Here now….to fulfill your appetite for useless details, trivial knowledge, descriptive nonsense and excessive use of elipses…..it can only be one thing:
Settle in with your Nescafe and baklava, it’s time for the Armadillo Road Report: the official UNOfficial Twisted Sister concert review, Thessonaliki, Greece, July 13, 2011. Some big news to begin with. The Road Report is about to become the OFFICIAL Twisted Sister road report, and the new Armadillo Road Report archive will appear shortly right here on www.twistedsister.com Many thanks to Don the webmaster and Jay Jay for making this possible. As soon as I get back home, I will begin testing it and downloading the previous reports so that once the tour is over, some of the reunion shows can be archived on the website blog.
As many of you who follow current events know, headlines from Athens and Thessonaliki are headline world news, filled with disconcerting images of riot police, tear gas and violent protestors. For weeks leading up to this trip, I feared the band would cancel as a result and anxiously watched the news, biting my nails right up until the night before. Kudos to the promoters and management for keeping the show on the road.
That said, I’m typing this the morning after Thessonaliki….I’m back in Athens at the hotel where all of us stayed….and there is a riot police bus parked immediately outside the hotel, with a policeman sporting a rather menacing machine gun and riot gear. Of course, I’m such an SMF, my first thought was: DAMN! Animal would have LOVED to see this! There’s a chemical mask, smoke goggles and directions to the U.S. Embassy packed in my luggage upstairs, so if need be…..I’m good to go. It will take more than tear gas to keep me from Twisted Sister.
There’s an old cliche that says, loosely paraphrased, “life is not the destination but the journey itself.” If that’s the case, my life sucked pretty badly in Thessonaliki, While some of my travels go smooth as silk, yesterday was a complete clusterfuck. You know, one more contribution that the Greeks made to our society: the Greek tragedy, and my logistics in Thessaloniki were a tragedy of itself, a real comedy of errors.
After being treated to a wonderful breakfast with the crew and band (thank you Danny! it was Dee-lish!) I headed off to the Athens airport, bid the road crew a short fairwell, and headed off to check-in for my first hiccup of the trip. Now mind you, I’ve used the same toiletry configuration for more than 15 airports…and yet Athens determined that my small travel articles were not acceptable and my deodorant and toothpaste gel were subsquently and unceremoniusly confiscated. So my apologies to those who stood downwind of me.
Urosh and his friends graciously came to the airport to pick me up–however, due to a plane delay….my arrival was at the A concourse. Urosh was at B, apparently….and with my cell phone misbehaving….we missed one another.
Then came travel error #2….I completely forgot to change my hotel reservation when the band moved the venue. I figure–port city….how big can it be? The new club venue was by the airport. My hotel was so far away I thought I’d have to cross another border to get there. So a very cranky, fragrant Armadillo, almost 30 Euros lighter, finally arrives at the hotel which is when it occurred to me that I should have just gone straight to the club from the airport–because I was now going to have to cab it back from where I just came from.
A quick nap and a bowl of mushy pasta bolognese later, I give up on my attempt to locate the free shuttle from the center of Thessaloniki. Unlike Athens where the signage and most services were in English and Greek, Thessalonki was predominantly all in Greek. I get into a cab, and show the driver the location and printout from the Principal Club Theater. The rapid fire Greek told me that we were in trouble. I motion to the driver to stop and go into the hotel lobby to get directions. He did speak one word of English: “America?” he asks me….and my wariness alarms go up. “Canada” I tell him. I figure the Canadians haven’t managed to piss off as many countries lately, and off we go on the 30 minute trek to the venue.
We drive the highway, and then he gets on his radio in the cab, presumably to get directions from his dispatcher–I heard the word “Principalis”–suddenly, the cab veers off an exit and we are on a country dirt road in the middle of nowhere, huge 5-foot weeds on both sides of the cab. We drive past what looked like a scrapyard and it dawns on me that I’m about to get rolled.
You might think that in what I perceived as my possible last moments on earth, I’d be thinking about my parents….or my cats….or see my life flashing before my eyes. Instead–I kid you not–my first thought: I can’t die here now….I have five Twisted shows left!
I literally unbuckle my seat belt and place my hand on the doorhandle of the cab, looking for a good spot to bail, tuck and roll should the driver pull over and brandish a weapon. Then, just as I’m ready to hurl myself from the moving cab, we come to a clearing and there stands the Principal Club Theater. I must have audibly exhaled, because the driver patted my shoulder as I paid the fare, as if to say, “silly Canadian. I only kill the American tourists.”
