Official Road Report: BANG YOUR HEAD Festival, Balingen German 12-July, 2014

Bang Your Head Festival, Balingen German, 12-July, 2014. Very Simple. 4th Record Breaking SOLD OUT Performance. 45,000 Fans can’t be wrong.

Oh babies, I’m not sure what to say about this edition of the Road Report. It was quite the experience. The primary fact is that Twisted Sister headlined the SOLD OUT Bang Your Head festival in Balingen, Germany. It is undisputed that 45,000 European metalheads got their asses kicked by the greatest live heavy metal band of all time, our boys in black and pink.

I got my ass kicked working for the greatest live heavy metal band of all time. All’s fair in love and war, as they say.

Let’s begin, shall we?

When I last left you, Twisted Sister had just demolished Sweden at a strange but well-attended music festival in which none of the bands proved themselves as a worthy opponent for the fierceness of Twisted Sister—not even some odd act with the word “doggy” in their title. Twisted Sister dominated the festival with flames, explosions, fireworks and a full kick-ass set of heavy metal faves.

Bang Your Head Festival 2014 in Balingen, Germany was going to be a much more challenging task. It was a full lineup of 80’s metal bands, including Warrant (although they had to bail due to a drummer’s tendonitis), Stryper, Anthrax, and co-headliner, Europe.

The band was “returned” straight from the stage in Sweden back to the Copenhagen hotel where they likely went off to bed and had the luxury of being able to sleep in a for a few hours. They were on a later morning flight into Germany—still not an easy feat to fly the day of the show—but they at least had the opportunity to get close to a full night’s rest. Your faithful road crew, however, were not as fortunate.

If you recall, we had an early start to the day in Sweden—a stellar performance—but then a late night/early a.m. load out which returned us back to the hotel with just enough time to shower, zip the luggage shut and come back downstairs to load out to the airport. We had a very early a.m. international flight with the guitars and gear, and so it was a bit surreal at 4:00 a.m. to be standing in the airport on our way to the next show, still wearing our sweaty crew uniforms from the same day. The plane itself was what we refer to as a “puddle jumper”—small turbo-prop planes that had a few of us wondering if we were going to have to step outside, give the propellers a proper turn, all while yelling, “Contact!” [younger readers, ask your grandfather to explain that!]

The flight from Denmark to Germany was relatively a short one—I truly cannot say if I dozed off or not—only that the brown-colored hot water the flight attendant assured me was coffee did not seem to have much effect. We hit the ground running, gathered all of the guitars and equipment, and did the dance I’ve come to know and love—baggage carousel to cart, cart to curb, curb to transport, transport to stage! I desperately wanted to nap in the transport—I think it’s possible I did nod off once, but I definitely recall the sounds of snoring all around me as my fellow crew members breezed in and out of consciousness. This was definitely going to be one of those days in which we were going to have to dig deep. We arrived in the absolutely adorable and picturesque town of Balingen. I wished we could have stayed longer so that I could have explored this lovely and quaint place, complete with medieval castle atop the hill. Alas—no such luck. The hotel we pulled into was simply providing a “day room”—essentially, a location for us to deposit our baggage, splash some water on our faces, change socks and freshen up—all within 5 minutes time—and meet back downstairs and climb into the vans. So take note, my fellow S.M.F.s—those of you who dream of one day working crew for bands. The glamour and creature comforts belong to those making the music. For those behind the scenes, it is a reality of bad smells, long hours, dirty socks and extreme fatigue. And yes, my babies, I enjoyed it. (Well, maybe not all the smells.)

We pulled into the Balingen festival grounds at “Bang Your Head” and the music was already well underway. This always presents a special challenge for the road crew, because it means that we won’t be able to do a proper sound check, merely a “line check” right before we go on. Even harder, the changeover time allotted to us was a mere 20 minutes—truly, what we refer to as a “throw-and-go.” It was just before eleven in the morning now—it was hard to believe that 8 hours prior we were loading out of the Copenhagen lobby—and that for most of us, our last time in the horizontal position was well more than 24 hours ago. The mind can begin to play tricks on you when sleep deprivation sets in, and those of us in the crew kept a watchful eye on one another to ensure that we were remaining lucid. To our delight, what we first thought was a hallucinatory mirage turned out to be real: the catering tent had a coffee machine/espresso/cappuccino maker that was available to all bands and crews without limits.

