If there was ever an ounce of doubt in anyone’s mind—Twisted Sister’s, sold-out Saturday night at The Joint in Las Vegas, proved why they are the kings of live performance heavy metal. ALL HAIL THE KINGS! Twisted Sister’s unprecedented, almost two-hour set was a live show so raw, so energetic and so powerful that I dare say it ruined all other live acts for everyone in attendance at the sold out show at the Hard Rock. Twisted Sister’s tour, now dubbed “The Sound of Thunder: In Memory of A.J. Pero Tour”, delivered a concert to remember and honor their fallen brother, that rock fans will be talking about for the next 20 years.
So here we are, babies. The first Twisted Sister show of the 2015 tour season, how bittersweet it is. Without any fanfare, I bring you this edition of Armadillo Road Report, the Official Twisted Sister Tour Blog. Faithful readers may recall that after I posted the Starland 2014 Setlist, the Armadillo Road Report abruptly dropped off. The reasons for that I will save for another time–just know that something told me then that it was the last time I’d see all five Sisters together and I fell into a deep depression. The weeks leading up to the Metal Meltdown in Vegas were atypical—a part of me remained in denial that our beloved brother A. J. would not be joining us.
I first suggest a trip to the fridge and a preventive trip to the sand box because I can already feel that I’m about to bang out about six pages here…. Just sayin’…it IS the Armadillo Road Report….
Starting from my arrival at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas, I scanned for A.J. in the restaurant when my mind played tricks on me, and I thought I saw him sitting there as he normally would have been. Fortunately, my spirits were lifted when I spotted one of our slamboard faithfuls (and fill-in Road Reporter, S.M.F. Chris ….aka “Captain Howdy”) taking in a burger and allowed me to join him breaking bread. (with a rather impressive beef patty, too, I might add.) A Road Report shout out to SMF Canadian Cindee who was in the house and I met a few other slam board folks as well.
Twisted Sister arrived in Vegas earlier in the week so that the band could spend time rehearsing with Mike Portnoy (Adrenaline Mob, Winery Dogs), an incredibly talented drummer who A.J. himself picked as his replacement. (Every band member has an understudy) Mike is a longtime Twisted Sister fan after seeing Twisted Sister play back in the club days, and had befriended A.J. as a fellow drummer/A-Mob colleague. I heard on good authority that they did a jam session at the rehearsals that included club favorites such as “Lady’s Boy,” You Know I Cry” and “Rock n’ Roll Saviors.” I would have given my left nut (and possibly part of my right) to hear those songs.
Although Mike’s facebook page claimed he was nervous, we certainly couldn’t tell. Portnoy was cool, calm and collected backstage—and very gracious when I returned from catering with what they classified as dinner that was clearly sub-standard vittles. Seriously—I hate to diminish anyone’s reputation as a badass—but Mike is one helluva nice guy! I can see why A.J. loved him. He saves his “badass” for the kit, because holy hot damn in a hammock can that man beat the skins! And in a tribute to A.J. that just blew me away—all on his own—he had special drum heads produced with the A.J. memorial image—The TS logo with the “black & pink” mourning band across it. (I’ll take credit for the mourning band design)—but the idea to put it on his skins was ALL PORTNOY. What a beautiful tribute and a touching gesture. All class, this Mr. Portnoy! Incredible talent, hard-hitting drums and a gentleman to boot!
Allow me first to introduce you to “The Joint.” What the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas lacked in Customer Service, it made up for in memorabilia. They had on display some fantastic displays of rock memorabilia ranging from Michael Jackson to The Who. They also got points for playing AC/DC in the background but then lost ground when random pop came on two songs later. A point regained for naming the hotel restaurant “The Pink Taco.” Yes, yes… I know it advertised numerous tongue-in-cheek double entendres. (Tongue-in-Cheek not one of them—that one’s ALL MINE! You’re welcome.) I personally dislike the rancor, aural dischord and visual overstimulation of casinos—and Vegas is one of the few places NOT smoke-free—The Joint was a nice, moderately sized club. It wasn’t very “deep” which meant no bad seats in the house. It has three floors—two floors of balcony seats and cocktail tables—a generously spaced seating area on the floor and what I love as a fan (hate as a road crew guy)—a HUGE orchestra general admission with NO goat gates. The stage wasn’t horribly high, which meant that fans would be close to the band. Excellent sound and enormous digital LED screens surrounding the stage that were visually spectacular. And MERCH! The OFFICIAL Twisted Sister merchandise features three new official tee shirt designs–two of them are my faves–one features a beautiful black and white photo of A.J. Pero shot by photographer Tim Tronckoe and another shirt of the pink “memorial design” with blue lettering–both are definitely beautiful collector’s items. Grab ’em while you can!
