Triumph Nearly Surrender: Reunion Show Almost Didn’t Happen Due to Migraine (INTERVIEW)
When anthem rock trio Triumph decided to reunite for a show at the Sweden Rock festival in 2008 it marked the first time in 20 years that Rik Emmett, Gil Moore and Mike Levine played together.
Literal decades of feuding and acrimony between the three was about to get wiped away in one glorious return to the stage. But it almost didn’t happen because of a headache. A very bad headache.
The whole story starts innocently enough with a question to bassist Mike Levine about the golf shirt guitarist/vocalist Emmett wore during the band’s reunion set. Triumph were an act known for leading edge lighting and staging in the ’70s and ’80s, as well as “of the time” spandex rocker outfits, so Emmett looking like a soccer dad for the band’s big comeback seemed like a peculiar oversight.
As it turns out, what shirt he was wearing was the least of the band’s concerns.
“We ended up laughing about it,” Levine told Noisecreep, recalling the show, which was recently released as a DVD/CD combo Live at Sweden Rock Festival, “but we couldn’t put too much pressure on him because he was so sick before we played.”
Levine then dives in to explaining how the band almost had to pull out of their reunion show.
“He [Emmett] gets serious migraines where he’s flat out,” said Levine of his bandmate. “He pukes, gets blind spots, we used to have to cancel shows midway through the show if he got sick and he’d be violently ill for 24 hours.
“So day of show, and I’m getting ready doing whatever I’m doing and Rik’s in the next room and I hear him puking through the wall. And I say ‘Oh my god, I hope he’s alright.’ And this was 11 o’clock in the morning and we’re supposed to go to the site at 2:30 or 3 p.m. So I go pound on the door and he comes crawling to the door going ‘Mikey, I’m really sick. I got the migraine.’ I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, we’ve gone through all this, we’re over here… and we’re not going to play.'”
Watch Triumph Perform ‘Lay it on the Line’ in 1983
With the clock ticking for Triumph’s early evening set, Levine put in a panicked phone call to the band’s agent, who was already at the venue an hour’s drive away.
“I called him up and said ‘We got a big problem. Rik’s really sick. He’s got a migraine. We need a doctor in a hurry.’ So he goes to the promoter and it turns out the onsite doctor was a foremost specialist in Sweden for migraines.
“So they helicoptered him over or something. It was incredible. I don’t know how they got there so quick, he’s hammering on my door and he says ‘OK what’s going on?’ and I go next door we have a big problem. I told him, ‘He has to play today.’ It was kind of like a football player when they tend to them on the sidelines. It was like, ‘Just get him on the field.'”
“So he whacked him up with I-don’t-know-what and basically put him to sleep, but we didn’t know what the result would be.”
From there Levine, in a sharp Swedish national team hockey jersey, and Moore, in never-goes-wrong black tee and pants combo, headed to the venue still having no idea whether or not they’d even get the chance to perform. Behind the scenes the former arena-headlining band and authors of such albums as Allied Forces and Never Surrender unsuccessfully jockeyed with Poison to switch their set times in order to get Emmett a better chance of making the show.
“We were trying to get the promoter to move us further into the show,” says Levine. Switch us with Poison or whoever’s after us, and he’s thinking that we’re bullshitting. And we’re like, no, we need as much time as we can otherwise we may not play.
Watch Triumph Perform ‘Magic Power’ in 1983
“So we’re there and the promoter’s there in our trailer and we’re just twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the call from Alex, our tour manager and it was 3 o’clock, 3:30, 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock… and we’re on at 7 or 7:30.
“Finally he called and said ‘We’re on our way.'”
Emmett made it just in time to hit the stage and power through Triumph anthems like “Lay it on the Line,” “Magic Power” and “Fight the Good Fight.”
It turns out, when your first gig in 20 years almost doesn’t happen, what you’re wearing isn’t a big deal.
“We didn’t want to hassle him about anything,” says Levine. “He performed admirably. He was pretty weak. I was amazed how well he played and how well he sung under those conditions.
“So to me the shirt was secondary.”
Triumph’s Live at Sweden Rock Festival is available now via Frontiers Records.