Download Festival, Donington Park UK 14-June, 2014

It’s said that when you “hit one’s stride,” it can refer to the act of reaching the peak of one’s highest level of efficiency and competency. Truly, my babies, we can say that Twisted Sister has hit their stride. The Download Festival at Donington Park personified everything that Twisted Sister is known for—hard-hitting, fast, and entertaining live heavy metal at its finest.

My babies, it is truly a special delight for me to bring you the next installment of the only tour blog that gives it to you just as it happened….and then more…..the one and only…Armadillo Road Report….coming to you from Donington Park, Leicestershire in the United Kingdom—Download Festival, 14-June, 2014.

Oh, my babies, Download 2014 turned out to be one of those shows that I came into it with trepidation….but was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know whether we were about to experience something monumentally great….or some monstrosity that we’d like to soon forget. Fortunately, Download was exceptionally good—the best show that the 2014 Twisted tour season has given us. Dare I say, it may possibly have been their best show since Graspop 2013!

The journey to Download was smooth as silk. Sort of. The road crew and most of the band rallied at the leisurely hour of 9:30 a.m.—although given that we had returned to the hotel from the Copenhell gig at around 0300 hours, and probably hit the pillows around 0400 or 0500 hours, it certainly did have a bit of an edge to it. Loaded up on caffeine, we caravanned our way to the airport a short time later, and did that special dance at the airport we’ve come to know as “Name That Terminal!” It seems to be the golden rule of the road report that no matter which terminal we unload, the correct terminal is always a long way off. So merry dwarves we, we re-loaded the guitars and other sundry cases onto trollies and merrily (okay…I was merry….not sure about the others…) rolled into the proper terminal where our faithful management ensured that it made onto the plane.

Speaking of dwarves, I would like to make mention that our very own Mark “Animal” Mendoza (who is, ummm….NOT a dwarf) loudly pronounced that the road crew needed to stop making tiny troll jokes about yours truly because, he explained, “Armadillo is a Homunculus.” There. I’m so glad we cleared that up. AND……..BEGIN!

So, short jokes and endless Travelocity references aside, we landed in Birmingham, England where we made our way to the hotel for yet another round of trolley follies…unload the van….load the trollies….unload the trollies….followed by a quick band errand and surprisingly, it was dinner hour! While most of the band and crew were simply too tired to venture out, I can seldom resist the opportunity to venture out, especially when there’s gastronomy to be explored. On this occasion, I was extra thrilled when Twisted’s own Mr. Jay Jay French and Mr. Mark Mendoza invited me to join them with fellow crew Matt, and we set out on foot into town in search of food.

We came upon a delightful and traditional pub—this was my first trip to England—but I could not help but reflect upon Twisted Sister’s first true successes across the pond, and it lead to many fantastic shared stories that I’m convinced will put Jay Jay French’s book on the best seller list if he ever writes his autobiography. While England is not exactly known globally for their high cuisine, I will argue that the food I had during my stay was absolutely fantastic—bangers and mash to die for—or in this case…headbangers and mash! (Definitely a good choice of establishment—the others clam they ate Belmont Steaks…that is, the losers from the Belmont Stakes.}

The next morning was a bit of a blur. I’m quite certain we did sleep at some point but before long, I was out of my pajamas and back doing the trolley follies (load the trollies…unload the trollies….load the van…) and en route to Donington Park where the Download festival was underway. The English countryside was every bit as beautiful as I imagined it—I tried to picture our Twisted lot some 30 years ago, landing from the streets of New York to the lushness of England. But my daydreaming was cut short as we pulled into the enormous festival grounds—our driver encountered a bit of a challenge. It seemed the grounds were so large, even the many volunteers and staff seemed to be a bit lost when it came to directing us to the dressing rooms and stage. We soon found out why—the dressing rooms were located at a trailer encampment that was so far away… go ahead. Ask me.
How far WAS it? It was so far away that we had to re-set our watches an hour when we arrived at the stage. It was so far away that we sent our guitars over….via freight delivery. It was so far away that when I checked my pedometer, it read, “You’re fucking crazy. Take a cab.” Yah. It was far. Made Copenhagen seem like a walk in the park. Central Park. Okay….I’m done now. (Not really.) Believe me, I walked that sonofabitch. It was far.

