Above & Beyond; Athens Greece 7/12/11

Oh my babies….

It is that special time once again for the incoherent babble you know in your deepest desires you secretly long to read…it can only be: the often replicated, always dedicated and occasionally constipated…yes…it’s The Armadillo Road Report: The Official UNOfficial Twisted Sister concert review, Athens Greece.

Allow me to first indulge myself: I have finally, at long last, invested in a netbook so that I can bring these reports to you faster and more efficiently. The added benefit I’ve learned, is that I can type this by candlelighted lantern while sitting next to a rooftop pool, sipping on some of the richest coffee, The Partenon illuminated at night in it’s glory, a bright moon just off to the side. There is a spectacular rosy glow of a now past sunset behind the mountains to my right, and Twisted Sister & crew dining to my left. Let’s just say that the bar has been raised quite high for Finland now.

Even a Jew-turned-Agnostic like myself cannot deny that to see the Acropolis glowing on the plateau high above the city fills one with a sense of spiritual wonder, and somehow I can picture the Greek gods in their flowing white robes atop Mount Olympus, watching the ancient people below. It is a sight beyond spectacular.

I spent another day trodding about town, devouring all of the delicacies I could stuff in my spanokopita pie hole. Today’s travel took me back through the ancient markets of Plaka and yet a second look at ancient Angora, where an adjacent and excruciatingly patient crew of archeologists dig for hours on end, unearthing a wall that dates back thousands of years.

The Greek people have been gracious and very accommodating, especially as I struggle with the basic pleasantries of their wonderful language–today I managed to order my gyro, get a cup of coffee with milk, and find the loo–so overall, I’ve got the basics I need to survive. One trend that I’ve noticed is the sense not only of national pride–but a pride in the crucial history that thrives here. The locals are eager to share with me what is “really Greek”–which I’ve learned, is when you ask them for what’s the best place to go, tastiest food to order, etc. the answer is always–“Go there…eat this…it’s Greek!” They have yet to steer me wrong. While I did not find the incredible religious fervor that Brazil had for heavy metal, there is definitely a strong undercurrent of headbangers here in Athens, and I’ve found quite a few shops that could easily be a portal into the 1985 time machine.

There were a few stressful moments not knowing exactly where Twisted was playing–Iera Odos is an incredibly long street filled with nightclubs–so without an exact address, I would have never found the non-descript but surprisingly classy “Above & Beyond” nightclub. Iera Odos, I have since learned, was/is an ancient street in Athens that translates roughly to mean “Divine Street.” It’s safe to say the street is no longer divine–given I was offered some divinity for just 20 Euros by a local prostitute, (I decline, of course.) but the front doors of the club provided another spectacular sun-drenched view of the Parthenon, so as least we could see divinity from where we stood.

I joined our illustrious road crew for libations and was treated to yet another hidden talent of Mr. French–sideshow magic! Even after he revealed his card secrets, it was still an impressive party trick. We may have to wait awhile for the famous “saw-a-roadie-in-half-trick” but I’m sure once he perfects it, we’ll no longer need a warm-up band.

SMF Marty and his family arrived, only to have a few troubles with a rental car, preventing us from breaking bread together. With the first show now less than 24 hrs away, the SMFs were starting to come out all over town as the local television station continued to run Twisted commercials every hour on the hour. Given the local economic situation in Greece and the competition from Roger Waters “The Wall” on the same night, I salute all of the Greek SMFs who braved the heat to attend.

Show day arrived, and after three hours of sleep and a quick breakfast at a local cafe , it was off the venue with the road crew. I continue to be impressed with the management talents our of own Danny Stanton, who manages to stay cool and collected regardless of what’s happening (or not happening) around him. The band travels light, which means that they never really know exactly what equipment they’ll be working with…and subsequently dealing with later…until game day. And once again–All hail the road crew! Most of them have been awake for days already, sleep deprived from the 9 hour mininum flight and yet the moment they step into the club, it’s all business.

It reminded me of how my fellow first responders handle an emergency scene– true teamwork, each with a job to do. A quick greeting hello, a handshake, followed by a rapid briefing and then they each paired off with their Greek counterpart to see what equipment they’ll be using, what the club capabilities are, etc. It was a real treat for me to watch the first sound check–especially to see the road crew perform “Shoot “Em Down” with Danny singing lead vocals. I found myself nodding off a few times throughout the afternoon (admittedly, as I am now….) but I was so enthralled with the beehive of activity, I desperately wanted to stay awake and take it all in.