Urosh and his friends made the three hour trek across the border–they greeted me as I exited the cab and it felt like I was being welcomed by old friends! There was a pleasant breeze outside, so we stood near the club doors before the show.
The Principal Club Theatre is quite literally, in the middle of a field full of sharp weeds. It has a contemporary stucco alcove, connected to a wooden round barn-like structure that I kid you not, resembled a large sweat lodge. And in truth, that is EXACTLY what this place was–a giant sweat lodge. I was waiting for someone to pass the peyote. I am absolutely baffled how a place that hosts concerts in Greece would not have air-conditioning. Inside, the general admission area was not stepped (unfortunately) and had balconies with cocktail tables almost completely surrounding the stage. A very small stage with almost no barrier, and a security pit only about two feet deep.
I surveyed the crowd early on to get the vibe….and I told Urosh, I had a feeling it was going to be very intense. With the backstage area so small the road crew could barely fit, I had to find a spot where I would be safe. My Buenos Aires experience taught me to avoid the security pit, so I decided that what I really wanted tonight was to get the best listening experience possible, rather than spend my evening entrenched in someone’s armpit in the front row, and so I opted to stand next to the sound board, all the way in the back. Terrible view–excellent sound. A trade-off.
The opening act–what to say, what to say. Oh boy. Well, it goes like this. While grabbing some fresh air with Danny and crew in the parking lot, I hear a perfectly played Whitesnake cover. I mean, it was SPOT ON. Then…a Deep Purple cover of “Perfect Strangers” that had me looking around for Ritchie Blackmore. Then Eleanor Rigby. (also my favorite Beatles song) Then a Pink Floyd cover. I had to get a closer look, so I crept onto the side of the stage, just in time to hear a cover of Dokken’s “In My Dreams”–one of my favorites.
To my amazement–the opening band performed a vocal act so extraordinary, it rivaled the Gregorian Chanting monks, who can vibrate their cords to achieve a resonance in which they hit multiple notes simultaneously. Obviously, our opening act must have studied this art. Why, you ask? There was ONE microphone….and yet…..four part harmony. One guitar miraculously did the work of two. Divine miracle? HMMMMMMMmmmmmm. Only the mixing board knows for sure……. Entertaining? Yes. Crowd pleaser? Definitely. Impressed me? Not so much.
By the time the opening act was done, the venue was so remarkably packed full and the temperature was beyond sweltering. The club played some “Twisted Sister” over the speakers between the acts–a practice that I always considered to be bad mojo–in fact, I remember as a teenager, the rule was you could blast the past albums of the band you were going to see, but not the current tour album, as this was bad luck. George (soundman extraordinare) pulled the cord on that one, and put on some Ojeda/Dio instead.
I opted to go without ear plugs tonight, given I wasn’t standing against the speakers like I usually do–and was amazed how remarkably noisy the crowd was. I mean, we’re talking L-O-U-D. At 10:05 pm, the signal was given, and George popped in the “Long Way to the Top” CD, and what happened after that was nothing short of astonishing.
I thought the Buenos Aires crowd was the sickest I’d ever seen–but when the crowd singing the refrain of “Long Way” shook the fricken’ rafters, I knew right then that I had made a wise choice of locations. A.J. Pero’s silhouette appeared, his arms raised triumphantly, and the crowd noise now a growing crescendo of screaming. When Twisted hit the stage with the opening riffs of “What You Don’t Know,” the place went…..how do you say it? Ape shit? Unlike the previous night in Athens, tonight’s playing was much more cohesive and tighter. Jay Jay just ripped it up on the opening number, his arms strumming furiously as Mark came out pounding his bass.
Dee had a wee difficulty pronouncing “Thessanoliki”…. but the crowd certainly didn’t care. He bellows “How the fuck are ya?!!!” and I swear to you, the entire place, almost in sing-song unison, “FIIII-INE”. You’ve seen the setlist posted–It was identical to last night. They played 90 minutes in Athens–Thessaloniki set was a bit shorter, and “Shoot ’em Down” was cut from the set. “Captain Howdy” brought it on as well–that bass vibration was so strong, I could see my shirt moving each time he pounded on it.
