The coffee cup is empty…cookie crumbs decorate my hotel desk….the notepads are full of Armadillo shorthand and I feel as though the proverbial truck that hit me in Norway, threw it in reverse and backed up over me a few times for good measure.
You know, of course, that can mean only one thing: it’s time.
Time to waste precious minutes of your own personal sands through the hourglass as you read paragraph after paragraph of things that you probably didn’t want to know just to grab those few precious glimpses of Twisted on the road.
Here now….for your reading enjoyment….the only concert review longer than the show it’s based upon….the mundane and the marvelous…the one and only Official Armadillo Road Report: Sweden Rock Festival, Solvesborg, Norway, June 8, 2012. Sweden is known for three things in America—Fantastic furniture you assemble with an allen wrench, meatballs and the best damn heavy metal rock festival in Europe.
I have but one question: are you ready, my babies? Are you really ready? I certainly wasn’t–and I’m not sure that anything could have adequately prepared me for Sweden Rocks 2012. I believe it was in Poughkeepsie, NY at The Paramount when Twisted sound guru George Marshall greeted me with a warm handshake and embrace as he always does, and as I excitedly told him I was going to Belgium, he shook his head and said, “Graspop is great, but Sweden will be epic!” ( And from that moment, I decided that I needed to add Sweden to the schedule, and next thing you know, I’m spending a month in Europe!) His words still ring true–Sweden Rock is EPIC.
With the band in one undisclosed location and crew in Kristianstad, it felt a little bit odd to be so far away from the boys in pink and black, but arriving a day prior to the show was a much needed reprise. I spent the day mulling about the small town of Kristianstad–investigating the small shops lining the narrow, cobblestone lined streets. I had to physically resist the temptation to dine on the sausages from the street vendor [street vendor + sausage + Armadillo + small van + concert = bad scene for everyone involved] and opted for a healthier choice. The day’s gastronomy included a taco-themed quiche, served with a local styled cole slaw made with some sort of goat yogurt.
Gerber The Disturber (god, that’s catchy!) joined me as we checked out the local wares. Sweden (as does all of Scandanavia) has an impeccable sense of contemporary design, and colors that would never fly in the U.S. do quite well here. The color motif of turquoise/aquamarine blue and pink is particularly popular here—colors that would never go over big with men in the U.S. but they work here. I saw lots and lots of black and pink athletic shoes–sadly none in my size—they would have been a fitting addition to my Twisted regalia. Twisted Sister’s official color, I’ve been informed is not “hot pink”–it’s “Glowing Cerise.” (Don’t give me that look–google it yourself! It’s a real color)
In one local rock and roll shop, I tried on a pair of tight black spandex stretchy jeans: they certainly felt completely comfy, however I decided that there are just some articles of clothing that should never be worn by a man in his forties–and this was one of them. The salesperson told me: “You should buy them—very rock and roll–they will get you laid.” I responded, in turn, “Not when they can see how small my [package] is…” Well, it may not have earned him a sale, but it did earn me a round of applause from the other shoppers.
Oh. I digress. Yes, Sweden Rock. There is a concert review in here somewhere.
With our transport arriving a bit later than planned (Festival traffic), we hurriedly piled all of the gear and equipment into the vans and clamored off to the show. As our van sped through the twists and turns of the cobblestone streets, I felt as though I had been transported through a worm hole in time, back to the filming of the You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll video. It began to pour and I started to wonder if Mother Nature had something personal against Twisted Sister.
Seems like every festival they play cannot escape the wrath of the elements.
Sweden Rock is a highly organized, very large and well-attended festival. A rock and roll campus spread across several acres, you’ll find campsites, RV lots, general stores, food kiosks, beer gardens, more merch and rock n’ roll shopping than you can imagine all supporting four—count ‘em—four rock stages. The only downside is making your way across the various compounds and fields to get from one band to the other. Typically while one band plays one stage, the other stage sets up so that there is almost no lull in the action. I cannot say enough good things about all of the amazing staff working at Sweden Rock. From the arsenal of police, paramedics and doctors, Red Cross volunteers, to the tons and tons of workers for crew hospitality, security, transport and everything else imaginable. I’m familiar with the logistics involved in running a complicated event like this, and they did a flawless job.
