Heavy Montreal: The Lost Report, 10-August, 2014

Well, my babies, here is the ugly truth. I am having a helluva time writing the Heavy Montreal Road Report. Not because I don’t like Montreal–I mean, hell, Montreal has poutine–it’s fries, it’s gravy, it’s strange cheese curds…what’s not to love, right? No, babies. the fact is: I have ZERO recollection of Montreal. Well, that’s not true. I remember a bunch of things that I absolutely CANNOT type here, but the rest? a fuzzy blur.

So I will bring you as many details as I can recall…which ain’t much.

Here’s what I DO KNOW AND RECALL…and it was all over the Montreal newspapers the next day: Twisted Sister was the surprise darling of Heavy Montreal. No, I’m serious. The reviews gave props to a good show by Slayer, a great show by Metallica, but at the end of the day….Twisted Sister was the reviewers’ choice! Jay Jay French summed it up best for me: a bunch of guys in their late 50’s and 60’s who had been up for 3 days and flew from stage to stage to stage….managed to kick the asses of bands 1/3 their age who were well rested. How about those pommes?

I suppose I should explain WHY it was such a foggy memory for those who aren’t regular readers. The band performed in the Faroe Islands….then went from the stage to the airport to fly to Belgium to blow everyone away at the Alcatraz festival….then incredibly…band and crew went back to the hotel to shower and change clothes, and a few of us got about 1-2 hours of sleep, and then we went directly to the stage at Montreal. No, I mean it. We pulled up to the Heavy Montreal dressing room and literally unloaded the guitars…and all of our luggage.

So speaking of dressing rooms….I thought I was having a nightmare but apparently that illusion was real. The dressing rooms for Twisted were a small trailer no bigger than 8 feet by about 12 feet. It had two small couches, a small table with an excessive amount of beer (which we swapped out for water and gatorade), barely even a bag of chips, and a folding chair. Now babies…you’ve seen Twisted Sister. These guys aren’t exactly mini-KISS…. how the hell are 9 crew members and 5 big huge guys supposed to share a space about the size of a bathroom–which, incidentally, it didn’t have.

Oh, and did I FAIL to mention we had all of our baggage with us? No, I did. so Twisted Sister’s crew + all of our crap crammed into this tiny hole that not only lacked food, space and a toilet, it lacked sufficient air conditioning. But boy, did it have beer. Thanks, Canada. Anyway, we weren’t too happy about that but Heavy Montreal made it up at the catering tent. The catering was absolutely phenomenal–rivaled some of the better bar mitzvahs and weddings I’ve been to. It even had a roasted suckling pig. Hot damn.

Also worth mentioning was the “mail boxes” they had–a giant wooden board with glass bottles, each sand-blasted etched with the name of each band, and people could leave notes for the different bands. Twisted Sister’s bottle (oh crap. I meant to steal that bottle. Damn. Just remembered that….) had a single note: “You guys are old but you still kick ass!” Um. Thanks. I guess.

There were three stages–two of which were the predominant stages, and in a setup I’ve never seen before, they put the two big stages right next to another, and the production booth with the lighting and sound boards are in one huge booth that affords a moderate line of site to either stage (albeit on an angle) so that two stages share one booth. Not ideal for the lighting and sound guys, but it means that fans can catch both stages without having to scramble.

There were these enormous bleacher stands and three entire levels of scaffolding with seats–really unique–and holy shit, it could hold a lot of people. The down side for bands: it could also look really, really empty because it was so big. I’m being serious here. You could have 40,000 fans in front of you and the place would look half-empty (or half-filled if you’re an optimist) because there was such a large space. I was also a bit nervous watching festival medics cart away fan after fan from the insane mosh pits going on.

Off in the distance was some odd-looking geometric dome, and a big lake that stood between the stage and the dressing room. I had visions of me swimming across it, with towels, water, gatorade and a roll of gaff tape balanced above but the festival had very kind volunteers zipping around in golf carts who were always happy to give us a lift between locations. At first I thought I was hallucinating, but strolling about was Ice-T, who was playing the festival with his band, Body Count. Nice fella–A.J. had a brief chat with him.

