|Blog is down...but the report must go on! Graspop 2013|
Location: Baltimore, MD
|Hi folks: I have been trying for hours to get onto the blog without success. |
So here you go...
Oh, of course not! Really, you couldn't possibly believe that, now, can you?
The fans, road crew, band and yours truly kept repeating one word in the moments to follow Twisted Sister's performance at Graspop last night, and that word was: EPIC.
The dictionary defines "Epic", the adjective, as "extending beyond the usual or ordinary, especially in scope or size." Twisted Sister has never once been ordinary, and truly, the scale and intensity with which the Sisters performed yesterday evening clearly exceeded well beyond the boundaries of normal conventions. it was, my babies, Epic. Cold rain, wind and mud did not stop the 40,000+ (according to the Graspop facebook page) fans from rocking hard to Twisted Sister, and there they remained from the opening riff until the last final note hung in the air. The late Michael Jackson may have been the "The King of Pop," but Twisted Sister has once again reclaimed the crown: "The Kings of Graspop."
And it tribute to the literary form of epic, I bring you this brief interlude of epic poetry:
TWISTED SISTER AT GRASPOP 2013: PROLOGUE
This road report will praise the epic fight.
For Twis-ted Sis-ter's conquest has dethroned
Ev'ry metal band that dare to claim
The Graspop crown is ours, who earned it right
Let it be known it now the kids are back
I said it loud, this band is world renown
Putting all the poser rest to shame
All hail to those who don the pink and black!
Yes, my babies, it's time now. What other tour blog in the world brings you a concert review in Iambic Pentameter? None, I tell you! Do you think that Rolling Stone magazine delivers the goods in a Shakespearian sonnet? Mais non! Will the New Yorker share with you the nuances of European port-a-johns? Don't be absurd. There can be only one place where you will read all of the concerts details you simply must know, along with plenty of things you'll wish you never knew-- the one....the only....
Official Armadillo Road Report for Graspop Metal Meeting 2013, 28-June, 2013: the epic edition. And as any archetypal epic journey, this report will be filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, intrigue, adventure, tragedy, comedy and most of all...so long you may have to read it in installments. I may have to create a Cliff Notes version for those of you with the attention spans of gnats.
TWISTED SISTER AT GRASPOP 2013: PART I
While Hellfest left all of us on an emotional high, there was the teeniest, tiniest bit of doubt that our boys in pink and black woud be able to top last year's remarkable performance at Graspop. Last year's show was arguably one of the best shows of their Twisted careers, and so with that came a certain amount of pressure to do something even greater and more extraordinary. With Hellfest under their studded belts, the band and crew scattered to the four winds for an uncharacteristic 7 days of R & R. (Rest and relaxation, for those unfamiliar with the term).
I elected for 3 1/2 of those days in Paris, a rather mixed adventure that involved: 4 hours of reflection in the Louvre, an assortment of some excellent if not fragrant cheeses, more crepes than even my piehole could handle, a sunset trip to the top of the Eiffel tower, miles on foot down the Champs D'Elysees and two unfortunate nights in what turned out to be one of Paris' less finer crack houses. Now a few hundred Euros lighter (and minus a rather nifty and somewhat costly Rick Steve's clothesline) courtesy of said hotel's sticky fingered staff, I took in the last night at a clean and rather pleasant hostel where I swear to you, the front desk attendant looked exactly like David Carradine, I was just waiting to hear, "Ah. Your room is ready, but are you ready for your room, Grasshopper?"
The band, crew and your faithful road reporter all converged in Antwerpen, Belgium, a place that I simply adore for it's slower pace (well, slower than Brussels, at least), friendly locals and excellent, reasonable cuisine. The staff at the hotel remembered us from last year (I mean, really...once you meet the Twisted family and entourage, it's hard to forget them!) and provided us with top notch, extraordinary service--after my Paris stay, I felt as if I could finally relax and let down my pores. (I'm assuming that is what bald people do.)
My first day in Antwerpen afforded me a delightful stroll through one of their many beautiful and well-maintained parks, including one called "openbaar park." [A park with an open bar? Now that's rock and roll!] The always interesting Mr. French accompanied me, and as we contemplated and debated our philosophies on randomness, coincidence and the concept of divine intervention, we came upon a gem of a little restaurant in the park called: Dikke Mee. Truly....how can I resist a place with a name like that? For the record, the name refers to the loose translation of "fat grandmother," referring to the plentiful shapliness of the restaurant's original matriarch and founder.