There was only one minor snafu of the day—we had some special guests who I was trying to locate to bring them backstage. My only description of them? Tall and blonde. Great. Have you been to Sweden? The entire damn country is tall and blonde! It would have much easier to just tell them to look for the short, ugly American. Not to mention a fiasco trying to find Gate 23, which seem to re-locate to the opposite side of the campus when I tried to find it. Shout out to Annie and her sisters.
Due to my unfortunately long quest to find Gate 23, I missed half of the press conference, but was able to slink in for the end of it. Jay Jay (paraphrased here) had commented that they go into every show playing as if it will be the greatest gig of their lives—and he therefore announced that “tonite will be the greatest gig of our lives!”
One journalist present asked the question we “slamboarders” ask so often—Can we expect any new music? Dee explained that new songs=bathroom breaks for concert goers, and nothing makes a festival goer head to the beer tent or the bathroom faster than the words: “Here’s a brand new song off our latest album!” Per Dee, that…and the drum solo. Which prompted Mark to chime in with “that’s why there are no bass solos!” [Not entirely true—Mark’s bass solos during the Christmas shows are some of my favorite moments] Jay Jay then assured all of the journalists present that we can expect to hear an assortment of Twisted music from every album, and we’ll hear “all the songs [we] want to hear!”
In a stump the band moment, someone asked them to name some Swedish artists. They came up with ABBA, Hardcore Superstar… and uh…. Ummm… well, I forget–I’m sure they named some other–Scandinavia is a heartland of heavy metal, even if memory escapes me now. The important thing here is that Twisted Sister is headlining one of the biggest heavy metal festivals in the world—something that they didn’t accomplish in the 80’s when they were usually 3 or 4th on the bill.
A rather strange question but one that hardcore fans will appreciate—someone asked: “What happened to the van from the You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll video?” No one’s really sure—A.J. believed the van was taken to Staten Island where it was stolen. Eddie commented that the band almost died in that van—a story told in Dee’s book, in case you’ve read it.
When asked what was in the future for the band….Eddie dryly quipped: “Facial hair.”
Dee expressed his amazement that the band is not only still playing, but playing festivals all over the world. He mentioned that in the 80’s, they never played the festival in France—Twisted Sister went away for 15 years and upon their return to the stage, were asked to headline. Dee suggested that perhaps Twisted should “stay away another 15 years then come back and play stadiums!” All of the band members expressed their appreciation to the producers and staff at Sweden Rock Fest 2012 and to all of the fans who continue to support them.
There were so many incredible bands playing at Sweden Rock this year that it would be impossible to describe them all. I can tell you that the backstage “campus” was like a who’s who of heavy metal—every time I turned around, there was another famous band either going on stage or coming off of one. With no time to make my way to the stage cross field, I climbed up the two story production tower ladder and watched Motorhead absolutely destroy that crowd! I love, love and LOVE Motorhead—to hear Lemmy playing as good (if not better) than he played back in the day—it was phenomenal. Hearing “Ace of Spades” live was one of my favorite festival moments. But alas, I felt entirely too disconnected from the band & the music from the tower, and so I climbed down and opted to take in the show from the backstage wing. (Doesn’t always give you the best sound, but you get to see and hear exactly what the band does, which always makes for an interesting vantage point.)