To give you the flavor of how tough this show was for us: The dressing room areas were an encampment of trailers—about half the length of a single-wide—one for the crew, and a second, larger one for the band, located inside a fixed structure. The crew quarters—which doubled as our production office—had a card table with two small chairs, a mini-fridge and a small window that opened a crack. It was stifling hot –and it didn’t take long before the floor was wet with mud. By the time I returned with a fan and towels, one of our crew was asleep in a chair….another sprawled out on the dirty floor…and in the band room, one clever crew member curled up onto the window ledge and another was asleep on the band’s couch. I availed myself of one of the Red Cross cots they brought us—but like the others, our window of opportunity to sleep was short-lived. In total, most of us slept for 15 minutes to 30 minutes tops, in rotations of sometimes 5 to 10 minutes. After 10 to 15 minutes of shut-eye, we found ourselves awakened by another member of the crew to assist with something, and so the vicious cycle went all day. It was actually a pretty remarkable show of teamwork—think of it like a “rest relay”—I’d run an errand to let a tech get 10 minutes of rest—and when I returned, the favor was returned to me. In particular, we needed to keep tabs on the gear and instruments. I would estimate, that in total, I maybe acquired less than 20 minutes of actual sleep all day. After a certain point, sleep was just pointless, and coffee became the drug du jour.

I took a stroll around the rain soaked grounds to look for a few friends—shout out to Australian SMF’s Mark and Karen who made the long journey to rock–sorry I missed meeting up with you–the festival grounds were humid and muddy from a recent downpour, but that clearly did not dampen anyone’s spirits. The German fans—and many other fans from all over Europe—were decked out in some of the most impressive battle jackets I’ve ever seen this side of the 80’s. There was plenty of merch tents all around—I desperately was craving some schnitzel but could not find any.

My “leisure time” was again short-lived, and I was sent on an errand back to the day room to retrieve some items for the band. This turned out to be a bright moment of the day, as I was driven by a lovely transporter, Katerina (I hoped that’s spelled correctly) a strikingly beautiful cardiologist who was volunteering for the festival. We had an interesting chat about defibrillators on the ride back. Oh be still my own heart was a flutter with atrial tachycardia—(a little cardiac humor for you). Beautiful, intelligent and loves heavy metal. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation but I think at some point I thought, Hmmmmm…..a future MRS. Armadillo, perhaps? Definitely the lack of sleep. But she was indeed lovely, and for the record, I’d make a fantastic house-husband. No, really. I clean. wash and fold. cook. Think about it, Doctor. Call me.

I digress.

Now here’s where it gets really fuzzy. I jot down notes for the road report in my own shorthand that I’m able to transcribe a day or two later. Gotta tell ya, my babies. I can barely read a single word of what I wrote. We really were the walking dead at this point. I staggered back to the catering tent for what I think was my 14th cappuccino, and suddenly, a marching band stomps into the tent, and begins playing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” on the tubas. I had to share this lack of reality…so I ran back to the production office, and told the crew: “There’s a marching band playing Twisted Sister!” This one they had to investigate to ensure that my brain had not totally shit the bed. No, it was true. Ooom-pah-pah tubas blasting TS in the catering tent. It’s these special moments that make the tour pain so worthwhile.

Europe was the co-headliner and was on right before Twisted—this makes at least 3 times now that I’ve heard Europe play right before TS, and I really enjoy it. They play a good set and the crowd loves them, so they are ready and warmed up. I believe they closed with “Final Countdown,” and the split second they left the stage, we began the sprint to get everything set up. I’ve always been one for checklists, and now I needed my checklist more than ever to make sure that in my tired state, I didn’t forget anything.