After Jay Jay and I went to Dikke Me.....oh... wait a second...perhaps I should rephrase that a bit. Afer Jay Jay and I dined on lunch at Dikke Mee...that's better.... (shout out to Bastiaan, Twisted Sister fan, Graspop attendee...and our graciously polite waiter), we reunited with the band and crew now all making their way into Belgium. We learned that this year's performance was going to hold many surprises, that NOT surprisingly meant many intricate logistics. The road crew and a few band members headed over to Graspop a day early to visit with the stage manager and plan out the details. But more on those exciting developments later. No spoilers here.
[I understand from a previous road report, there may have been some slight confusion--so for clarity's sake, here you go: I have been incorporated into the road crew-- my role is part sherpa, part runner for crew and band, and of course, first and foremost, tour blogger. I happily and gladly continue my service as a grateful volunteer who flies on his own dime. It is absolutely an honor and privilege to be able to have this level of trust and access, as it allows me to bring you, my fellow fans, an aspect of rock touring that your average reporter cannot. With that in mind, please do understand that band memorabilia, passes, business decisions, intimate details, private conversations, hotel names etc. are all well beyond my scope. And I've been sworn to secrecy. Whoever said "you can't take it with you," never lived in the world of rock n' roll.]
Alright. I digress.
So with the logistics of the next day's show well underway on the planning boards of the production team, we retreated for a charming dinner at a local Italian bistro--our passionate, Italian head chef described one dish including the line "then the pasta and butter make love in the pan." Anything that makes love and involves butter is okay in my book.
Many of us were too wired to sleep--I became engaged in watching the "Iron Maiden" documentary "Flight 666" that was being shown on local television, in all likelihood no coincidence, as they are the closing headliner this year. After breakfast, it was off for a very long day at the festival grounds.
TWISTED SISTER AT GRASPOP 2013: PART II
For those unfamiliar with Graspop, it is not called a "festival." Instead, it is referred to as "Graspop Metal Meeting" or "GMM" for short, and consists of three days of mid-morning to late into the early morning hours of heavy metal, death metal, thrash and some punk thrown in for good measure. With few hotels in Dessel and intense congestion on the roadways, 20,000 spaces and portable facilities are afforded at nearby fields designated as Graspop campsites. The road from Antwerpen to Dessel is a beautiful rural ride through the Belgian countryside, complete with agriculture and farms, cows and horses, and the occasional heavy metal hitchhiker making his way to the metal holy grail.
Dessel itself is a charming, sleepy small town, with adorable picturesque square brick houses and virtually one primary road in...and out, which is typically sufficient for the less than 10,000 inhabitants. That is, of course, until the 40,000 to 80,000 each day who make the trek for Graspop. The road to Dessel was packed with happy metal pilgrims, hiking their way to the campsites of their mecca.
Graspop itself is something of a marvel, rivaled in size by the other European festivals, it is an entirely self-contained compound with hundreds and hundreds of staff who work tirelessly to ensure that everything runs on schedule. From the main gate to the artist entrance was a muddy one-mile hike. One main stage, two still moderately large stages to the sides, and one smaller stage called "the metaldome," allow for continuous, uninterrupted metal from morning until the wee hours of the next morning.
Envision, if you will, a huge open straw and mud covered field. On both sides, large, festive purple and yellow circus tents housing concessions, carnival rides, merch (glorious, glorious merch!) and various other goods and services. An entire tent complex was devoted to Belgian beer, and a strip of tents and temporary kiosks stage right housed rock magazines, radio stations and the Brussel's equivalent of bull riding--except it was ride the oiled muscled mannekin. No, I'm not making this up. Only in Europe, my babies. And I'm not telling you who won, either.
What road report would be complete without a commentary on commodes? I was dumbstruck by huge rows of outside urinals--a brilliantly designed tri-pod like invention in which three men could somewhat privately find relief simultaneously-- a row of 10 of said portables allowed thirty men to eradicate the Belgian beer all while under the stars, out in the plain view of the festival. It was the oddest thing I've ever seen-form follows function-definitely something that would never fly in the states. Anyhow...the backstage area was an enormous maze of portable buildings housing the dressing rooms, bar and restaurant--absolutely top notch. The Twisted Sister dressing room was complete with a wall size photograph of Twisted Sister from last year's Graspop concert. (pictured above)
The GMM staff were absolutely wonderful--we recognized many of the excellent, conscientious security staff and skilled, hardworking stage crew from the previous year. A gracious shout out to Michel, our transport driver.... and a very special road report shout out to the wonderful, ever gracious and always lovely Cindy in the hospitality office and her entire staff, who always maintained a smile and sense of humor throughout. (and thanks for the hot cocoa mix--it was delicious!) This event has such a high volume of artists, visiting VIPs and fans--it takes hundreds to pull off something this large and make it look effortless. Kudos to all of you!