First…a little pre-show for you. It definitely had a different vibe without A.J. present. A.J. was known as “honorary road crew” because he loved to travel with the crew, and would typically go over to the venue hours before doors open. While his fellow bandmates were catching up on much needed rest, A.J. would be up at the crack of dawn with us, drinking coffee, setting up the kit with his son (and drum tech) Junior and it always meant several hours of loud talking, laughing, jokes and other various rambunctious jocularity. But Saturday, it was fairly subdued. I can only describe it in one word: SURREAL.
While I’ve used that descriptor many times before, this was the first time I truly felt the real meaning of it. I found myself, over and over again, feeling as though I was in a dream—and I kept expecting A.J. to walk through the dressing room door—plop himself on the couch and turn on the television, as he often did before domestic shows before the rest of the band arrived. It just didn’t seem real that Twisted Sister was about to take the stage without all five original members. It was the first word Jay Jay French said to me as he came out of the dressing room before the show: “Surreal.”
I’m still an apprentice with the Twisted Road Crew, and while I have about as much experience with rock n’ roll as a cactus in Alaska, I have, at least two things that I thought were in my favor; I do what I’m told and I’m fast. One of those things would bite me in the ass later—but I made sure that everyone was fed, watered and had what they needed pre-show. There was a bit of pranking to be had—I knew it was a setup when I was ordered immediately down to the end of the hall to the crowded production office to “taste the award winning world’s best Vegas white chocolate.” Look, folks. I know food. I know chocolate. And I know that they wouldn’t pull me away from my dressing room post just to sample what was clearly a bar of soap from the hotel. But hey… who am I to ruin a good joke? I do what I’m told. It was a bit spicy with a strong finish. And I farted soap bubbles for about an hour. Clean as a whistle.
Speaking of clean as a whistle—I would like to boast here that Twisted Sister, as always, has the cleanest dressing room of any band. That’s no accident—I go through and clean it every thirty minutes before the band arrives, to ensure that it looks absolutely perfect for them—and I give it a good cleaning after the band leaves. I can’t say the same about a certain other band who left their dressing room looking like it was on skid row. I can tell you that the show’s promoter commented to me how nice our dressing room looked in comparison. Well, at least I did that right! We also had a quick visit from Debbie Gibson and Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller) who stopped in to wish the band well. Really nice folks! Debbie Gibson was absolutely lovely. Alright, alright, enough fluff! On to the show!
We had three opening acts—all given a huge timeslot—75-90 minutes each. The running order for opening acts: Great White, followed by Skid Row, followed by Extreme. Three very solid, well-respected bands. Their performances, technically and musically were very received and “safe.” Extreme had the strongest of the three, playing their Pornografitti album cover to cover. But none of them had what Twisted had tonight: pain and raw emotion.
So now it was time for Twisted.
The band was fired up—they were ready to go and The Joint’s stage coordinator (who I now call my arch nemesis in a headset) told me that she was being told to tell me to bring the Bad Boys of Rock n’ Roll down to the stage. So I did what I was told. Unfortunately, there was a horrible miscue,–an analogy–it would be like a Super Bowl football team getting fired up and racing out to the screaming crowd, only to be stopped inches before the end of the tunnel and told: “OOPS. Not yet. Go back into the locker room.” Yes. That. It resulted in the boys going back upstairs for the longest five minutes of my life, followed by the most uncomfortable 10 seconds in an elevator as I brought them back down. In a blessed moment of levity, the alarm on the elevator was in perfect pitch with the bagpipe from “Long Way to the Top” and there was a brief serenade by the Sisters singing that familiar nasal note.
I don’t have enough adjectives. EPIC sounds cliché. In fact, everything I can think of to describe this show won’t do it justice. This was a show that fans who were there will be talking about for a long, long time. One day, when all of us rockers are old and gray (well, in my case, older and grayer) we will tell our children and grandkids about “The Sound of Thunder” in Vegas. It was INTENSE.
There was a lot riding on this concert. Everyone in the band was riding on such strong, raw emotions that even Mark, who NEVER holds back at a show, commented to me, “I’m gonna really explode out there tonight.” It was as if Twisted Sister was put inside a carbonated beverage can and placed in a paint-shaker during a 9.5 earthquake….and then just let loose! The band that once sang “Tear It Loose” just plain tore it loose. AND HOW. Maybe it was the week of solid rehearsals, maybe it was the desire to do A.J. a proper tribute–maybe it’s because Twisted Sister is the best live heavy metal out there. Whatever the reason, everyone performed at their highest level. The guitar solos were tight and flawless, drums were heavy and perfect, and bass was pure animal destroying it. Dee sounded fantastic throughout–everything was in good balance.
Absolute pain and emotion of the loss of our dear brother A.J. translated into one of the most intense barrage of rock n’ roll that I have ever experienced in all my life. And normally, I can shrug about pyro and visual props—but in this case, they enhanced an already explosive performance with….well…explosives! The stages LED screens, wrapping almost 180 degrees around the band, displayed a different pink pre-programmed background with the TS logo superimposed over a stock visual selected to complement the lyrics of the song. “Under The Blade” had a knife…”Shoot ‘Em Down” had a gun….”I Believe in Rock n’ Roll” with its patriotic lyrics had the stars n’ stripes with the TS logo….you get the picture. But all pink and all Twisted.
