Welcome to what I have now deemed: “The Chronicles of Hernia: The Lyin’, The Bitchin’ & The Buttprobe”.
Hauling suitcases, gear and such across Europe is quite honestly, a real pain in the keister–now I understand why the young folks “backpack across Europe”, as opposed to “wheeled-luggage-and-schlep-boxes-of-crap-and-hang-your-shoes-off-your-messenger-bag-across-Europe.” Madrid (and Brugges, where I currently sit) are all cobblestones–it’s murder on the Samsonite! Not to mention that they seem to promote good health by not providing elevators. I’m hauling my bags plus a heavy box of personal items for a friend (dropping off in Belgium) and let me tell you, getting on the metro in Madrid with a couple of suitcases, a messenger bag, a box of crap….well….you get the picture. And the security issues….I’m just waiting for the TSA prostate exam one of these days. (The train was definitely its own nerve-wracking adventure, however. I’ll leave it at that.)
Spain was not kind to yours truly–I won’t give you all of the gory details but instead, I’ll give you the good stuff, and for that, we’ll start in Vitoria. Vitoria is a delightful, moderately quaint city in Spain that hails itself as the “Greenest City in Europe.” The crew and I landed early into town and I took advantage of the opportunity to explore.
I hopped a tram to the downtown area and was fascinated by the older part of the city where the tiny cobblestone streets could not have more than 8 to 10 feet wide, barely enough for room for one vehicle to pass. To my great amusement, I watched as a truck, a car, a bicycle and a woman with a dog all tried to pass one another at the same time. In addition to the narrow width, the street wound around, twists and turns at a surprisingly steep angle–buildings on either side were three stories high giving a sense of medieval claustrophia. You’ve seen perhaps the bumper sticker: “If you don’t like my driving, stay off the sidewalks!” ? That applies to Vitoria, where the sidewalks in the shopping district are also the streets. It was a bit weird to have to look both ways as I exited a storefront but it had a certain charm to it.
A few other odds and ends about Spain–many of the men are rather….well….short! As opposed to Scandinavia where I was as tall as their belt buckles, here in Spain I felt perfectly normal and proportioned. I found a lunch place where Spain’s version of “Wheel of Fortune” was on the television in the background, complete with their own Vanna “Blanco,” and I scarfed down an ensalada with some sort of tuna, filete con potatas (I’ll order anything with the word “ta-ta’s” in it) and a fabulous ice cream dish for dessert. Very little English spoken anywhere in Vitoria but I found that as long as I can make an attempt to pronounce it, they’ll bring it to the table.
Next it was a quick stop to the local supermarket, where, for some odd reason, all of the shampoo and hair care products were locked up behind glass, but yet there were giant mounds of these huge legs of cured pigs out in the open. [Were they scared because there were hair bands in town?!?]
I learned a few things about Spanish culture while there–most notably, at approximately 3:00 PM, everything closes for siesta. Literally. I walked out of a shop, turned to go back inside to ask for directions to a nearby eatery, and before I could get the words of “Donde esta…” out of my mouth, the shutters were pulled down in front of me. It was a symphony of metal gates closing as Spain takes a nice nap from late afternoon to early evening. The once bustling business district of Vitoria ground to a halt.
Well…. when in Rome….or in this case, Spain, I went and napped. Quite lovely, actually. I wouldn’t mind incorporating it into my regular routine. I headed back downtown in the evening and was surprised to find a ghost town. After ducking down a few of those eerie steep sidestreets, I followed the sounds of clanking forks. No, really–it echoed off of the buildings and cobblestones–and the streets were moderately dark so I couldn’t just look down the streets for a place—they were so dark and winding—I had to follow my ears and nose. After a few near misses (the clanking forks belonged to residents, dining with their windows open), I found an Italian restaurant. I then learned that the people of Spain take dinner very, very seriously–they dine heavy, late and long. There is no such thing as a quick bite in Spain, and my 9:00 PM dinner lasted well past 11:30 PM, after the last train had departed.
For some reason, only half of the streetlights in Vitoria worked…..but I can report to you that all of the sprinklers were working at full capacity. And it seems that the time that the lights go out coincided perfectly with when the sprinklers turn on. So if you can picture this, an extremely bloated Armadillo, full of pasta and Italian pastry, tired and now partly wet, found his way back to the hotel down the dark streets of Vitoria by using an old trick learned in San Francisco (before I could read a map)–I followed the train tracks “home.”
I had one of several encounters with local police (this occurred on multiple occasions)–I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony that all of the times in my younger days that I engaged in all sorts of mischief and was never caught–now that I’m squeaky clean, getting stopped by the police just baffled me. And yes, they really do say , “Your papers, please.” Except here, where it is “Passporte, por favor.”