The setlist was the same as Trondheim, albeit a reversal of two of the songs—but there were ample new twists to the evening. “What You Don’t Know” began as it usually does—the band standing in darkness, enveloped in fog, with their backs to the audience. As they whirled around on their cue to “hit it!”, we heard a sonic boom as the Sweden Rock pyro crew set off some flames and explosions. I think the entire front row must have crapped their pants! They played with an intensity reminiscent of the South America tour—Just imagine those three arms pumping in unison on the guitars during the instrumental portion, the crowd so large you couldn’t see the end of it—and all of those fans going insane—it was furious. The stage was shaped like a “T”—a large, long rock runway extended out in the middle–at one point, Mark, Eddie and Jay Jay trio ran to the end of the runway and played together—they sounded fantastic from the first note.
The band was all in black—Jay Jay is the one who seems to always keep me guessing which fashion choice he’ll select—he wore black leather pants and matching shirt (unlike so many festival shows where it’s scorching hot—it was actually a bit chilly onstage). I was a bit nervous seeing Dee and Jay Jay continuously running up and down the “runway”—the lighting was intense, and truth be told, I’m not how they were able to discern where it ended. (and that last step would be a doozy—the stage must have been fifteen feet above the crowd.)
From there, they roared right into “Stay Hungry,” definitely a crowd favorite. Dee called Sweden their “home away from home” and shared the love with his Scandinavian fans. The rain had eased up but Dee, never allowing anyone to get the best of Sister, told Mother Nature, quite unceremoniously, to “Fuck off!” and then invited the sold out crowd to join him in giving Mother Nature “the finger.” I swear, I was waiting for the lightning bolts to start flying down.
From there, we again were treated to “Wake Up the Sleeping Giant.” I really enjoy this song—and now that I’ve heard it live a few times, I love it even more. Each time the refrain called for a shout, the audience was illuminated, and it looked like an endless sea of headbangers. The bass line in Wake Up must be one of those frequencies Animal told me about—it damn shook everything. At one point, I thought my phone was vibrating in my pocket—it was, but not from the ringer. Just incredible—what a heavy, heavy riff.
Without much time for raps, they then went right into the next song—“I Believe in Rock N’ Roll”. I had a momentary chuckle from the irony of the line “Even God loves rock n’ roll”… sure. Of course, we just gave Mother Nature the middle finger salute, so hopefully God has a sense of humor, too. Immediately after, Dee proclaimed: “Welcome to the Church of Twisted Fuckin’ Sister!” Their mission? Rock the world! (well, there were actually a few more f-bombs thrown in the that sentence, but you get the picture.)
Dee stopped for a moment and commented—he noticed there were a few fans not rocking out. He acknowledged—it’s a long festival….everyone’s tired. But Twisted Sister is giving Sweden everything they have—the audience is expected to give it right back to them! You know, I’ve often felt that Twisted Sister needed to warn new concert attendees (future S.M.F.s) of the golden rules of Twisted Sister shows:
1. Thou shalt rock.
2. Thou shalt not sit down nor fold thy arms like a douche bag.
3. Thou shalt not leave early to go to the bathroom or the bar during the set.
During Dee’s second rap of the night, he pointed at someone who was almost headfirst into his big bowl of pasta from the food stand. How could Dee resist?
“Really, Dude? Pasta now? You couldn’t wait an hour, you fat fuck??!!!”
Okay so that’s commandment number four:
4. Thou shalt not consume pasta during Twisted Sister.
“You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll” galloped full speed ahead—and I could see that the band was clearly enjoying themselves and having a great time playing. Especially Jay Jay, who smiled like a kid throughout almost the entire show—I can’t explain it but there is something so incredibly satisfying when I see how happy they are on stage.
“Sin After Sin” has become another one of my favorite songs to hear played live—it was played tight and fast and A.J. drumming was just incredible. I don’t know if the drum had that 26” kick,, but it kicked ass just the same. At one point, I looked over to see father and son Pero exchange a glance at one another during the set—it was special.
And we had…more fire! “The Fire Still Burns” gave the Sweden pyro crew a chance to do what they love to do….blow things up! More fire, more explosions, more flames—I loved it! For those of you who know Twisted, special effects and pyro usually isn’t their style, but then again….this was Sweden Rocks! You gotta have more pyro!