I had made the long sprint from the stage to the dressing room numerous times already, and as we get closer to show time, the back-and-forth gets more frequent. The band was due to arrive in minutes, so I did a quick sweep of the band dressing room to make sure that it was cleaned up, fresh and presentable. Towels, water and sports drink grabbed to put on stage…posters requested from hospitality….band transport arranged for post-show…setlists updated….band credentials in hand…I quickly raced the towels and water to the stage for placement, dropped off the setlists, and then met the arriving band transport literally within seconds so that I could escort them and their handler back to the dressing area.

Then…a sprint back to the stage to help with changeover. Because we didn’t get a proper soundcheck, the monitors and stage chalking wasn’t done, so I had to best guess where to tape down the setlists—fortunately Mehtis, our Finnish guitar technician, was there to point me in the right direction to be sure they were exactly where they needed to be. Setlists taped. Beverage and towels…check! Carpet and runners taped down….check! Backdrop centered and raised….check!

I then took my place at the foot of the stage stairs to light the pathway as the “Long Way to the Top” began to play. There was a momentary pucker factor this time around. Just as the band was fired up and about to hit the stage, the Long Way tape cut off. German fans didn’t miss a beat—they kept singing “Long Way” to fill the silence, and before long, the tape rolled again, I could exhale and our boys in black and pink stormed the stage.

The setlist was exactly the same as Sweden’s from the night before. (Hey, when you have a winner…why change it?) “Stay Hungry” opened up and this crowd was loving it from the first note. German fans, like so many other countries in Europe, take their metal very seriously! I was looking out onto a sea of battle vest clad lads and ladies, leather, demin and spikes as far as the eye could see! There was one woman sporting a pink and black corset with a pink tutu. You know, at any other concert, a pink tutu would NOT be metal, but this is Twisted Sister. Pink and black tutu…METAL!

A quick race back to the dressing rooms to load the band bags and support materials into the transport—I’ve finally got a rhythm to this now, and assuming my transport shows up when I ask (which, of course, in Germany, they were RIGHT ON TIME!) and I can pretty much load everything into the van into the time it takes to play half of Stay Hungry and Shoot ‘Em Down. By the time they blast into “You Can’t Stop Rock n’ Roll,” I’ve got the van locked and loaded, and I’m back onstage.

The live tempo is always faster than studio tempo, and they barreled through a monster version of “You Can’t Stop….”, Jay Jay playing his solo from the front section of stage that extended out into the audience like an inverted “T.” He came back to swap guitars, and yelled to me, “Got ‘em one more time! That rocked!” Truth. It did.

Dee mentioned that he appreciated all of the fans rocking out, “especially since the weather earlier was pretty fucked up!” The weather was perfectly beautiful now, prompting Dee to look upwards and exclaim, “Mother Nature, you taunting whore! Please don’t shit on me!” For those unfamiliar, Twisted Sister has a terrible record of being a “weather maker.” But believe me, I’m not complaining—we had great, clear skies when Twisted took the stage.

For what may have been the first time played live in Germany, Twisted played the Horrorteria: Captain Howdy followed by Street Justice, back to back. Street Justice was nicely lit with yellow and red lights, giving it that “danger” look—strong work, Johnny from Sweden! (our Euro lighting engineer). Johnny gets a lot of good-natured ribbing from the band, but he really did a fantastic job in Germany—he gave us some really cool strobes on “We’re Not Gonna Take It” that were perfectly synchronized with the guitar rhythm line.

True to European festivals, there were inflatables about. This time, pink inflatable guitars that were flying through the air. Actually, they weren’t flying much. More like pink semi-inflated guitar projectiles that battered the first five rows over and over again. Good times. And of course, we had some serious throwing the horns. Oh, wait. Those are ACTUAL horns. Balingen placed a giant cow skull sculpture in the middle of the merch area….so yeah. Big cow skull horns. Metal! Rock!

Dee ran over stage right and gave the Festival Producer and his young daughter a high five. She looked a little terrified but her Dad was thrilled. Long after the song was over, the band continued to sing. Dee agreed….they needed to sing one more time, with Dee serving as the official “lyrics teleprompter” for the crowd.