Speaking of squeaky clean, I’m bringing you this report from a laundromat in Bruges. I was so remarkably cranky (and slightly depressed) in Madrid that I found myself too tired and irritated to be in a literary mood. Now that I’m full of waffles and chocolate, I feel much better about my situation and I’m ready to bring you all of the details you’re dying to know along with piles and upon piles of useless trivialities that you don’t. Which means that it’s time for:
The Official Armadillo Road Report: Azkena Rock Festival, Vitoria, Spain, June 14, 2012…also known as ARF! (good thing it wasn’t held in Barcelona…I’d hate to think about the graphics on the BARF festival!)
I’d like to first take the opportunity to thank Luis (Luigi) from the Slamboard–he was most kind in providing me with information on accomodations, sights to see and other bits of advice about Spain. It is the honest truth: Twisted Sister performance aside, one of my favorite things about traveling with Twisted is the opportunity to meet fellow S.M.F.s from all over the world. It never gets old–not even once–I get an absolute thrill to meet Slamboarders wherever I go. It has been my universal truth: Twisted Sister has the best fans in the world, all over the world.
The crew and I headed to the venue in the early afternoon, and we were treated to an absolutely wonderful meal of gazpacho, rice and chicken, flan and a heap of other goodies. The Graspop folks treated us wonderfully, and I settled in to watch our faithful road crew work their magic. A.J. and Anthony Jr. got to work right away on ensuring the drum kits were up to speed as the guitar technicians began the process of tuning, adjusting and preparing the stage. No two venues are exactly the same, so it really makes you appreciate the consistency that we get from Twisted–it’s no accident that they kick ass every time they take the stage–there is a long established process performed by the skilled crew who ensure that the lights, sound and instruments measure up to the Twisted standard. (which is above the gold standard, I assure you.)
The soundcheck was short but very sweet–our own road crew extraordinaire along with the talented Mr. Stanton performed “Shoot ’em Down.” I was given a rare treat–the chance to sit in front of the kick drum for about 30 seconds and so thanks to A.J., that kidney stone forming is now taken care of. Much better than surgery!
I took an opportunity to peruse the grounds–like most festivals, there was a primary and secondary stage, an ample assortment of food and beer tents and a variety of merch available, including heavy metal onesies . If that ain’t a frickin’ sign of the times?! We used to buy heavy metal concerts tees for ourselves….now we’re buying them for our babies. I noticed a book tent as well. A BOOK tent. You remember books….those things that give the tactile experience that Nooks and iPads can’t….you could actually BUY a book. Not a download of a book…an actual BOOK. Two more points for ARF!
Since this was Europe, there was also a cappuccino/espresso booth (are you kidding me?!! it was sunny and hot as hell!), a cargo box selling cigarettes out of it and of course, a siesta area! Yep–that’s right–a huge area of the parking lot with blue shag carpet, big yellow bean bag chairs under giant umbrellas—each one filled with someone napping! Love it!
This particular festival was described by many as an “eclectic” mix of music–and I would have to agree with that. We heard a wide variety of music ranging from metal to blues to swing, but very enjoyable overall, and I had a relaxing dinner while watching and listening to Blue Oyster Cult. A very nice bunch of chaps and they play a consistency clean sounding set. There’s something very satisfying about hearing “Godzilla” played live. Goes well with flan.
The stage had an odd design to it as well–with so many bands on the docket (and with Twisted not playing dead last) the backstage area was crammed full of crew, artists, guests and equipment–I didn’t see a good vantage point to take in the show and so I dipped into the audience. Unlike most shows, the center portion of the stage was stanchioned off so that the lights and sound crew could easily access the board platforms in the back of the parking lot. So if you can, imagine a large “T” against the stage running all the way back to the sound and light boards–all off limits to fans, which meant that no fan could stand in front of Dee, and had to pick between stage left and stage right.
I planted myself next to a lovely young lady wearing a homemade pink sequined TS logo shirt, her name was Cristina, and while we had a really poor visual of the band, the tradeoff was the sound. Normally being up front, stage left is a bad choice, but it proved to be a real treat–the monitors on that side were such that I could hear the vocals–especially Mark and Eddie–crystal clear—and there was a good balance of guitars so that I didn’t spend the show getting my insides rattled by Mark’s bass all night.
