Graspop Metal Meeting (GMM) Dessel, Belgium, June 23, 2012

It has been eight long years since our boys in black and pink graced the stage in Belgium–and 17 years of waiting to finally play Graspop–but one thing is for certain: Graspop and its fans will never be the same again. According the Belgian press, numbers are still being calculated from yesterday, but they estimated it was at a bare minimum that well more than 45,000 headbangers crammed into the grounds of the Graspop Metal Meeting (GMM) on the day before to experience heavy metal’s finest–Twisted Sister gave everything they had onstage Saturday night, by the end of their site, fans were furiously chanting for more, singing the refrain of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” long after the band had played its last encore. Belgian blogs and newspapers today hailed Twisted Sister as the highlight of Graspop–it was arguably one of the top, most mind-blowing festival performances I’ve ever seen.

Now that you’ve got the reader’s digest version, it’s time, my babies. Yes, time for whole enchilada…the grande fromage…the “War and Peace” of rock blogs…. the often replicated and occasionally decimated, the only blog that gives you entirely too much information….yes, here now for your reading enjoyment, it’s time for the:

Official Armadillo Road Report: Graspop Metal Meeting, Dessel Belgium, June 23, 2012.

Belgium is known for many things over in the United States– beer, waffles, fine chocolates and Graspop. In fact, all four of those important words (beer/waffle/chocolate/Graspop) pretty much translated identically from English to Flemish and beer notwithstanding, since I’m a retired drunk of 20 years, I found that I could have a wonderful interaction anywhere I went by basically saying those words.

My journey in Belgium began ahead of the rest of the crew and band as I opted to stay in Europe for the week and took a much needed holiday in Brugge. (Bruges) It seemed as though every person I chatted up on the plane from Madrid….and then the train from Brussels…had either been to Graspop, was going to Graspop, or knew someone going to Graspop. Even in the most unsuspecting places–such as just outside the steps of the Basilica in historic Brugges–the holy place holding the ancient relic of the blood of Christ–I said “Graspop” and suddenly, everyone around me excitedly began to talk of the festival.

A group of local Belgian tourists who didn’t speak a lot of English–when they heard me say “Graspop,” gave me a thumbs up. After which, I said “Wafel?” and they then pointed their thumbs in the direction of the closest walk-up waffle cafe, who gladly served me up the sweet delight for just 2 Euros. Belgium, ladies and gentleman. Come for the heavy metal, but stay for the waffles. Days later, my messenger bag now loaded with boxes of chocolate, I hauled my luggage onto the train for the 90 minute trek to Antwerp where I met up with the rest of the Twisted road crew who was resting comfortably after their long flights following their midwest concert.

The Graspop festival…or more accurately….the Graspop Metal Meeting (GMM) as it is hailed–is absolutely enormous. As we drove down the main road, through the quaint town of Dessel, we saw hundreds upon hundreds of headbangers walking on foot from parking lots, camping areas and even the surrounding residential neighborhood. (the residents, by the way, get free tickets to the show and the producers fence in the entire road to reduce any, shall we say…environmental impacts….on the shrubs and houses.) It resembled a heavy metal pilgrimage–travelers from hundreds and thousands of miles away, all descending upon Graspop to celebrate our passion and love for the music that makes our hearts beat faster and heads bang harder.

The festival grounds were typical of most European shows–concessions around the perimeter, an ample number of beer tents (and I’ve heard from many that the beers in Belgium are extraordinarily good!), glorious merch, merch and more merch, two huge purple circus tents and at my count, three stages plus one performance tent. If I had just one criticism, it was that the bands were often playing simultaneously, which meant that you sometimes had to choose between bands if there were two that struck your interest during the same time slot.

The Graspop staff, crews and an army of volunteers were wonderful, hard-working, gracious hosts–making sure our Twisted five and faithful crew had whatever they needed. [ A quick shout-out to volunteer Vincent, who helped me navigate the grounds to locate J.P. from the slamboard.] I stopped by the catering tent–black carpet, black walls, black tablecloths, black chairs….everyone dining was dressed in (what else?) black…. it was like an experiment in heavy metal camouflage.