He gave respect to the crowd and to this special German Festival—twelve years ago, Twisted Sister headlined “Bang Your Head” and it truly kickstarted Twisted Sister’s reunion tour success in Europe—so the band gave this appreciative crowd their appreciation—thank you Germany for all the support!

Jay Jay spoke to the crowd for a bit—again, mentioning how social media has changed the industry of music as much as downloads has. (this is pretty heady, stuff, by the way.) Years ago, if your band sucked at playing live shows, it could take months to years for the word to get out, as news traveled slow cross countries and oceans. Now, it takes seconds! On the positive side, when a band just tears it up onstage, fans everywhere, across the country, can find out the hottest ticket. By the way, babies…the hottest ticket? Oh yeah, Twisted Sister. C’mon. They are the greatest live heavy metal band playing today. Tweet it out loud, #twistedsister

They must have been tweeting up a storm, because let me tell you, my babies. While Europe had a decent size crowd, it was like the crowd expanded by four for Twisted Sister. I literally could not see where the crowd ended—we learned later that it was a sold out crowd—45,000 fans strong!

I missed a little bit of the next song as I had to do some quick band-related errands to and from the dressing room, but I could hear a rousing “Born To Raise Hell” being played and made it back in time to catch a fantastic Jay Jay solo. Crowd singing. Metalheads surfing. Tutu’s rocking. Good stuff here. Gave me chills.

Dee must have agreed. He let out a rather in tune belch, with the excuse, “Nothing like that German cooking!” Hmmph. Obviously SOMEONE found the schnitzel. As Dee walked out on the catwalk towards the audience, an object sailed past him. [Sidenote: we really discourage fans from throwing anything at Dee or the band because with those bright lights, they cannot seeing anything coming at them!] In this case, the object in question safely landed a few feet away. Dee stopped and asked, “Whoa. Dude. Were those your PANTS?”

He then went over and picked up the object—my babies, it was something just beautiful to behold. It was the most INCREDIBLE Twisted Sister battle vest I have ever laid eyes upon. A leather vest, covered in metal studs and spikes, his name spelled out in studs “S.M.F.” and forgive me, I forget the first name…and the entire vest was embroidered and screened TS patches, many of which I have never, ever seen before. Absolutely amazing.

Dee stopped to admire it—he held it up to the crowd—and said, “Wow. This looks good. You might not get it back!” He then, of course, tried to get the crowd to point out the original owner so that he could hand it back to him via security guards. To my surprise (and Dee’s), they couldn’t seem to locate the owner! I mean, he tried. He really tried. And when no owner came forward, Dee put the vest on (it fit great! A little snug…) and he performed half of the next song while wearing it…the thunderous “The Fire Still Burns.” A.J. really bringing his A-game—just a ripping drum line, and great guitar work by Eddie, Jay Jay and Mark. Another props to the lighting—red and yellow “fiery” lights that were well synchronized with the guitars really added something to it. I don’t know what happened to the battle vest, by the way—I truly do hope it found its way home to the rightful owner. (and it’s now infused with Dee sweat, which makes it even better)

“The Price” is always an emotional moment for every S.M.F. It’s a song that means so much to many of us, and each of us brings to it our own personal meaning, and we basically have our own little private moment—sometimes, it feels like it’s just you and the band, sharing a special memory. In this case, there were 45,000 private shared moments, but regardless, the audience filled with lights, lighters and such, and swayed to “The Price.” An absolutely cosmic serenade—Carl Sagan would have been proud. It looked like billions and billions of stars out there.