After the opening riff of “You Can’t Stop Rock n’ Roll,” the crowd surfing became so fast and furious, that all I could see at certain points in the show were all of these legs and sneakers flailing above the crowd. There were bottles flying… shirts and other articles of clothing being tossed into the air…. half-naked bodies (men…. and women….yes, topless rockin’ women….oh how I love Greece…) and just a mass of sweating, flailing, screaming humanity.
Jay Jay spoke a little Greek to the crowd which was met with resounding cheers (obviously, his pronunciation must be a lot better than mine. I try to ask for a subway map in Greek and the guy looks at me like I’ve just asked him if his mother fornicates with goats) We get another French rant about American Idol, and this time, as he explains his beef with the idols, who obviously have not earned it to the top the long way:
“Oh, [imagine melodramatic woe-is-me-hand-to-forehead] I have been performing for 15 long weeks….oh my fans have been so supportive…” Jay Jay added such drama to it–perhaps a tribute to the ancient Greek theatre? Unlike the American crowds, who I find are often rude when Jay Jay and Dee are addressing them, this crowd hung onto every word.
By the time the boys launched into “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Dee’s hair was drenched in sweat, and not even the stage side fans could provide relief. The crowd was pulsating– A strange analogy I know–but it reminded me of cardiac cells. If you take live heart muscle cells and view them under a microscope, you can actually see each cell beating independently of one another, each beating to its own rhythm. If you join the cells together, they will synchronize, and beat as one. Last night’s crowd… beat as one. It was as though the crowd was this giant, organism–I’m sure the youtube videos must be up by now–you’ve got to see it to believe it. Eddie’s solo–exquisite! And the trio of Jay, Eddie and Mark all aligned–they played as tight as I’ve ever heard them. Completely made up for last night’s shortcomings in Athens. (consistent with what I’ve seen–the second show is almost always a bit better)
After it ended…Dee exclaimed, “Holy Fuck! You know, we played in Athens last night….” To my surprise, this remark provoked the loudest booing of the night, until Dee finished his sentence…. “But Thessaloniki is louder!” Then something caught Dee’s attention, and he exclaimed “Hello ladies…” and I realized that we had some serious boobage down in front. Dammit. Why universe why? I spent hours in the front row stuck in someone’s sweaty armpit, surrounded by sausage, and the ONE TIME I opt to go to the back with the sound board….. oh the Greek tragedy! Dee stopped at one point to say:
“Are you holding your top on or are you protecting your titties from being crushed? Yes? Gotta protect those titties!”
Even though the music stopped, the audience continued to sing “We’re Not Gonna Take It’ a cappella, prompting a “Fuck Yeah!” response from Jay. As so many of you on the slamboard have shared, it was Mark “Animal” Mendoza’s birthday the night of the show, and Dee dedicated tonight’s performance of “The Price” to Mark. Unlike the US audiences where cells phones and blackberries are more prominent, the venue filled with lighter flames. The smell of butane took me right back to 1986! Very nice, Thessaloniki, very nice.
During “Under the Blade” the mosh pit became a complete swirl of body parts and long hair. I later learned the concerned road crew, unaware that I was safe and sound with George, periodically looked into the pit, expecting to see me trampled in the sea of humanity, pleading like a drowning man clawing for a life preserver. The guitar work on “Under the Blade” was just scorching!
The crowd erupted into unison, staccato sing-song cheers of:
Ole Ole Ole
Ole Ole Ole
Ole Ole Ole
I’m sure there’s footage out there of this. Dee got the crowd to change the cheer from “Twisted Sister” to “Mark Men-doz-a” in honor of the birthday of the “heaviest fucking bionic bass player ever!” Dee dedicated “Burn In Hell” to Mark, and the crowd became so frenzied that the motion of those sick mutha fuckas moshing back and forth, I swear, it looked like the waves of the Aegean sea! I felt like I was on “Deadliest Catch”–watching actual waves of human movement–it was dizzying and mesmerizing at the same time.
During A.J.’s drum solo–there were strobes in each side of the kit. As he hit the different drums, the strobes on that side of the kit flashed–alternating right–left–right–left. Beautiful lighting work! It was as though the “sounds of thunder” were accompanying by lightning–the kit became a thunderhead ready to unleash the fury. As in South America, AJ included a little drum medley from popular metal riffs: anyone out there want to take a gander on youtube and try to name them? Makes for some fun trivia–I have the “answer” key….