After eating my weight in creme brulee, I lumbered through the crowd and joined up with my UK Road Report correspondent, Funtazia Dave as well as slamboarders J.P. and Kristof. We watched Megadeth play from the risers (what Dave affectionately calls: “the cabbage patch”) and I’m gonna tell you something, those folks in the wheelchair section were rocking out and rocking hard!

I popped backstage–the guitar technicians worked quickly to get the sound check perfect–there is something just plain impressive about seeing guitar technician Mehtis, hand an instrument over top the giant stack of Marshall amps. Seriously–I’d need a cherry picker and an extension ladder.

I did get a sneak peak at Animal’s bass–and spied something I’d never seen before–on the reverse side of his bass, he has an incredibly cool graphic of himself playing the bass! It’s really amazing–I snapped a quick a photo of it–I’ll try to post it here if I can.

The Graspop fans are absolutely sick and twisted–just how we like it–but I opted to take this one in from the side of the stage. With what appeared to be an infinite sea of crazy headbangers, the front row did not seem like a good option for yours truly. I noticed that many of the fans were wearing red cowboy hats (not exactly what I think of as typical Belgian flair) They were some type of promotional item by one of the festival sponsors–by the end of the night, there seemed to be more red cowboy hats sailing through the air than being worn on heads.

In the bizarre and “only at Graspop” category, I spotted three young fans decked out in fuzzy brown bear suits. (No Goldilocks, sorry…) and one in the mosh pit wearing a white furry polar bear hat. I think it may be the first time I’ve said, “Holy shit, there’s a bear in the pit!”

After Megadeth left the stage, there was an intense surge of fans. It was as though the main stage had an enormous magnet, and tens upon tens of thousands of fans were caught in the tractor beam. Within minutes, fans crammed up against the barricades of the main stage and were packed in solid–almost all the way to the back of the fence by the main gate.

When “Long Way to the Top” came on at 9:05 PM, it’s almost impossible for me to describe the spectacle before me. To see thousands and thousands of fists raised in the air….and hear the deafening screaming of those same metalheads–I felt as though I had arrived at my metal mecca: Graspop.

I don’t know if it was because Twisted had to play louder and harder just to be heard over the fans, but when they launched into “What You Don’t Know,” it felt like the acceleration of a roller coaster. Dee’s hair feverishly flying everywhere….Animal pounding his bass, Eddie and Jay Jay flanking Mark, pumping on their guitars faster than I have ever seen them play before. I don’t know the specifics of A.J.’s drum kit, but it was REMARKABLY loud and deep.

I had a difficult vantage point–stage right is notoriously challenging for both sound and “view”–but it was worth it just to see the crowd. Sometimes it takes a few songs for a crowd to “warm up.” Not Graspop. From the first chord, these fans were doing exactly what Twisted expects from every fan–those fans gave the bad boys of rock n’ roll as much energy as they could. Within minutes, there were fans floating and rolling atop the crowd, red cowboy hats a flyin’, bears moshing….pandemonium!

Even though there quite a few young folks in the crowd, it was obvious that Graspop was home to many Old School aficionados. When they roared into “The Kids Are Back,” I could see hundreds of fans in the front rows singing along. Dee dropped to his knees at one point, the back of his shirt vibrating each time A.J. hit that kick drum–I looked out at the crowd and I swear, I think every single person, including the waffle chef, was rocking out to Twisted!