At the same time, the club staff were busy polishing the floors, scrubbing the bathrooms, neatly stacking perfectly symmetrical rows of beer and prepping the box office. The club reminded me of Via Funchal in Sao Paolo. Medium sized club–not too cramped but just small enough to give the back row “butts-to-the-wall” seats a decent and intimate view. A large reception area with a hallway tastefully backlit in a pink glow, the restrooms were also lit–blue for boys, pink for girls–although I always consider a Twisted Sister show to be like it’s St. Patty’s Day–today… we’re all pink. [Side travel note: one of those little quirky things I’ve noticed about international travel–toilets vary greatly country to country. And although I appreciated the marble floors and glass (yes, glass) doors on the stalls, each had it’s own light with motion detector, on a 5 second timer. I had to keep waving my arms above my head like I was bringing in an aircraft just to keep the light on above me!}

Ah. I digress. The club: Simple interior with “stepped” general admission areas, with a large balcony, the front of which contained “cocktail tables” and chairs for the VIP seating. This was a bit unfortunate–those who paid for a VIP ticket at the older location did so in order to be in the front section. To then place them a considerable distance away from the stage didn’t seem right. Thus, the majority of the VIP cocktail seating remained empty almost the entire night. A nice bar to left with the popular Mythos beer on tap and two comfy very European- looking black leather high-backed couches to the right. Just little working A/C on the floor itself.

The numerous soundchecks were fascinating to listen and observe–the band and crew are perfectionists, and they continuously and tirelessly worked on the sound until they were all pleased. I never realized how complicated the process is–certainly not as simple as plug in and play. Each member of the road crew must know their instruments and devices inside and out, and I was struck by the care with which they handled the guitars . Additionally, the entire setup is done methodically and with the utmost of diligence. Even the assembly of the infamous pink microphone stand took time to properly fasten and tape. As fans, we often take these details for granted–that the stand will always be in one piece, the mics will work, the band won’t trip on the rugs, etc. Danny gave the order to “Pink it up!” and to my delight, I was invited to assist the road crew in decorating the amps with hot pink gaffer tape–it really gave the set a polished but beautiful simplicity, and call me a cheap date, but I was just delighted and giddy to assist!

Then Danny gave me a quick tour of the place–including the “fan forbidden zone”–the dressing rooms. Quite tastefully minimal, which appealed to my zen sensibilities with the exception of the hideous green shag that adorned Dee’s dressing room. With 3:00 PM rolling around and the crew still at work, I plopped into one of the leather couches, thinking I coudl catch a few moments of sleep. Until they tuned Animal’s bass, which vibrated my seat so much I thought I was going to have to put a quarter in the side when it stopped. Finally, a quick dinner for band and entourage, and then immediately back out the door. We returned to the club where I finally had the opportunity to meet SMF Patrick from Austria and SMF Marty (Scotland), along with his wife and kids. A true delight in every case–I only wish I had more time to spend to chat.

The single opener was a band called “Out Loud” which featured vocalist Chandler Mogel (Talon), Bob Katsionis (Firewind) on guitars and keyboards, Mark Cross (Firewind, Helloween, Kingdom Come) on drums, Tony Kash on guitars and Jason Mercury on bass. (thanks to Leah’s Rock Report blog for the info). Check out their website at: myspace.com/outloudtheband

They were very good–entertaining and musically solid. Unfortunately, there was hardly ANYONE in the club to hear them. Where was everyone? Operating on island time? Pity. They missed out on a decent band–we even had a rare treat for an opener–a bass solo. Check them out!

The lead singer was a bit seemingly goofy for a front man, but modest, and he gets my award for Mr. Congeniality for the quote: “You guys are the music, we’re just the band.”

Twisted took the stage at 9:35 PM. The place had finally filled up with fans, and that’s when I realized that the American personal space guidelines do not translate in Europe. Not only were we packed into the front like sardines, but after one number, fans were throwing their arms around me, jumping on me, making sure I was enjoying every moment. It took a song or two to get over it and relax, and it made a hot, sweaty room even more hot and sweaty, but then again…. I had a lot of Moussaka to burn off.

You’ve seen the setlist by now–Jay Jay played a smoke colored Les Paul–Eddie was playing an iridescent purple bullseye–I beleve it was a Fender. Even though I was front-row between Eddie and Jay Jay, the photographers were like British paparazzi. One blocked our view just as Jay went to play the solo–I gave the unsuspecting photo journalist “bunny ears”–I figure Jay Jay was entertaining us, the least I could do was entertain Jay Jay. I was equally amused by the t-shirt he sported: I REALLY don’t LIKE YOUR shitty BAND. [The words “don’t” and “shitty” in very small print….sorry…doesn’t seem to translate as well… it’s a visual gag]

Let’s talk about the music for just a moment. I’m going to give a disclaimer here–I LOVED the Athens show. I had a great time and thought it really kicked ass–but musically and visually, it was simply not their best performance. Did the crowd love it? You betcha. It was the happiest (and sweatiest) crowd I’ve ever seen, and they did not go home disappointed. The fans absolutely enjoyed every single moment. I won’t recap what the shortcomings were, but the music itself got a little bit sloppy at times.