TWISTED SISTER AT GRASPOP 2013: PART III
First, a bit of a spoiler alert but since it was announced on-stage, I can announce it here. Due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, Mark "Animal" Mendoza suffered an unexpected knee injury that as tough a man as he is, it rendered him unable to play. He sends his truest regrets to all of his fans, and I know you all join me in wishing him a speedy and full recovery. We hope to see him soon at the Osh Kosh WI concert! Get well soon Animal!
While Mark's absence was unanticipated, Twisted Sister does have a private list of those who the band trusts to serve as fill-in's during emergencies. Some of you may recall when Eddie had emergency back surgery hours before the Philadelphia Christmas show. Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce to you Mr. Russ Zutto, who bears a striking resemblance in some ways to Animal, except that he observedly seems to throw fewer objects and doesn't not growl as much. Mr. Zutto joined our own Mr. Pero and Mr. French for a quick last minute rehearsal in the dressing room for a jam that was one of my utmost favorite Twisted Sister moments ever. With A.J. not having the luxury of a drum kit backstage, but wanting to be sure that Russ knew all of his drum cues, our sound of thunder created a drum kit from the catering tent consisting of dishes, glasses, a stack of silverware (for the cowbell) and the top of a jelly jar. It was absolutely brilliant.
[SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want the surprise now, skip ahead to PART IV!]
What happened next was another one of those extraordinary moments in rock and roll that was so fascinating and special, I almost welled up in tears that I was allowed to stay in the background to observe. In preparation for an onstage surprise during the show, Asking Alexandria--all five band members--held a heavy metal pow wow right there in the dressing room, in which they did brief introductions band-a-band, and then each TS artist briefly filled in their AA counterpart: Dee gave a quick rundown on vocals and then went off privately to meet; Jay Jay and Eddie gave the run down on their solos, and so on. It was incredible to witness the creative process in action, and just built even more excitement for the show itself.
It was about this time that the heavens let loose. You know, I think Dee told Mother Nature to "fuck off" just one too many times--it may be a vicious cycle. The temperature dropped and it rained cats and dogs. I don't know if there's a Flemish equivalent of that phrase...it was raining fries and waffles? It absolutely poured. I was absolutely astonished to look out into the enormous crowd....and see....and enormous crowd. These fans just love their metal, and a bit of rain, cold and mud was not going to dampen the mood. Twisted Sister wasn't due to take the stage for another hour, and yet, from the dressing room door, I could hear something in the distance: it was the Graspop fans, to keep their spirits up, singing "We're Not Gonna Take It" as the rain poured down on them. Graspop fans, I salute you.
Which...by the way...there WAS a show. This is an EPIC remember? Like Homer's Odyssey. I'm getting to it. It's a journey.
Here it comes, baby...
TWISTED SISTER AT GRASPOP: PART IV
After running the last of many errands for the day, the sun set and 23:30 hrs rolled around (that's 11:30 pm for you non-military, U.S. folks) The rain was absolutely pouring down at this point, but when the stage went dark, the eruption of crowd cheers reassured me that out there in the Dessel darkness, there were at least 40,000 waiting to have their proverbial asses kicked.
There is one moment of perfection at every show. It's a simple moment--one of pure anticipation and adrenalin--it is exquisitely simple and if you fail to appreciate it, it fleetingly slips through the parted fingers of your consciousness. Hardcore S.M.F.s will know exactly what I'm referring to here: the split second pause between the lights going out and the opening chord of "Long Way to the Top." There is absolutely nothing like it.
The energy this night at Graspop was palpable and raw--not unlike the cold, wet environment--as Twisted Sister, our metal gladiators--took to the stage. These fans had been literally outside for at least an entire day (for some who arrived at camp early, even longer) and had endured some truly miserable conditions outside. But when Twisted opened the show with "You Can't Stop Rock n' Roll," it has never seemed more appropriate. Wind, rain, cold and mud were no match for the love and drive of metalheads. Although I'm not sure "warmed up" would be the exact turn of phrase, these fans were ready! "You Can't Stop Rock n' Roll" was a fast and a little loose-- the perfect way to play this anthem that can sometimes have almost bluesy undertones during the bridges. A great start.