I also had a chance to meet up with Luis (a.k.a. Luigi) from the Slamboard–a delightful fellow who plays in a Ramones tribute band called “Mamones”—We had an interesting conversation about Spanish and that’s where I first learned of the song lyrics of “huevos con aceite”… but we’ll get to that in a bit. They told me that Armadillo in Spanish translates loosely to mean: “Little armored one”. Hmmmm. That kinda works. I was having such a good time chatting up with the local S.M.F.s that I didn’t even notice the time until all of a sudden, Long Way To The Top began! I was completely unprepared for it—partly because it was still light outside, and that always throws me off my game.
Given the unusual mix of music performed thus far at Vitoria it was apparent that many of the fans there were experiencing their first Twisted Sister show. I overheard someone ask (in Spanish) “Why are they playing AC/DC?” Joe Gerber did the band intro—something I’m guessing he has done literally thousands of times—but since I was too young for the tri-state club days, this was novel and actually a special treat for me. The boys took the stage in daylight, but their backs remained to us until the appropriate cue in “The Kids Are Back” and from there they simply exploded!
Maybe it was due to the sun, which none of us had seen in a few weeks. Maybe it was the warm weather…(muy caliente!) All I can tell you is that TS opened that show with the ferocity of a thousand bands. And I swear to you, as I live and breathe, from my vantage point, far stage left (I get confused—I always say “Mark side”, “Eddie Side” or “Middle Dee”) when Twisted took the stage, a gust of wind came blowing at us. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that TS breaks wind….I’m just saying that somehow, as hot and sticky as it was all day, the climate changed when our Boys in Black and Pink hit the chords. Fix global warming? How about more Twisted Sister shows? (Just sayin’….)
Eddie’s solo was a mind-blowing assault that had even Animal pumped up—Jay Jay played it tight and fast. Dee took the stage by absolute storm in his usual take-no-prisoners style, but showed us a kindler, gentler Dee when he growled and pushed away a photographer who stepped over the boundaries instead of ripping the fellow’s head clean off. I’m sure it’s somewhere out there on YouTube land…. Without missing a note, Dee inserted the “lyrics” of “Don’t get in my face!” Ahhh….the softer side of Dee.
Jay Jay played hard and furious and from the look on his face, he was having an absolute blast! There’s something really special when you can see artists not only reveling in the music along, but enjoying themselves onstage. Jay Jay has looked completely relaxed and happy. I think it must be the sun. Or the eggs. (we’re gettin’ to it…)
With a shorter time on the set and an audience that did not speak English as a first language, Dee launched right into “Stay Hungry.” I could perfectly hear Mark and Eddie sing the refrain—it’s the first time I’ve heard them so clearly that it made me realize what I had been missing all this time. Jay Jay gave a mammoth solo with what we in Baltimore call, a little extra “sumpin’ sumpin’” that almost caused Dee to miss his cue. (Note that I said “almost”—close to 50 shows now, I think, and I’ve never see that man miss a cue!) “Stay Hungry” ended with a heavy punctuation, by Animal who hammered his point home on his bass, via his microphone stand. It closed with A.J. throwing one of his sticks out into the audience—I think it may have impaled someone back by the soundboard—I forget that A.J. was once close to becoming a Major League ball player . Forget catching that sucker—my advice to you….DUCK!
Dee greeted the audience with:
“HOLA! Comme esta usted?”
[visualize audience cheering here]
“Muy bien….. We are Twisted Fucking Sister….You are Vit- Fucking- Oria!”
The crowd absolutely loved it!
Dee: “Muy bien.”
From there, Twisted belted out “Wake Up the Sleeping Giant” with an intensity equal to what I just heard in Norway and Sweden Rock. I was really pleased they kept this in the set list—“Wake Up…” is my favorite track off the “Love Is For Suckers” album and while I’m usually the one screaming for the oldies and oddities, this song really melted the asphalt off the parking lot. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but when the refrain screamed for a, “HEY!” we could hear a reverb that accident or purposeful, really added a nice depth to the song. Before it was over, A.J. managed to clock two of the road crew with that throwing arm of his. Dangerous as it can sometimes be in the front row, I think it’s far more dangerous onstage! [You read that right…there are many dangers in the front row: dripping armpits from RAD (Rockers Against Deodorant), drunken douche bags who use the top of my head as a beer coaster, girls who press their boobage into the back of my head…. Well…that one’s not too bad, actually….well….sometimes it is….]
“You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll” was frenzied—I saw some hardcore S.M.F.s rocking hard to this one—the crowd wasn’t as passionate or as fierce as their counterparts in South America, but Twisted plays with the utmost intensity at every show and they expect the crowd to give back what they put out. Guitars were screaming, hair was flying and arms were feverishly pumping out a stream of glorious metal that had many of us lifting our hands in praise!