The true stars, of course, were onstage. They tore through “Burn In Hell,” which….well…..hate to say this, but I missed most of that too. Crapola for me. You know, you’d be amazed how much running goes on behind the scenes. 8 Miles of running to be specific. My trusty pedometer clocked more than 16,000 steps at the Germany show. Anyhow, I was able to catch A.J.s fantastic drum solo. Interestingly little Twisted tidbit for those of you who appreciate drummers: many drummers rehearse their drum solos, and what you often hear is a planned, carefully rehearsed solo. A.J. does not. He improvises and makes up each and every drum solo, catering it to the energy of the crowd and show, and truly, this is a testament to the tremendous talent that he possesses. Each of his drum solos are different, and they are all brimming with spirit and heart. So next time, take a good listen to A.J.’s drum solo—and let yourself feel it! He had his laser sticks which bounced a beam off a disco ball that was hung stage left. And, no. I have NO IDEA what the hell a disco ball was doing at Bang Your Head. Kinda glad Dee didn’t see that! Nice lighting again on the solo—first bathed in pink light, then green, then blue—A.J. asking the crowd at one point to “give him some!” The crowd responded with an enthusiastic cheer, and he treated them to a perfect toss n’ catch finale.

Dee spoke to the crowd a bit more—he explained to them the strange festival Twisted played in Sweden less than 24 hours ago, giving us some classic Deeisms:
“We played after Katie and her Doggy!….that’s not metal….that’s CHILDCARE!” But he say that it rocked in Sweden, and he was happy that they set the bar high, but it was time now for Bang Your Head in Balingen Germany to “Show up Katie and her doggie!” What else? A rousing and ear-splitting rendition of “I Wanna Rock!”

At one point, Dee had the rest of the band join him on the catwalk, front of stage, to sing the refrain, motioning to the drum riser, “A.J….bring your drums over here…” It was a pretty tight fit on that catwalk…and the guys in TS are NOT slight-of-stature fellows, with Dee commenting, “Okay…nobody push anyone off…we might break a hip…” They proceeded to bring the house down—45,000 fans, 9 crew and 5 band members all screaming “ROCK!” It was poetry, I tell ya, fucking poetic.

We had the same two encores—“Come Out and Play”—complete with creepy COAP-inspired green lighting—Jay Jay played a fantastically fast solo, front of stage—hope someone got some good photos of that—and Mark just plain killed it on “S.M.F.” Perfect show closer that leaves the fans panting (not unlike Katie’s Doggy), sweating, and wanting more! They left the stage, the fans still chanting “TWISTED! TWISTED! TWISTED!” Another fantastic show to a sold out festival audience. That’s how it’s done, ladies and gentlemen. Special little Armadillo shout out to SMF J.P. and to Cat from the band Vain. And a ‘so sorry’ to the nice German chap who wanted so badly to watch from the stage–I looked for you many times. Next time–I’ll specify stage RIGHT or stage LEFT. sorry mate.)

And so….we packed up the guitars and gear, as we have so many times. The transport arrived, and we loaded it in, beyond weary at this point. Most of the crew fell asleep as soon as the door closed on the vans. We arrived at the hotel close to 2:30 a.m. I think it was—we dragged ourselves up to the room—I was so tired, I couldn’t actually figure out how to turn the shower on, so that was my clue to just sleep. Which I did. Except that I had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to run a quick 6:00 a.m. errand for Dee. I grabbed breakfast at the hotel—I don’t recall actually eating it but the plate was empty when I left—and then assisted our faithful Tour Manager, Danny Stanton, as we got the rest of the crew over to the airport and checked the gear on to the flight.

I felt bruised, battered, weary and still slightly disoriented from lack of sleep—but my babies, I could not have been happier. I said goodbye to my Twisted family—band and crew at the airport in New York, and had a feeling of satisfaction that I did my part in serving the Twisted mission: delivering the best fucking live heavy metal show on the planet.

It took my body a full week to recover from the shock of this past run. My feet healed in a few days, and I was so exhausted mentally and physically, that my apologies, my babies, but a Road Reporter first—not only did it take me over a week to do this report, but for the first time, I missed going to a show. Dee’s solo concert in Pennsylvania was a few days after we returned home, and I just could not physically make the drive.

But fear not! I rested up that weekend and soon, you will have all the details of the very special Twisted Takes Manhattan, Fox & Friends morning concert on July 25th!

Until then, auf weidersehen, babies!

This is Armadillo….trotting off…to enjoy the simple pleasures of clean socks, hot showers and comfy pillows!


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