Unlike Hellfest, the number of crowd surfers were not as many, and I didn't see a mosh pit this year, but I'll attribute that entirely to the weather. Ponchos are not exactly conducive to crowd surfing, an as for moshing, I can personally tell you that the "textured floor" that the festival lays down in the front section for this purpose was remarkably slick. Moshing would have been close to impossible this late in the show as it was a solid coat of mud. I did observe a few fans dressed as Teletubbies and two in the front wearing banana suits. [Anyone else observed the European obsession with bananas? Just an observation.]
From the opener, it was an almost immediate launch into "Shoot 'em Down." I'll give Russ some more props here--he really did Animal proud. Great bass line throughout! Although I confess, I kept singing to myself "Pouring Down...Pouring Down..."
"Stay Hungry," for some reason, for the third consecutive show, seemed to coincide with the release of inflatable objects. What is it about "Stay Hungry" that says, "Release the Helium!"?? Does the song promote loftiness...or just gas? One may never know. In any case, it was a nice rendition with a clean solo by Jay Jay, and the audience vocals on the refrain could clearly be heard, even above the deafening amps.
Dee was in RARE form last night, let me tell you. He admitted that he may have previously pissed off Mother Nature by calling her a [excuse my French] " fucking bitch" when it rained on Twisted Sister shows. He then, "apologized," saying: "Mother Nature...I didn't mean to call you a fucking bitch..... You're a FUCKING WHORE!" I promptly made sure I wasn't touched anything metal in anticipation for the lightning strike. Dee then expressed his admiration for all the "crazy fuckers in the rain," who I can personally attest, were packed in like sardines, even in spite of the weather.
They hit the opening notes of "The Beast" and with minimal prompting, fists emerged from rain ponchos and before us was a sea of fists and hands, perfectly synchronized to each and every beat. At this point, the rain was even heavier, Dee was completely soaked head to toe--and yet...still having a pretty good hair day in spite of it all! Eddie's solo was right on the mark--filled with emotion and feeding off the crowd frenzy.
After a rousing version of "The Kids Are Back"--I don't think anyone had any doubt--the Boys in Pink and Black are back and more badass than ever--Dee did a twirling (and I do mean, twirling) rain dance in a puddle on the edge of the stage--and began to sing "Singing in the Rain." What's more remarkable? The audience picked up on it, and began to sing it as well. Another Twisted first, Ladies and Gentleman!
It was then that Dee explained Mark's absence, but once again, we cannot thank Russell Zutto enough--Dee launched into a brief rap that was so biting, I'm not going to even paraphrase it here, but for those of you who read "Shut Up and Give Me the Mic" may recall the chapter in which Dee says that he's got such a talent for verbal dismembering people that they no longer allow him to participate in the ribbing the bandmates give one another? I can see why. Wow. That Dee has a sharp tongue!
"I Believe in Rock n' Roll" gave us more tight guitar work, including a fantastic Eddie solo. One clap from Jay Jay and the entire crowd--I swear all 40,000+ ponchos and all--began to clap in unison. Now THAT'S an audience. Dee welcomed them all into the now infamous Church of Twisted Sister...our lady of perpetual chaos...and in order to send a special message to mother nature, band and fans sung extra loud!
"We're Not Gonna Take It" always brings down the house. Sometimes I think this would actually make a great closer because the fans just go absolutely insane when they hear those first familiar drum beats. The crowd began to jump--and before long, as the stage lights gave me a glimpse out onto the crowd--I could see this entity. The crowd became one giant, pulsating organism. Heads bobbing, fists flying, red cowboy hats airborne (no idea. I think it was some sort of beer promotion) it was....dare I say it? EPIC! Even the teletubbies crowd surfed for a few bars. The crowd refused to stop. Long after the last chord, the crowd kept singing the refrain, over and over again. And just in case Mother Nature didn't get the memo, Dee joined the audience in one final refrain, complete with tens of thousands of middle finger salutes skyward.
Next on the docket was surprise #1. My slamboard readers were well informed of this one several weeks ago. S.M.F. Guus popped the question in front of the entire assembled audience—the poor lad was shaking so badly that the audience drowned out his proposal—clearly they were well aware of what was about to happen! Guus presented her a beautiful ring in a very classy pink ring box, adorned with a silver TS logo. She said “YES!” of course—although it took a little prompting from Jay Jay to ensure we had the answer—the best line of the night went to Guus, however. When asked by Jay Jay what he would do if she said ‘no’, he responded: “Then 80,000 fans will buy me a beer.” Well done, Guus. I’m sure you all join me in wishing many healthy and happy years to the new couple.