Dee launched into another rap—recognizing that there may be a few things lost in translation—he acknowledged the chant that the audience had started:
“I don’t know you’re saying….but I like it!” [I couldn’t tell either…but it had plenty of Ole’s and Twis-Ted Sis-Ter!” in it.]
Jay Jay stripped off his leather shirt and showed off his new duds that he bought in town (see? Didn’t I tell you in the last report? Jay Jay always has a new fashion statement) It was a bright red tee shirt—I couldn’t see the printing but I suspect it had something to do with the Futbol (football) championship taking place later that night…) He told the crowd why he loved Spain….the Country is sunny and warm…the women are beautiful…the fans are great….he didn’t mention the food, though. Seriously….you just can’t have enough croquettes!
Eddie performed another incredible solo on “Sin After Sin”—and based on the singing of the fans around me “Cinco cin, Cinco cin” it made me realize that some things are the same wherever you go: when fans don’t know the words to the song, we just insert our own! Maybe that’s the REAL reason why Twisted always put lyric sheets inside the vinyl jackets. On the last note, Dee dropped to his knees, and the familiar cowbell and drum line that makes our hearts all a’ flutter rolled us into “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” prompting the audience to start a “pogo,” during the refrain, something that I’ve noticed is much more popular at international shows.
Another fantastic Eddie solo—complete with audience sing-a-long—and I could hear that crowd singing with gusto all the way back to the cappuccino maker! If you’ve never had the opportunity to “pogo”—jumping straight up and down in unison with an entire crowd—it’s like…..oh, I dunno..heavy metal Masai, if you will—it can be a very transcendental experience. When you mix the adrenalin of the show, the endorphins from the physical exertion and the feeling of oneness with the crowd—it’s downright cosmic!
Prompting a “Muy Fuckin’ bien!” from Dee, along with a special request to Eddie (this evening pronounced: Oh-HEY-da) to translate. Unfortunately, Eddie translating Dee into Spanish….sounded an awful lot like Eddie translating Dee into English….
But the question came out from Dee: “How many of you are singing ‘Huevos con aceites?”
Apparently, the Spanish audiences, having some language challenges, thought that Twisted Sister was singing “huevos con aceites”….which actually does sound a lot like “we’re not gonna take it”. [try it: sing… “h’way-vohs conna say tis” It translates to mean: “Eggs in oil.”
My friends in the front told me that there is a second line involving “Jamon” ….or ham….and it seems that “huevos” (eggs) is also a local expression for “balls,” as in, you’ve got some serious cohones, there, pal…..so the song made sense, sort of. Anyhow, obviously someone had let Dee know about the local variation, so for the benefit of the fans, Twisted led the crowd in singing a few extra verses of “huevos con aceites.” Just one of those little unique extra things –every Twisted Sister show is a snowflake.
In between songs, Anthony Jr. (A.J.’s son, decked out in a Barcelona futbol jersey) was making some adjustments to the kit, prompting Dee to ask: “Who’s this guy? Get off my stage…this ain’t a football game!” Then he asked the crowd, “Does he at least have the right jersey on?” Welcome to Twisted Sister, Junior! It’s all in good fun!
It was a bit strange to next hear “The Price” played in the daylight—normally, Dee has them kill all the lights, but in this case, the lighting crew bathed Dee and the Boys in a soft pink light—it was very subtle—quite classy and an excellent touch! (Kudos Johnny!) Eddie’s solo was just plain spot on! Don’t know exactly what gave him such an even stronger run tonight—maybe it was the warm sun. Or the glowing cerise spotlight. Or the huevos. Whatever it was, it was working!”
“Burn In Hell” proved another lighting challenge, but I could see Dee’s fierce, sinister features awash in red on the two jumbo screens, and the reaction of the crowd extended far beyond from where I could see. Each time the band sang the refrain, they were hit with red spots—very nice!
Dee belted this song out with such emotion that at one point, he not only dropped the pink mic stand, but the entire microphone with it! Guitar technician Mehtis (or as I like to call him, “The Great Wall of Finland”…seriously, have you see this guy? I could stand on my own shoulders and still not see over his head!) picks up the microphone and stand, and then did something that I have never seen a single road crew member do: he turned his back on Animal and walked off the stage….and LIVED! Maybe there’s some law of nature in the animal kingdom to never attack prey you can’t devour in more than a few bites. I don’t know about you, but there is no way I’ve got the huevos to do that! Animal just LOOKED at me backstage and I tumbled myself over a barricade to get out of harm’s way!
No drum solo this evening—I was a little disappointed—I always get a lot out of A.J.’s drum solos, and it just didn’t seem like a complete Twisted Sister show without it! With no solo, Dee began the intro to IWR and I have to admit, I enjoy this new introduction that Dee has done recently for “I Wanna Rock.” When he holds those notes, you can really hear the classical training in his voice—metal, broadway, who cares? That man can sing!