Captain Howdy was a crowd pleaser–Eddie switched to his signature bullseye–Jay Jay played his tobacco starbust Les Paul. Jay Jay addressed the crowd on his American Idol views–punctuated with “THIS is what 35 years of support looks ike, muthafucka!”

“You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” was one of my favorites of the night–filled with intensity, and I was surprised but pleased to hear “The Fire Still Burns” again. The fire was definitely burning in the club, because it must have been over 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside at this point. I swear, the bass was so thunderous, I think it cleared up a kidney stone. “Under The Blade” had a certain raw edge (intentional or not) that was reminiscent of the original release.

And then….something completely unexpected.
Dee and the band gave me a very unexpected (and public) special moment–and like the big marshmallow I am, I cried the entire way through “The Price.” It was just over the top, and I can’t say enough times how much I love this band, the crew, the management…and everything they do for me. It was almost too much–and it made the whole trip worthwhile.

“We’re Not Gonna Take It” drove the already frenzied crowd wild–Dee even gave the security guard a high five. And this crowd, like so many of the overseas counterparts, loved to sing the guitar solo. It was an appreciated gesture, but the only problem? It drowns out the ACTUAL guitar solo so I don’t get to hear the “heavy metal jazz” that makes live shows so unique.

The crowd was so into it, that Dee had them sing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” a cappella…followed by the Snider attempt at Greek dancing. It was almost as good as my command of the Greek language….followed by Dee’s remark: “How do those old fuckers do this and keep from falling down???”

“Shoot ‘Em Down” was another crowd fave. I swear to you, I don’t know what they make those basses out of, but I always think it’s going to just snap in half from the force that Animal exerts on it, pounding on the neck and strings.
“Burn In Hell” gave me my second favorite moment of the night–Eddie and Animal dueling guitars. Not just solos. I mean, dueling guitars. Literally. Nothing personally, Eddie, but my money is on Animal on this one. By this time in the evening, the club was so hot and humid I was starting to think we WERE burning in hell. Although, if this were hell, it seemed like heaven to me and the thousand or so sweltering fans would likely agree with me.

“Whole Lotta Rosie” had a whole lotta woes’ies, but you know what? The crowd ate it up and absolutely loved it. Regardless, I love hearing Twisted do covers, so the more the merrier! Dee provided his commentary…. in the form of a rather baritone belch…which he promptly blamed on the souvlaki.

And what road report would be complete without our “Douchebag of the Night” award? There was only one….shit, isn’t there always ONE? He threw a beer that narrowly missed Jay Jay and landed just behind Dee. The second beer soaked Marty pretty good–we were grateful it was at least beer, and not the by-products of such.

Next we rounded the corner towards the end of the show with “I Wanna Rock.” As SMF Funtazia Dave reported on the UK shows, the words were changed to “I Wanna Fuck!” and I swear as I live and breathe….panties went flying! Interestingly enough, they were not to be found AFTER the show so someone went home with free souvenirs. [For the record, they aren’t in my luggage.]

Eddie then sported a custom two-of-a-kind in existence, beautiful black Brian May guitar. It sounded very good–but tomorrow I’m going to play closer attention in Thessaloniki so that I can hear the true difference.

The crowd starting chanting, in a truly charming Greek accent, for Twisted Sister to Come Out and Play, and when they did….the place went insane. For the last number “S.M.F”., Mark demonstrated his knot tying skills with the microphone stand. [uh, Mr. Mendoza? You know that was a rental, right? Just charge it my room number.] The crowd noise was deafening, and in an instant, the lights went up and it was the oh-too-familiar “Day of the Rocker” shuffle as fans scoured the floor for picks. The place was absolute concert carnage, but the fans all left with smiles.

Many thanks to the warm, friendly and passionate people of Athens–with only 15 tour dates this year, Athens proved why they were worthy to have one of them.

Then afterward….another post-show poolside pow-wow….as yours truly sits here under the moonlight listening to road stories that I can’t ever repeat. This night was extraordinary for me–and I feel so blessed to be with my Twisted family. There is nowhere else I would rather be right now.

And with that, it’s time to catch an hour or two of rest before I catch my plane to Thessaloniki…
this is Armadillo….trotting off to dream of baklava and boarding passes…


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