The dressing room complex was a show unto itself. First, you must get a true understanding of what happens backstage. While there’s the rock n’ roll image of backstage consisting of giant orgies, bowls of amphetamines and swimming pools full of whiskey, the reality is that ideal dressing room is spacious, open, comfortable (as in, soft couches with coffee tables) and most importantly, quiet. And in my perfect world…equipped with several clean, private commodes. The Download dressing room was a small single-wide trailer. That’s pretty much it. It was about six feet by fourteen feet, with a small table for refreshments (a bowl of fruit and some crisps) and a couple of folding chairs. Now picture 5 rock stars and 9 crew fitting in there. RIGHT! So the band availed themselves of the hotel accommodations, the crew dropped their belongings in the dressing room and headed to the stage to prep the instruments, and yours truly kept a close eye on the trailer. Our stage was about a 5 to 10 minute drive around the muddy festival complex, so it meant that the constant trekking to and from the stage would have to be carefully orchestrated.

The backstage campus was a never-ending maze of trailers—and a bit of a who’s who of rock—it seemed every time you turned around, rock stars were taking selfies with other rock stars! They also had a masseuse at Download, but I was still recovering the massage I received at Copenhell—seriously, I had to check myself in the mirror to make sure that woman hadn’t removed a vital organ! One awesome massage. Anyhow, special shout out to the kind folks at Tour Supply, Inc. who provided the lozenges and the lovely ladies in catering—the food was quite wonderful. In fact, all the folks we encountered working their duffs off at Download were extremely hospitable and accommodating. Kudos to all of you—it’s not easy to pull off a festival of this size. And while there were a few glitches, the always charming Chelsea, from Artists’ Liaison Services, made sure that the special meet n’ greet got off without a hitch. There were only four lucky folks who were selected for a quick meet n’ greet—two of which were local contest winners from Worchestershire, Kevin and Shane Riley. Very nice chaps—and they had a great visit and photo op with the band.

So once the band was safely locked down in the dressing room, I loaded up with water, sports drinks, towels and other items and headed over via shuttle to the stage. I was a bit nervous looking out at that crowd—English heavy metal fans had a reputation for being quite raucous, and I had just seen the waivers admonishing that the show could be canceled in the presence of “out of control moshing and/or walls of death.” Walls of death? That just can’t be good. I gazed out into the audience as I helped prepare the stage—I didn’t spy any “walls of death” but did manage to spot the Slamboard’s own “Lorndog”, who was dressed as, of all things….Santa Claus! Let me tell you, it’s not easy spending an entire day at the festival dressed in a Santa Suit—first, you have to deal with the heat and humidity….then you have to manage all the drunk heavy metalheads who want to sit in your lap!

Also spied in the crowd were fans dressed as Big Bird and Elmo…and I have on good authority, there were three fans dressed up like old ladies… masks, wigs and clothes…canes too! {shout out to Penny from Skidrow’s camp….who pointed them out to me!} And the usually assortment of fans dressed as bears. Wait, they may have been bears dressed like fans…. Look, I don’t know why the European fans do this, but I absolutely look forward to it, every damn festival. The creepy, scary clown guy in the front row totally freaked me out, however. My personal favorite: about 20 rows back—someone had a neon, yellow squid puppet on a pole that rocked out the whole show. [SPOILER ALERT: As I watched the crowd, to my amazement, an extremely low flying passenger jet came in for a landing to the nearby airport. I made a secret wish…oh PLEASE do this during Twisted’s set—it will be SUCH a spinal tap moment!]

As “Long Way to the Top” blared over the speakers, I was treated to an extra special moment….I slightly pulled back the curtain in anticipation of Eddie and Jay Jay making their entry, stage right and had my light at the ready as the stage filled up with theatre smoke….Jay Jay suddenly put his arm around me for a quick photo op, snapped by his own daughter who was backstage as well. Eddie jumped into the photo and I now have a keepsake photo that truly captures my Twisted rapture—these are the magical moments that I live for!