When A.J. launched into the opener for “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” I thought the crowd was going to lose their minds. It was a giant sea of frenzied blond hair and hands clapping a la Radio Gaga (once again—that’s a Queen reference, not Gaga as in ‘Lady’) The crowd was a bobbing, pulsing mass of heavy metal humanity. Mark punctuated his point with a move I haven’t seen since the original days of 80’s WWF—he basically gave his bass a Chief Jay Strongbow backbreaker on the last chord!
Dee then gave props to all of the bands at Sweden—including members of Adrenalin Mob who were watching from the wings—followed by a belch, although the two were unrelated. Dee had to do a quick conference with Jay Jay to confirm that the last time Twisted played Sweden Rock was 9 years ago, and the fans are as wonderful and receptive now as they were then. For that, he dedicated “The Price” to the fans in Sweden. Unlike the previous show in Norway, the sun had set and it was quite dark outside, creating a striking image of Dee looking out into the darkness, the audience seen now only as a black sky full of lighter flames, phone apps and lights, extending out to where the horizon line is. As Eddie played a flawless solo, the sea of lights swayed before him. It gave me chills!
“Burn in Hell’ was next—and I can’t wait for folks to post all of their photos. We had flames and flames and more flames. I swear, it LOOKED like the band was burning in hell. You could smell the fuel and feel the heat coming off the stage—giant plumes of flames shot out from the sides of the stage like demonic fans of feathered fire. After each explosion, I did a quick headcount to make sure we hadn’t lost anyone! A.J. drum solo during BIH was one of the best I’ve ever heard—I’m telling you right now, those YouTube videos do NOT do it justice. You have to be there to really feel the pounding and appreciate the speed—I’m going to add another Twisted Sister Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Miss the Drum Solo.” During the drum solo, I saw the biggest camera operator I’ve ever seen….only to realize it was our very own Animal, who wrested the camera away from the operator and was getting the job done by himself.
Following the “Burn in Hell Drum Solo Reprise”…. Dee simply sang one note and held it for the word “I”….. the crowd sang the note with him…. He repeated it again…. And after the third time, launched into the song the crowd came to hear: “I Wanna Rock!” At this point, the audience exploded. It seemed like the entire festival, merch vendors…meatball chefs….security guards….the whole place was jumping up and down, screaming “rock.” Dee and the boys were completely amped up—we were treated to a little road crew ballet as they lept and almost tumbled across the stage retrieving his mic stand. Fans were jumping and swirling below as a beautiful orange ¾ moon rose just above Dee’s shoulder.
He screamed “I Wanna Rock!” and then shot out his right arm, to which the audience obligingly screamed “Rock!” each time they were cued. His Right arm again…”Rock!” Then his left arm “Rock!”…. then he turned his back and flung his arms upwards into the arm “Rock!” He looks over his shoulder. “Rock!” A dramatic pause.
Dee straddles his stance, bends over and screams out the cue from between his legs …the crowd…”Rock!”
Dee, obviously amused and impressed, had the lights turned on so he could appreciate and shower accolades on the crowd before him, yells: “I’m a Sick Mutha Fucka!” Have you ever heard 50,000 people trying to scream in unison? Dee says back, what was that? “Mummmbaa mummmbaa mummmma bummbummmba?” [It’s like the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons—youtube it, my Swedish friends—it will make sense, trust me….]
In another truly hilarious moment, Mark “Animal” Mendoza was skyping onstage with someone who couldn’t make the show…taking the laptop onstage so that now, the crowd was basically skyping with him…Dee playfully gave a special middle finger greeting to whomever was on the other end of the screen, asking Mark: “Can we play now?” Only to have Dee take the laptop from him to say hello and resume the skyping duties for him during the next song.