Dee announced that “It’s been eight years” since they last played Belgium, and “Sorry it’s been so long!” This was Twisted’s first appearance at Graspop, and something tells me it won’t be their last. Dee told the crowd that they added something to the setlist from “Love Is For Suckers”… followed by “well, one person’s excited….” But not true! When they played the opening riff of “Wake Up the Sleeping Giant,” the crowd was a sea of Radio-Ga-Ga clapping hands–a site so gloriously sychronized–I almost felt as though the enormous throng of fans were tapping into to some central consciousness. It’s a sense of unity that I can attest is not often seen at American festivals–there is a feeling of universal metal brother and sisterhood. Eddie’s solo? A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

Eddie strode to the center platform of the stage to kick off “You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll” and the response of the crowd was relentless. I could see the beginning of a mosh pit as the young folks in attendance tapped into what we old schoolers already knew–Twisted Sister is hardcore and heavy. Jay Jay’s solo blew the sugar right off my waffel. (look, it’s Belgium, it’s late…it’s the end of the European road for yours truly…and I’m running out of rock and roll euphemisms.) As they struck the final chord, Dee screamed out our battle cry, “You can’t stop Twisted Sister either!” So true indeed.

Jay Jay waived a concert poster in the air–he read off the absolutely incredible list of all of the bands that were sharing the stage and playing Graspop–it was yet another impressive who’s who of heavy metal, and Jay Jay commented that every band on the bill should be grateful to play to such fantastic fans.

We had a change in the setlist tonight, and Graspop’s old schoolers were treated to “Shoot ‘Em Down.” The moshpit human blender was starting to really fire up–and as Animal smacked his bass, I heard the couple behind me gasping in disbelief, saying, “Look at that bass player! How can he do that?!! I’ve never seen anything like that!” Welcome to Twisted Sister, my friends.

Now I have to just tell you–I’ve now heard “We’re Not Gonna Take It” played live…oh, I dunno….maybe forty or fifty times now…..and it always kicks ass, so it’s sometimes hard to find new descriptors for it. But this time? Let me tell you how hard WNGTI rocked. Every person from the front row to the rear gate was pounding their fist in the air. The frickin’ waffles were flattened into pancakes. The garden gnomes in the nearby neighborhood were throwing the horns. The U.S. Geological Service called…they felt the earth shake…in Alaska. The hundred or so unconscious fans were resuscitated. Zombies woke from their graves. All the hair on my head fell out. (okay, so I’m exaggerating…well…except the last one. that one is truth.)

Eddie played a brilliant solo as Mark and Jay Jay lined up beside him. The crowd noise was unbelievable–to be able to hear an outdoor crowd singing overtop of the incredibly loud music–that takes talent.

Even Dee commented, “You are some loud mutha fuckas!” as he lead the crowd in singing, a Capella, the refrain. It was the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard, and they absolutely refused to stop singing “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” prompting a highly entertained and appreciative Dee to remark, “Ya know, we could do this all night!”

He announced that they were now going to play something off the first album, prompting Dee to joke “wait, there’s now 6 people who know that one….” then realized he was jumping ahead of himself on the setlist, because the next song up was “The Price.”

Like most fans, I just plain love this song. It has personal meaning for so many of us, and I just can’t keep still. I have to sway and rock–and when I looked out and saw thousands and thousands of swaying arms–it made me gasp. When Dee asked for the lighters to come out–it was the first time since 1986 that I saw a true ocean of butane flames. (smoking apparently still en vogue in Europe) It was sprinkled with a few cell phones, but the wave of swaying lighters-the stage filled with soft pink-lit fog- was just breathtakingly beautiful.

If I can find any youtube from the stage vantage, I’ll post it here. The rows of waving arms reminded me of a giant human wheatfield, moving in unison from the force of nature before them. I’m going to freeze that moment in time, place it into my memory vault, and hold onto it for those days ahead when I need to feel some inner strength.

As a heavy (artificial) fog rolled in onstage, the familiar bass rumble revealed that “Burn In Hell’ was up next. We had a little momentary lighting glitch which Dee managed to turn an awkward moment into an entertaining one…and this crowd was clearly aching to hear “Burn In Hell.” As Jay Jay and Eddie furiously dueled back and forth, crowd surfers rolled across the top surface of hands and heads in a motion that I can only describe as graceful and smooth.

