVERSIDE!”
Anne Marie asked if she could come with me. I said yes.
The day of the concert, we met at my office, we carpooled and I drove. Along the nearly two hour drive from Santa Ana to Riverside, we sang along to “Aquarium,” “Aquarius,” and “Megalomania”, Aqua’s three top albums.
During the drive, I showed Anne Marie my dearest memory of Aqua. Durning Eurovision 2001, Aqua sang a medley of their greatest hits from “Aquarium” and “Aquarius” along with “Safri Duo,” yes, the guys from “Played Alive.”
Anne Marie had flashbacks of the CD’s she bought on sidewalks downtown Santa Ana or Santee Alley; it was that same medley from the CD she bought over twenty years ago.
I feared at one point, “What if they are not as good anymore?” ‘What if they sound like they ran out of cigarettes in 2002?” “What if they come out on walkers and look like Joan Rivers’ surgeon, did his best?” or “What if I hate it in general?”
The doors were scheduled to open at 7 p.m. We arrived at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. We weren’t sure if we were at the right place, there weren’t many people in line and the place looked like a church.
Soon enough, the line reached around the block. We made friends while waiting for the doors to open and shared stories about how my new friends came across Aqua.
Robert Rivas, a student at University of California Riverside, told me he grew up listening to Aqua without knowing it was Aqua. His parents played their music all the time when he was growing up.
The feelings kicked hard talking about CDs with Robert. The warm feeling of nostalgia on a cold windy night reminds of shopping for CDs at Ritmo Latino en la cuatro in the early 2000s. The good old times.
Then, I found out there was a meet and greet set before the concert. People were walking out with signed posters, shirts and hoodies. I felt sad, and for the first time in nearly two decades… I felt jealous. I don’t know how I missed that opportunity, but I did.
The tickets were $50 for general admission. I thought it was a steal. I found out there were upgrades to V.I.P. but no backstage. I passed on the upgrade.
The venue had themed cocktails. The names are “Hiya Barbie” and “Hi Ken”, in honor of Aqua’s most popular song “Barbie Girl.”
Soren, Aqua composer and piano man, entered the stage. He sat behind a boombox facade adjusting his microphone. Rene, hype-man, entered the stage wearing a glitter tracksuit and “stunna” shades with a microphone in hand.
Lene enters the stage last. Lene is Aqua’s lead vocalist slash face of the band. She wore red cargo pants to match a red and black tie dye shirt. Lene pulls the rockstar look.
The entire venue cried, or maybe it was just me, screaming and chanting as Lene raised her microphone and said “Good evening Riverside!” And that’s when the band started playing Cartoon Heroes, first single from their sophomore album “Aquarius.”
Aqua sounds better live than on CD. I was shocked to see people of all colors, shapes and ages screaming, mouthing and singing every word of every song.
The night progressed and a part of my brain traveled to the early 2000s, my safe place. At one point, I finished screaming the words to “My -oh my.” I asked myself when the concert would finish, not because I wasn’t having fun but because I didn’t want my dose of musical nostalgia to end.
Aqua played “Barbie Girl,” and I felt like it was the only song most people would have known, but again I was wrong. I realized most of the things I had feared going in were simply my projections for I don’t look, sound or act like I did in 2000. We jumped, kicked, screamed and got drunk and high from musical nostalgia galore.
After “Barbie Girl”, they played another four songs. At one point, Lene came to the front of the stage barricade where I was and gave me a hug. She was covered in sweat and she wiped it off on my shirt, now I have a cool story to tell.
Aqua closed the night with a piano slash acoustic version of “Aquarius.” “Aquarius” is a power ballad sung by the entire cast of the concert. At the end of the song, the cast held hands, bowed, and walked off stage.
I had forgotten every word from the song. The lyrics came back to me like a tsunami of memories and people I once loved, happy times and of who I was.
Aqua was a top then group in 1997, and I have been a fan since. I am happy to see that Euro-Dance numbers from the 90s are making a comeback.
Musical nostalgia is a great medium to exploit wallets of people whose formative personalities are dependent on music, film and television.