So that was the good….and the bad. Here comes the ugly…edited to leave out the really ugly parts. Heavy Montreal puts the “heavy” in heavy metal. The lineup included Metallica the day before…and on this day, Lamb of God and Slayer, to name just two. There was a lot of chatter about Twisted Sister not belonging at the festival. I have to admit that even I was a bit nervous. Metallica is one of the few bands that could really rival TS live…they were arriving with trucks and trucks of gear and special effects. They probably have an enormous crew…more than you can count.

And here we come again. Two basses, Four guitars, 3 road cases, a golf bag, a backdrop bag, a drum bag and a production case (that’s 13 pieces) AND The best-of-the-best tour manager, a brilliant sound engineer, (no lighting designer this time) two fantastic guitar technicians, a seasoned stage manager, a wizard of a band handler….and an Armadillo. Then add to that that we had all been awake and lightly showered for about 3 days straight, having performed twice without seeing the horizontal position for more than an hour or so. This one was gonna be tough. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen Febreeze used as a body spray.

Onstage there were some technical difficulties–a curse that has plagued us before. And as usual–it was the Sound Engineer and crew who jumped in to make it all happen when the local crew managed to do a few things that required a little extra attention. And while I’m at it….I need to say a word about that stage. The dust onstage was pretty gnarly…I slid and almost did a split about three times. I asked them to sweep, which they did….and I grabbed a broom at one point and tried to sweep what I could, but that dust was just everywhere and it made the stage a skating rink in places.

By this point in the day, I was in a state of delirium. I was so tired, I knew we had a job to do and it was a formidable one–we just dug deep. It was still early in the day–6:00 or 7:00 pm I think–so we could see the entire crowd. To my surprise–the place rapidly filled. Why surprised? Typically bands that play early in the day’s running order don’t draw huge crowds. But for Twisted…and yes…Jay Jay has the photos to prove it….the crowd went on forever. I’ve seen some pretty amazing masses of humanity….Graspop…Sweden Rock….Download….Heavy Montreal was just enormous. The grounds…the bleachers….the stands…ALL FILLED! I have never seen so many people in my life.

The “Stay Hungry” album had tremendous success in Canada–even more so than the U.S.–more copies of that album sold in Canada than anywhere else in the world–and so the setlist reflected this–every song from that album would be played this night. When Twisted Sister took the stage, it started with the “head bobs.” More than 85,000 heads, bobbing in unison to “Stay Hungry.” By the next song…”The Beast”….the crowd began to actually pulse. It was a massive swarm of pulsating, bouncing, fist-throwing flesh and hair. (A.J. even gave us a little extra cowbell for this song.)

I was so pleased to hear “Don’t Let Me Down” again. It’s an underrated song, and rarely makes its way onto the setlist these days. Jay Jay played it with some “Elvis Pelvis” movement. (that’s actually in my notepad, folks. maybe I was delusional) I wrote under it: No lighting guy. No monitor guy. No Sleep. No excuses. SOUNDS GREAT!

And then…I have a bunch of Dee comments written down, and I’m not kidding: I was so tired…it took me awhile to transcribe them. Dee announced, “We are Twisted Fucking Sister!” [sidenote: great title for a movie, no?] “Not a band with one original member…who IS that onstage?…” [making reference to a few other bands on the bill]

He went to remind the crowd that ‘Tonight…wait…TODAY…we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Stay Hungry’s release….” and then Dee got a bit distracted, looking out at the insanely packed crowd, pointing at some poor fellow who was on the last row of the highest spot in the balcony “Hey! I see you up there! Good fucking seats!” Then he looked a little closer… “There’s a BEER GUY out there???!!?” Well. It IS Canada after all. Our neighbors to the north do love their beer.

Dee gave those fans more props–last rows on top, nosebleed seats…and they have their fists in the air! Those are S.M.F.s! And let me tell you, it was HOT in those bleachers. This was not a typical Canadian day–hot, humid and sunny–usually mother nature takes a big rainy dump on TS but not today.