“Whole Lotta Rosie” was a whole lotta better tonight–tighter, stronger and really brought the house down. Prompting a “That fucking rocked!” from Animal. Dee asked Jay: “Have we ever been here before?” Replied Jay Jay: “Never.” Prompting from Dee: “WHY?!!! These mutha fuckas ROCK!”
Dee’s mic stand was constantly hitting the stage floor, and the roadies were bolting back and forth like Wimbledon ball boys. (Oops–I think I may have just given roadie Wayne a new nickname.) I don’t know whether it was the AC/DC or the heat, but the bras started flying again. [Damn you, height gods, damn you.] Dee then asked the crowd, the very Shakespearean:
“What do you want to do? To rock or to fuck?” I think you know what the answer was. Dee turned to the band, “See? People want to fuck more than they want to rock! Me too!” leading us to a very fast and funny rap a la “hey Dee, do ya wanna go to the show or fuck? Uhhhh,…fuck…go ahead and I’ll meet ya there later….” and so we were treated to a rendition of “I Wanna Fuck.”
Dee instructed the crowd that he wanted them to jump when they screamed “rock/fuck,” and then looked towards the now topless ladies and those clinging to their tops, near the front and said, “Uh oh, that’s gonna be a problem…..”
The place absolutely ERUPTED. I could feel the floor shake….the sound board shake….the walls…..I prayed that the roof stayed up! As the band briefly paused before the encores, the crowd again began to chant rounds of Ole and the Warrior-taunting “come out and play…..”
Eddie sounded particularly good on “Come Out and Play,” and I realize it may be due, in part, to the special Brian May guitar. Dee actually paused, and pleaded with the crowd to calm down just a bit because the women up front were getting absolutely crushed, and he gave props to the Security guys. I’ve never seen this before–the security guards were not only decked in Twisted Sister regalia, they were leading the crowd cheers and rocking out! They not only took great care to make sure the surfers/stage divers didn’t hurt themselves on the edge of the stage, but they tossed them back into the crowd with equal fervor.
Dee did the usual band member intros–with Mark playing “Shave and a haircut” on the bass. Every year that they’ve been on the reunion tour, Animal ends up playing on his birthday, and to quote M.A.M. he “wouldn’t have it any other way!” Eddie gave a little “Animal” theme music and encouraged the crowd cheers of “An-ni-mal! An-ni-mal!”
Eddie’s introduction was unfortunately, for him, downwind of Dee’s unceremonious Souvlaki burp…but M.A.M.s “Eddie” theme music made up for it! Well, I say that from the back. Eddie looked like he was turning a bit green–that must have been some Souvlaki!
Jay introduced Mark, and gave him a big hug as the crowd sang Happy Birthday to Animal, and after an incredibly frenzied version of S.M.F. the house lights came on, and the half-naked, sweat covered crowd slowly dispersed. I’m sorry Buenos Aires, but I think you’ve been bested! That show was one for the history books!
I later retreated for some birthday cake and a special (and very touching) toast to Mark. We sat out on the patio and it was a night/early morning full of jokes, stories and reminscence. Jay Jay asked me: “So what are you going to do when this all ends?” Other than work on the book I’ve started, I truly don’t know. While it may feel like a well-earned retirement for the band, I anticipate that I will experience a true sense of loss. These men are family to me–I feel closer to them than I do to any of my estranged relatives.
The Greek experience did not disappoint–tip of the hat to Urosh (Macedonian SMF on the board) and his very kind friends. Hoping you all made it across the border and home safely.
Thank you again to everyone in the band for your special tribute–and especially Danny Stanton–and Keith, Dwayne, George, Mehtis, Jonnie, Marty, Rikk, Steve–the hardest working men in rock and roll who help deliver the goods for the hardest playing band in rock and roll. I salute you all…and thank you for your generosity, hospitality and making me feel like a part of your crew.
A side note to AJ–I returned back to the hotel in Athens this morning, and was greeted with “Welcome back Mr. Pero!” That’s twice now that’s happened. Perhaps we ARE brothers from different mothers…..
And that, my sick babies….concludes this edition of the Armadillo Road Report. Keep tuned to the website–the new Armadillo Road Report blog is coming soon!
This is Armadillo….trotting off to finally sleep for more than two hours…and then brush up on some Finnish….