Before I delve too deeply into each song, I have to mention that the Road Reports of late have had a lot less “fan” perspective and a lot more “crew” perspective. Mostly because…well… I’m not in the front row with a note pad these days. Actually, I don’t use the notepad at all except to write down dinner orders, rider additons and punishment lines: “I WILL ONLY LISTEN TO THE TOUR MANAGER” over and over again. Anyhow, I’ll do the best I can from memory and what I caught in between backstage duties. A special Road Report shout out to the new editions to the crew but definitely not new to the industry–Mike Portnoy’s drum technician Jose and Monitor guru Mike! Amazing job.
The first, most obvious observation—the crowd was the loudest, most engaged and energetic U.S. audience I’ve seen since 1986. Dee didn’t have to admonish anyone…except one guy, who he gave a “hall pass” to with a nod and a wink… there was not a person there who couldn’t feel the energy: it was palpable.
They opened up with “What You Don’t Know” and “The Kids Are Back”—two favorites from the early vinyl days and the fists were flying from the first note. The band is accustomed to that in Europe, but U.S. shows of late were a bit slow to warm up. Not so in Vegas—this crowd was into it!
I’m not sure what made Animal so hungry during “Stay Hungry” but he tore through two microphone stands that came sailing our way stage left. Well, he did tell me he was gonna explode! What I remember the most about these first three songs is that I had a moment of déjà vu. Seriously. For a split second, I forgot that it was Portnoy drumming his heart out on stage—it felt like the carnal ferociousness that A.J. was known for. Portnoy pounded out those songs perfectly and fiercely. Clearly, A.J. knew exactly who would be the perfect choice to replace him. All hail Mike Portnoy!
Normally, we would have many Dee-isms, but even Dee kept the night focused on the reason we were all there—to honor the memory of A.J. In between every song, the screens were blue (A.J.’s stage color) and LCD screens featured the beautiful designed graphic of the TS logo surrounded by blue lightning.
Some real treats of the night—when the band launched into “Under The Blade,” the fans were singing right along. Again, not unusual for shows outside the U.S. but doesn’t happen often here. Vegas crowd—I salute you! One slamboarder commented to me: “Even Dee looked pleasantly surprised!” Twisted Sister has NEVER phoned it in—they’ve had an “off-night” here and there, but last night was absolutely powerful from the first note to the last.
Another absolute delight—they added my favorite song to the setlist—a song that means so much to so many of us—“I Am, I’m Me.” It’s a beautiful written and extremely catchy song that is 3 minutes and 2 seconds. I can tell you how long it takes to run from the stage, down a flight of stairs, down the hall, to the dressing and back again with an armload of towels and half-case of water: 2 minutes 58 seconds. Unfortunately, I missed the whole song but I could hear it playing as I ran as fast as I could with said items. Alas—this is the sacrifice when you go from fan to apprentice.
Both Dee and Jay Jay took time to speak to the crowd, sharing their memories of A.J. A poignant moment about how A.J. choose to go onstage the night his father died, citing that A.J. said how his father was proud of him and he played in his honor. Twisted certainly carried that torch in Vegas. Jay Jay shared the last time he and A.J. chatted on the phone, just hours before he passed away. The pain easily heard in Jay Jay’s voice—the crowd was respectfully hushed as he spoke. Dee dedicated “The Price” to A.J.–it was impossible not to get emotional.
“Burn In Hell” was augmented with pyro done by true professionals—adding the Melt to the Metal Meltdown. And then, babies, we had the best moment of the show–a moment we will never forget. During “Burn In Hell,” in the spot where A.J. famously performed his monster solos—the stage and screens went dark for a split moment—and then the LED screens lit up with footage of A.J. delivering what many of us considered one of his best solos ever—the solo he performed in the Faroe Islands last year. The film footage was beautifully rendered, included some rare close-ups and it took just 5 seconds before my face flooded with tears. I was prepared—hanky in hand—and I know I couldn’t have been the only one. It was a flawless, tasteful and beautiful tribute to the man we simply loved and respected so much.
The almost two-hour set ended with pyro explosions, sparks showering down on the band as they played the final notes of S.M.F., as if A.J. himself was applauding the band for a performance that no one will ever forget. The bar has been set high. “The Sound of Thunder: In Memory of A.J. Pero” is going to be the most intense tour ever. Please, my babies. Catch these shows….the tour was originally nicknamed “The End is Near Tour.” I promise you won’t regret it.
And with that, my babies, I’m off to take a long hot shower and maybe catch a snack. (If the soap looks good, I’ll get two things done at once)
This is Armadillo, trotting off.
SEE YOU AT THE STARLAND, BABIES! JUNE 13TH!!!!