They launched into “It’s Only Rock and Roll”—again, one of the best versions I’ve heard them play. I’d love to hear from any of the original old school S.M.F.s who heard them play in the club days, and tell me how it compares. Personally, I believe that Twisted is one of those rare bands that is getting better with age! Animal slammed his bass so hard I could hear the impact—and I was all the way Stage Right. Eddie and Jay Jay’s guitars were heavy and blistering—it was impossible to stand still! During the solo, Jay Jay gave me my absolute favorite moment of the night: he ran to the end of the runway, got down on one knee—played part of the solo behind his head, and then he played with the guitar perpendicular to his stance—bathed in gold light—from my spot backstage, all I could see was a shimmering silvery outline of Jay Jay and his guitar, the smoky orange moon still hovering in the sky above. It was a magical moment for me.
The crowd so enthusiastically shouted the refrain, it prompted Dee to comment “You don’t need me…” [oh yes, we do!] and “You’re too good to me!” The feeling is mutual, I assure you! He then invited the band to join him at the end of the runway to finish the song….Mark…Eddie…Jay Jay….then “A.J.! Come on out here….oh, wait…stay there….never mind…” Tens of thousands of fists in the air, screaming “I Like It!” at the top of their lungs, Dee now on his knees, his hair whipping to and fro with all three guitars surrounding him at the end of the runway—it was a spectacle unlike anything this fan has ever seen before….and wonders if he will ever see again! He jumped up…ran to the drum riser and leapt off just in time for the last note!
Unlike in Norway, the fans knew the encore was coming and no one headed for the exits. Lighting Designer Johnny filled the stage with a beautiful green glow and as Dee crooned “Don’t be afraid…” he did the trademark Twisted “quarterback swivel” where he looks to the left (yep, there’s Mark) then looks to the left (yep, there’s Jay Jay) then a slight lean back (yep, there’s Eddie) and an over the shoulder glance (A.J.s ready!) and then…..
The audience hit with lights revealed that they were crammed in tighter than ever, and still enjoying every single note. Mark beating his bass so hard the stage was shaking, grabbing his mic stand and using it to pound on the neck (Kids, don’t try this at home or you’ll be asking Santa for a new bass next year. The man’s a professional.) A.J. and Mark shared a high-five mid-song,
But it wasn’t over yet.
Dee asked the crowd: “Do you want some more?” Everyone screamed “YES!” Well, almost everyone. Dee stops, walks to the edge of the stage and says, “Who said ‘no?’”
And I swear, I don’t know how Dee does it but he spotted the guy—and said, “What? You can’t wait to get back to your tent to jerk off?” Then he looked back over at the guy and said “You didn’t see that comin’, did ya?” We heard from another source—the guy sheepishly shrugged back and admitted, no. Don’t make it worse, buddy. Take Mr. Gerber’s advice: When Dee asks you something onstage…always say “YES.” Are you ready, Sweden? YES. Do you wanna rock? YES. Want some more? YES. Easy!
S.M.F. was thunderous–it ended with a flames everywhere, sparks showering down from the front of the stage as a giant metal TS logo rose above A.J. –the metal glowing in flames, raining sparks down upon him as he hit the final beats.
Even in the chilly Swedish air, I now had sweat pouring off of me and I felt as though I had just been through some sort of crazy roller coaster right that only had downhill accelerations all night. My heart was racing, I had chills and I felt absolutely entertained and exhilarated. A feeling that I suspect was shared by the sold out crowd of approx. 50,000 according to the latest news fresh off of the Swedish press.
Dee gave special props to Johnny Fredricksson, Lighting Designer for Twisted Sister, local Swede and the man who is responsible for bringing Twisted Sister to Sweden Rocks this year. Tukk Johnny! Thank you from all of us! Johnny also has a fantastic merch business….and below is his website address:
I will attach a photo of his new Dee Snider shirt later today. HOLY CRAP. You MUST buy one. Right now. DO it now.
There was more…so much more…….I will write a Sweden epilogue later. I’m in Spain at the very moment, and need to stop and book my hotels and flight for Belgium…
Til later, my babies…Thank you Sweden Rocks!
Armadillo, your faithful road reporter….trotting off for Tapas…