For a show like Heavy Montreal, there were also a TON of kids! We saw one little girl, sporting her pink tee shirt, rocking out the entire show on her dad’s shoulders. (we were a little worried about her…especially when the crowd got crazy!) When “We’re Not Gonna Take It” rolled around, the crowd just let loose. You could actually feel it onstage. And the surfers! I’ve never seen this many crowd surfers outside of a Euro festival. One woman was surfing in a mini-skirt: NOT A GOOD IDEA. Just sayin’. Ladies, if you want to crowd surf, I recommend jeans and boots for your own protection. It didn’t look so nice out there.

Speaking of crowd surfers, there was this strange “black hole” in the audience. Kind of like the Bermuda Triangle or something, where the surfers would be passed along the top of the crowd and when they got to the triangle, BOOM! they just got sucked down into this mysterious black hole and disappeared. I think this phenomenon is attributed to a whole bunch of cranky, hot fed-up fans who just want to watch the show and not have to pass some fans sweaty ass over their head twenty times a song. So they just sort of dropped them down into never, never land. I know, I know. I was really tired, but damn if it didn’t entertain me every time!

And I would be derelict in my duties if I failed to mention….the boobs. There was a woman in the center–sporting brightly dyed blue hair (no, I wasn’t drinking, It was cobalt blue, okay?) and she took off her shirt to reveal quite the newly renovated ta-tas. A guy on-stage next to me actually knew the girl, who apparently had some “body work” done above the waist about two months ago. All I can say is that she was doing some maneuvers with those things that defied gravity. I was worried someone was gonna lose an eye or something.

I digress.
(Don’t blame me, I was hot….I was tired….and there were boobies to look at. Don’t judge me.)

Moving along, “I Wanna Rock!” was a wild one. It took a little coaxing at first, but once Dee got that audience worked up, they earned the right to a few verses of “I Wanna Fuck” It have us a few Dee-isms of the night–I may have to find the YouTube later because at this point, I was SLEEP WRITING. I made one final comment–a peculiar pyrotechnic display at the end of the set, with fire/pyro blowing out of the Heavy Montreal sign on the top of the hill. A bit backwards–I’m used to the pyro being onstage, not all the way in the back. Weird, eh?

In any case, Dee voiced his thoughts about the lovely dressing room accommodations–I mean, you know Dee. You give him anything…the slightest little thing, and he’ll run with it. How could he resist a few jabs about NOT being the headliner…playing in the daylight…and staying in a dressing room the size of a broom closet. It was a bit harsh…I don’t know if the Canadians appreciated Dee’s particular brand of humor–some things don’t always translate.

They closed with S.M.F.–and all I remember was wave upon wave of crazy fists and surfing rockers, falling into the pits below. It was a short set–only ten songs–and yet everyone was buzzing the next day about Twisted Sister. The security gal I spoke to told me that she didn’t think Twisted Sister was going to fit in well at the festival, and afterwards, she couldn’t believe the size of the crowd AND how powerful a band TS is live. (Can you imagine what they could have done if they were well-rested??!!)

So that’s the true story. Even running on empty, Twisted Sister managed to blow away all of the other bands–EVEN METALLICA! (one of my favorite bands, by the way) The oldest, sleep deprived band with the smallest crew and the least amount of gear got better reviews than a bigger, well-rested band half their age with tons of gear and lots of hands. That’s how we do it, babies. Twisted Sister annihilates every other band that shares a stage.

Special Armadillo shout outs to SMF’s Corey and Mark, and to my heavy metal hotel waiter Marc. And another special shout out to Katrina and Kerry for helping out the band and making sure the gear got home safe and sound.

The next morning, the band and crew all parted ways. I saw each of them off to the airport, and then retired to the hotel restaurant for some coffee and brunch. I wasn’t sure what felt more broken…my body or my brain. Either way, this was the worst heavy metal hangover I’d ever had. The next morning, I placed the do-not-disturb sign on my door (something I never do when I’m working,–that the band and crew can call on me anytime–and I slept for 8 or 9 glorious hours. A stroll about old Montreal was in order, complete with a trek to the Basilica of Notre Dame. A nice way to end a wild trip. Once home, it felt like the entire month had been one long dream, and in a way…that’s exactly what it was. A dream come true.

With that, my babies, it was time to fly home and prepare for the final show of 2014. More to come….

This is Armadillo…trotting off to eat more poutine and some artery-busters…until next time…


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