The crowd finally shook off the day’s heat effects and went “all in” on this one. If you can’t rock out to “I Wanna Rock,” there’s no helping you. Mark’s bass was so thunderous that the water in my bottle was sloshing so much it was bubbling spring water by the end of the song. Hmmm. First it was wind, then it was bubbles. Maybe Twisted DOES give me gas. More wonders of nature and physics—never ceases to amaze me.
Dee looked out over the audience—and being daylight, he commented: “This is beautiful, I can see everybody!” But unfortunately….Dee could see….EVERYBODY. You know it’s coming.
Dee: “It’s beautiful….except all the way in the back…” Maybe we need to perform some sort of educational outreach before the concert starts: “WARNING: Sitting down and failing to rock at Twisted Sister shows will cause public humiliation and embarrassment and may prove hazardous to your reputation, self-esteem and ability to get laid following the show.”
The crowd responded quite appropriately to Dee’s observations, giving those attendees still on siesta the loudest BOOOOOOO! I have ever heard in my life—louder than when the Orioles hit a home run in Yankee Stadium (it’s happened. Once or twice.) Note: Fans stand. Attendees sit. Be a fan.
Then Dee spotted another one, “YOU! YOU! On the side….What the fuck is this??!!” and with that, Dee actually sat down on the stage to illustrate the point. He then asked the crowd, “What’s ‘Stand up’ in Spanish?” and the crowd began chanting it. The fellow still sat on his duff, with Dee leading the crowd in a directed chant of “Fuck You! Fuck You! Fuck You!” and when that didn’t get a rise, “Eat Shit! Eat shit! Eat Shit!” And who says they don’t speak a lot of English in Vitoria?! Perfect pronunciation! I’m not sure if the guy gave Dee the bird or finally stood up, but something prompted Dee to laugh and announce: “Hey..you DO speak English!”
The crowd loved it, and broke into a chant of “Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Twis-ted Sis-ter!”
It was time for the encores, and green lights and fog filled the stage as the familiar clinking of beer bottles, taunting Twisted Sister to do what they do best….Come out and play! Those introductory chords during the opening lines were absolutely pounding, and when Dee launches into the song, the set lights spun crazily, the sound of the guitars and bass could almost knock a man over, and the bass pounding was beyond relentless and the crowd reacted accordingly!
Dee asked us—“Una Mas?” But of course!
There was a brief pause for band intros, and Dee asked Eddie to translate for the benefit of the crowd.
Dee: “On the stage…”
Eddie: “uhhh….ummm… on the stage….”
Dee whirls around to look at Eddie, who admits he couldn’t remember the Spanish word for stage….then Dee continues… “all 5 ori-gin-al (same word in Spanish) members…” and as each one was introduced, there was a bit of impromptu theme music from the other members of the band.
The Sound of Thunder, A.J. Pero (was given a bit of Italian music)—the crowd gave him some love. Then Dee introduced “On Basso…” Mark “Animal” Mendoza! [sidenote: Mendoza is a well-known name in Spain, and a few fans kept asking me if Mark was from Spain] Eddie’s intro was accompanied by Animal playing La Cucaracha on his bass, followed by Dee’s intro of Jay Jay: “muy, muy original”
Jay Jay stepped up to the mic and to the delight of the fans, addressed them in Spanish. He then invited those in attendance to learn to talk like New Yorkers, and it was like the language lab in school: Listen, then repeat after me: “Fuhgeddaboutit!” He introduced “the hardest workin’ man in show business….Dee Fuckin’ Snider!” and Dee launched into the final song of the evening…
S.M.F. Or how he put it, “Essay, Emmay, Effay!” Brilliant. You’ve hopefully by now all seen, either live or YouTube, what Animal does to his bass during this song. It’s a fierce pounding—neck, bridge, neck, bridge—he doesn’t strum or pluck—he takes his fist and simply pounds it like he’s tenderizing raw meat.
As they took their bows, the crowd chanted their names, and another glorious show came to a close.
In the morning, band and crew parted our separate ways—some by train, some by plane—even though I knew I had a week of holiday ahead of me and one more European show to go, I felt that familiar “concert drop” because I wasn’t joining them in Iowa. Only Twisted Sister could make me long to be in Iowa as I sat in Europe!
And with that, my babies, I bid you, Adios! Muchos gracias to the wonderful staff, crews, artists and fans in Spain–a fantastic show for fantastic fans!
This is Armadillo….trotting off to find more museums and waffles…see you in Belgium, babies…