Another welcome return to the setlist–“Under The Blade”–was dedicated to the mosh pit–and before long, there was a swirling mass of humanity, circling and moshing in the center of the crowd. And unlike some of today’s younger crowds who seem to use mosh pits as an excuse to inflict pain on others, the Belgians really know how to mosh! It brought back memories of my own younger days, and I had a moment of nostaliga, watching old school metalheads rocking out with a pit I dubbed “the Belgian Blender” whirling behind them.

Given the energetic response that the fans were giving Twisted–I knew that “I Wanna Rock!” was going to be extraordinary. As Dee belted out the line, “there’s nothing else that I would rather do,” the fans were now screaming out the lyrics and every single fist was pumping in the air (including one fist decked out in a Spiderman mask! What the hell?) As the crowd began to chant, “Rock…Rock….Rock” growing in crescendo, prompting Dee to yell, “louder! I want all the other bands backstage to hear you!”

And just as Dee was about to give it that last big push to the finish–he looks over and yells, “YOU! Stop Eating!” Really. Didn’t that guy read my last road report? Seriously, dude. Even *I* freakin’ put down the waffles for an hour!

Dee polled the Belgians (after all, he has polled audiences all over the world…and it’s been awhile since he was in Belgium) whether they’d like to rock….or fuck….. No contest there. We did sing a few rousing verses of “I Wanna Fuck” and by the end of, the fans were doing the pogo….bouncing up and down….the blender swirling…the fans surfing and flying above…fists and hair everywhere.

As Twisted said goodnight, the crowd was chanting, “We want more! We want more!” No band at Graspop experienced this–there was no way there were going to let them off without an encore.

With only time left for just one song, the intros were quick and the fans were given exactly what they wanted: “S.M.F. ” A.J. absolutely pounded on this one–his drums sounded phenomenal all night, but on S.M.F., they were particularly mammoth. Eddie and Jay Jay played it with everything they had, and if you had seen Mark’s microphone by the end of the set–he took the mic and pounded it onto his bass–the stand looked like an archery bow by the song’s end.

Dee was so caught up in the moment, that when he knocked his stand over, it actually floated out onto the audience. I had an absolute pucker moment…I had visions of that pink mic stand drifting out to sea in that crowd….but kudos to you, S.M.F.s, you graciously floated it right back to Dee onstage.

As Twisted headed off to the dressing room, I heard the announcer tell the crowd to stay tuned, Limp Bizkit was next….and the BOOOOO that came from that crowd stunned me. After the booing, the crowd broke into “We’re Not Gonna Take It” again, and they continued to sing it for a good five to ten minutes, paying tribute to those in the black and pink who just rocked the living hell out of Graspop. I have never seen that before. Just plain….wow.

And so my babies…as I live and breath…and this is the honest truth: I scribbled into my notepad: “TS proved why they are the undeniable kings of the live stage” and I almost fell off my chair this afternoon when I pulled up translations of the Belgian newspapers, and read: “Twisted Sister as Graspop prove they are kings of live metal bands.” WHOA. That’s kinda freaky. Wonder if it was that guy looking over my shoulder…. nah. no way he can read my shorthand. Even those who don’t know Twisted Sister could not deny the spectacle we saw at Graspop. The old school S.M.F.s will turn to their friends and exclaim, “See? NOW do you understand?” And the younger set…the ones who may only know Twisted Sister from video games and reality television shows, will never forget what they experienced as Graspop–they will tell their friends about the day that this incredible band of five New Yorkers blew every other band off the stage.

And that, my friends, was Graspop.

It brings my European tour to a close–four shows in four counties in three weeks (Five shows in Five Countries for Twisted, counting Iowa). A chance to experience road crew “fantasy camp” first hand. My love and profound gratitude to all of the band, crew and fellow fans who made it possible.

Love to all my S.M.F. brothers and sisters–safe travels to the band and crew in Russia and Norway for next week’s shows–as for me, see you in Pennsylvania, my babies!

This is Armadillo, your faithful road reporter, trotting off to pack my bags and head on home.


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