It was quite emotional backstage, in those minutes before our boys in black and pink stormed the stage. I almost filled up with tears as I saw our own A.J. Pero, flanked by his son, as they headed to the drum riser. Next, Jay Jay gave his daughter a kiss before making his entrance….and I glanced over to see Mark and Dee share an embrace before Animal stormed out stage left. This, my babies, is the magic of Twisted Sister.

Twisted Sister took the stage in the daylight—a bit unusual for them—but no matter—the roar of the crowd was more dramatic than any pyro entrance or fancy lighting. Unlike shows after dark, we could see the large crowd—their screaming, singing faces, smiles and wide-eyed exuberance, and fists of heavy metal fury. Oh…and lots of neon yellow vests all printed with big black numbers. They were either an army of security officers….or some bizarre heavy metal bingo game. Either way, this audience was fired up and ready to rock! They could see Twisted Sister….and Twisted Sister could see them! The crowd was definitely full of sick muthas!

“Stay Hungry” had this crowd from the opening chord, but I was delighted to see how many fans were screaming the lyrics to “The Kids Are Back.” Both songs played tightly and cohesively—and props once more to our new monitor guy, Peter—from my end of the stage, I had a good balance of guitars and vocals, and didn’t feel like the rhythm section was trying to rip my skull out through my anus. (Refer back to the Oklahoma Road Report. Second thought….don’t. This show was just so damn good.)

I am getting a little better at telling when Dee’s in a good mood—and the more Dee-ism’s we get, well, it’s usually a good sign. Dee thanked the good fans of England—the country that really made Twisted Sister what it is today—but was distracted by the spotlight that suddenly shown in his eyes… “What the fuck is that shining in my face?” then when it unceremoniously shut off, Dee commented, “Oh…for a moment there, I thought it was the sun!”

When Twisted launched into “You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll,” it was almost like a time warp. The video for this song was filmed (and recorded) in England, and I can’t really put my finger on it—it was an intangible vibe—but there was just something about hearing this song played to a crowd in the UK that made it sound so raw and powerful. For a moment, I closed my eyes and pictured our boys clad in the denim colors, racing down the cobblestones in a van with no brakes!

“Under The Blade” sounded equally amazing—and to no one’s surprise, a mosh pit erupted a few rows back in the center of the audience. Fortunately, it was quite civil for a mosh pit—no walls of death, thankfully—you know, I’ve often heard Jay Jay refer to songs played at “concert speed” or “stage speed” which truly is twice as fast as the pace the songs were recorded. “Under The Blade” is normally a fast song—played live in front of a crazed audience—it’s like a 78 played on 45! (IF you don’t understand what that means…ask your Dad.) Jay Jay’s playing was furious and fast—Eddie’s solo was spot on!

“Shoot ‘Em Down” was equally fast—and while I’ve grown accustomed to seeing how Animal destroys his bass, this may have been the hardest pounding that instrument has taken in a long time. (and have you seen the wires on that thing? Those aren’t strings, I swear, they are bridge cables!)

Next on the setlist was “We’re Not Gonna Take It”—there was an endless sea of hands clapping in the air—even the neon squid was clapping—all 8 or 9 arms! The crowd surfing got a little heavier—seemed like a solid stream of fans were going over the barricade—and at the end of the song, instead of singing, the fans chanted: “SIS-TER! SIS-TER! SIS-TER!” I felt like I had stepped into a time warp.

And so did Dee…who commented that they had been to the UK festivals before…once in 2011…..and before that…1983! So he knew what these crowds of SMF’s were capable of, commenting, “You mutha fuckas can sing!” And so we had another round of “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” courtesy of the thousands and tens of thousands of fans (too many to count!).

When Jay Jay got up to the microphone, all he had to go was get out the words “British Idol” and the boo’ing was so loud, I barely heard the rest of the rap. These fans love and appreciate their metal gods—they appreciate the hard work it took to bring them where they are now, and I assure you—Twisted Sister appreciates all of the British metal fans, who were instrumental in getting them there. Someone held up a denim “Twisted Forever” vest—damn straight!