With surprise #1 complete, the show must go on! It seemed a bit ironic to play “The Fire Still Burns” while the rain continued to saturate us all, but it was an excellent performance of it. The drums absolutely mammoth, nicely paired with Eddie’s solo. I enjoyed the lighting for this song as well—a mix of red and yellow spots—(which made for an interesting contrast with the glowing blue neon of the uber euro urinals a glow in the distance).
With so much more left on the bill, the boys accelerated right into “We’re Gonna Make It,” one of my favorite live songs. Jay Jay and Eddie played this one fast and tight—worked well with Russ’ solid bass line—I realize that I have complete bias about Twisted Sister’s music, but really—this song TOTALLY rocks out.
“Under The Blade” seemed to have a lot more meaning knowing that our own Animal was going under the blade—Russ’ contribution to this rendition was excellent. I was a bit disappointed that the mosh pit that materialized last year during “Under The Blade” didn’t happen this year, but slick conditions made moshing next to impossible.
And now for something completely different….
“The Price” is always a special moment in the show, but this year, in Graspop, the audience was invited to become a part of the entertainment. Thousands in attendance downloaded the light matrix app from the Twisted Sister website. This app connected each cell phone to a specific Twisted Sister instrument, such that part of the audience was connected to the drums, some to guitars, some to the bass etc. The phones illuminated with a solid color of light, and as the instrument played, the display changed in accordance with the beat. So if your phone was aligned with the drums, each time A.J. hit the drum, your phone displayed changed. The bass phones were mostly blue…then changing to green and white. Eddie’s guitar solo during “The Price’ vibrated green to blue to pink…A.J.’s were strobing so many colors it was hard to tell. Kudos to Elijah and Jordan—two young, bright programmers who engineered this project. Absolutely fascinating! Thanks to all the fans who downloaded the app to give Graspop 2013 that little something extra this year. (and if you catch it on YouTube, one Deeism sharper than the cheese. Took a real dig at another rocker that made my jaw drop!)
More treats to come…including something we haven’t heard in a while…an honest to goodness DRUM SOLO! I can’t remember the last time I heard a full length drum solo! After a killer “Burn in Hell”, A.J. let loose an incredible drum solo that you could feel in your bones. Absolutely mammoth—and well worth the wait!
And then….the big surprise of the night! The amps parted like the red sea, and a small army of road crew staff pushed a full drum riser into place….ran cables all over the place…and to the delight of the crowd, the entire band of Asking Alexandria took the stage to join Twisted Sister with a version of “I Wanna Rock” that we’ll never forget. If you think it rocks when TS plays it, imagine it with two drum kits, 2 basses, 4 guitars, 2 lead singers and 80,000 backup singers. It was old school meets new school—classic heavy metal meets the next generation of rock and roll! Afterwards, Dee summed up what we were all thinking, “That was fucking awesome!” There were high fives and hugs all around, and the audience said ‘thank you’ by breaking into more verses of “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
For the last song of the night (minus the encores) Dee announced that they would play a song that they’ve been doing for more than 35 years—and the original author who penned the song reportedly vomited upon hearing Twisted’s version…(is that true? Really?) “It’s Only Rock N’ Roll” and Dee doesn’t just LIKE it…he LOVES it! Dee asked the audience to “give us everything you’ve got…” and damn if they didn’t! Not only did the audience jump….and sing….and throw their fists in the air…they provided their own pyro! Fireworks suddenly broke out during the final verse—from the side of the stage, I had the pleasure of watching a mini fireworks display as Twisted said “good night!” Dee was so awestruck—he gave the audience a mic drop!
We had two encores—the first of which was “Come Out and Play.” Absolutely incredible—the stage bathed in green light, the guitar lines galloping feverishly. I could see the fans who mistakenly started to leave….now making a rapid return back to watch the encores. Even more amazing—the crowd that heard the opening nights…never left. Twisted Sister could have played three more hours and those hardcore folks wouldn’t have budged! S.M.F. almost put the crowd over the edge—this was the performance that legends are made of. It was…..EPIC.
TWISTED SISTER AT GRASPOP: EPILOGUE
It takes a great band to headline at the Graspop Metal Meeting. It takes an extraordinary band to engage an entire crowd for a full 90-minute set at the Graspop Metal Meeting. But for an extraordinary band to kick 80,000 asses in a cold rain….and leave them wanting more….that is EPIC. No one rocks harder, louder and better than Twisted Sister live!
And with that, my babies, I conclude our journey together through the Graspop Metal Meeting 2013.
Say it with me, one more time: EPIC!
This is Armadillo, signing off to check on my cats. Something my catsitter failed to do for the past ten days….Til July, my babies.