Another treat: my favorite song—“I Am, I’m Me”—the song performed on the UK’s Top of the Pops show back in 1983 that skyrocketed Twisted Sister into living rooms everywhere. The crowd began to pogo—the only thing better than watching an audience pogo….is watching an audience pogo along with a neon yellow squid puppet doing the pogo too. This seldom played beaut sounded absolutely fantastic. I really wish they’d add it as a permanent fixture on their setlist—it was flawless!
Dee rang over stage right and had our two contest winners sing the refrain into the mic with him—WOW! Now THAT’S what I call a prize! Jay Jay even went for a stroll stage right—not sure where exactly

And now for something completely different.

Picture this: Dramatic moment. The opening chords of “Burn In Hell”. The stage fills with smoke and red lights. Dee, bare-chested with his rippling muscles and snarling lip, crawls toward the audience….

…the bass line and drum…booming….DUUUMMMMM…BUMMMMBUMMMM….DUUUUUMMMMM..BUMMMBUMMMM……Dee growling,… he raises his arms triumphantly…glaring….baring his teeth…the audience roars, preparing to the hear the line that sets the song ablaze….
“there’s just five words to say as you go Down…. down…..WHAT THE FUCK???

A plane comes in for a landing, damn near lopping off the squid off his pole….well, got my wish for a spinal tap moment!

Best Dee-ism of the night: “Is that normal? You know, I’m having fucking 9-11 flashbacks…oh shit… you know you might have put that on the sign up here that there’s an airport right there….” Jay Jay went over to check on the unshakable Dee, now laughing….who explained “this is a very intense moment…” and then muttered under his breath “I’ll see you in hell after this….”

And the band still not missing a beat….launched right into “Burn in Hell!”
Played brilliantly.

I wasn’t sure how they were gonna top that but “I Wanna Rock” just annihilated the place. There were bodies surfing, fists flying, squids bouncing…..Jay Jay and Eddie delivered an awesome axe dual—with Eddie playing an aptly painted black and silver Union Jack guitar.

Dee informed the crowd of the poll he’s been taking over the years…in spite of the song being called “I Wanna Rock,” he has found that audiences all across the globe, wanna fuck much more than rock, so he polled the crowd—and sure enough—it’s unanimous! So we had a round of singing “I Wanna Fuck!” (Sorry. It never gets old.) But Dee wasn’t done with them yet—he reminded the crowd that last time, they were so drunk by the time Twisted took the stage, that when he asked them to jump in the air when yelling “Rock!” that 44,000 fans jumped in the air….and then fell down! So this time, being earlier in the day, he challenged the fans to throw their fists in the air….and jump….and remain upright! From the stage—it was a thing of beauty to behold! (and a special sidenote….there were quite a few lovelies out there who decided to flash their boobs each time Dee yelled “Rock!”…which is a lot, by the way. Very nice. Much appreciated.) Dee dropped the mic and gave the crowd a round of applause. I enjoyed this much more so than the naked crowd surfer from the previous night.

The set ended with Dee mentioning that “something’s not right….it’s not a rock festival without Motorhead….” And again, in a special tribute to Lemmy (and sending our healing thoughts to him from all over the world!) the band closed with an earth shaking rendition of “Born To Raise Hell.”

Folks, this was one incredible show. If you were there, you were witness to some kick ass metal. It was like all the ingredients of a recipe all being mixed together just so, and the perfect dish was delivered. I really felt like the road crew dug deep and pulled together to make sure everything was right, and the band delivered an incredible sounding, energy filled set—pure cohesion—Twisted Sister has hit their stride!

Oh my babies, the bar has been set so high—if Twisted Sister can deliver performances at this level for the rest of the tour, you are in for a real ass-kicking experience. Normally, I’d go into the post-show, which for me, was a fantastic and all-too-short stay in Amsterdam, but I want to leave this report right here—with the last notes of Twisted Sister’s blistering performance ringing in your ears.

With that, I leave you now as I prepare to pack for the second of three European legs of the tour. See you in Barcelona, my babies!


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