Q-Stock, Oulu Finland July 30, 2011

well…and this is take two! wireless here at the airport in Oulu is going in and out…

Alas, sadly,…the end of the European road for me. Sitting here in the airport at Oulu–the previous flight was completely filled, so I won’t get to fly back with the band and crew and I’ve got five hours to fill in an airport that has one soda machine, a cafe and one toilet. I suspect when the barrista finishes making the espresso, she then goes and works for security…then dons a pair of orange sticks and brings in the aircraft. It’s small and boring here, but I’ve got 40 minutes charge left on the netbook so that can only mean one thing….

that’s right….it’s time…

here now….your literary lewdness….your endless run-on….your dangling participle…ladies and gentlemen, I bring you:

The Armadillo Road Report: the Officially Official once UNOfficial Twisted Sister concert review Q-Stock, Oulu Finland, July 30, 2011. With all the concert details you’re dying to know….and plenty ya’ don’t.

First things first–we must address an issue from the previous show in Kotka. A fan wrote on the slamboard that Jay Jay looked bored. I want to assure you that Jay Jay was anything but bored. If you had looked closely, you would have noticed that Jay Jay was not wearing his usual aviator glasses–and the ones he had on, did not have a retainer. Which meant that if he looked down or jumped around too wildly, his glasses would have quite unceremoniously landed on the stage floor (and likely under Dee’s boots), and then we’d have him playing sans vision. I admit, even I kept fighting the urge to look at the ceiling every time he did, but Jay Jay wanted me to expressly point out, that he has never been bored onstage, and S.M.F.s “in-the-know” knew there was something amiss with his eyewear last evening.

Alright…that business out of the way….on to Oulu!

The day began with a nice, Finnish hotel breakfast of brats and potatoes and a colorful ride to the airport with the road crew. We shared the very short plane ride with Mr. Michael Monroe and his entourage, and were met at the Oulu terminal by a very chipper and bubbly pink-haired team from Q-Stock. Hats off to Pink–she was both punctual and cheerful, as well as a safe driver. They seemed to be equally entertained by the New York style of humor, and it was a scenic trip through the Oulu countryside. Not much in Oulu….unless you’re shopping for a farm….or a car, in which case, there are about fifteen car dealerships for some reason.

I counted four traffic lights and we were in beautiful, downtown Oulu….actually, I didn’t mean for that to sound so facetious, it really was quite quaint and lovely. Like Helsinki– clean, intricate 3-story buildings with crisp white, ornate architectural details that are reminiscent of Italy Renaissance, the walls in shades of yellow, pink, and light blue. Surrounded by beautiful water, the hotel was situated just across from the small inlet where the Q-Stock festival was already in full swing. We were led to believe by the driver that the Q in Q-Stock stood for “Queer” (and I mean that in the word empowerment way, not as an insult to my Twisted Gay & Lesbian readers) and I couldn’t believe that Twisted was booked for the Finnish Gay Pride. We were assured by others, however, that the Q referred to a Finnish word that applies to a breed of tree, and that the festival was actually one that catered to people of all tastes, persuasions, orientations and musical flavors.

Unbeknown to us, Q-Stock is apparently “the” party–much more popular than the Kotka Sea Festival, particularly with the younger set, and one step through the doors of the hotel revealed a mass of teenage drinking and carousing. We quickly dropped our bags after check-in and headed over the venue itself. (as a pedestrian, it was just a short stroll over a footbridge… down a windy path and then onto the inlet.)

We came around the back where the mainstage was set-up–there were multiple stages of different sizes, including one in an honest-to-god circus tent, a few others were scattered about in small lots and grassy areas in between the food vendors, carney merchants hawking tee-shirts and jewelry, and bungee jumping. (again with the bungee jumping….what’s with these wild n’ crazy Finns? The last thing I’d want to do after drinking several pints is to go up in a crane platform and then drop off the end with a rubber band tied to my ankles!)

The festival staff first ensured that we were properly fed–we followed this incredibly delicious smell into a tent filled with giant, 3-foot woks, each filled to the edge with meats, vegetables & fishes. I particularly enjoyed the Moose Balls. (uh, that is, meatballs made of Moose…not elk scrotum…) I passed on the local delicacy of fried anchovies. The vendors sold everything imaginable–I tried on a pink hat which prompted the merchant to exclaim: “Wonderful! You look very, very gay!” Uh, thanks. I think. Wait, the Q is about trees…no?

We strolled around to see the sights and sounds and ran into Kennet, from the slamboard. A very nice chap with some lovely friends- he re-connected Danny, who arranged a very fast but rewarding pre-show meet with the boys. (I’ll send you that photo Kennet as soon as I get home!) Stage 2 had some sort of hoe-down, complete with washboard players, fiddles, kazoo and a tall woman playing a mean bass fiddle. It was catchy, but there’s just something inherently wrong with playing a kazoo through amplifiers. Just me.

Twisted was scheduled top bill on the main stage–like many venues, they staggered the start times to give fans a chance to see every band. The first band up on the main stage was Apulenta. I really didn’t get to hear much of their set, because the ominous looking skies finally let loose and the rain fell in buckets and sheets. I retreated to the crew trailer (which at one point, looked like we were filming “Deadliest Catch” inside)–to escape the deluge and catch a few quick winks until the rain subsided–as a bonus, we were treated to a rainbow on the horizon.

I was disappointed that Michael Monroe went on before Twisted in the circus tent–he clearly deserved to have the main stage and not a female new-agey pop singer. While the crowd really enjoyed Jenni Vartianinen (I don’t know either, but she had lots of fans. Come to think of it, a lot of lesbians fans…..including one fellow in a red cowboy hat and a wedding dress, with “Jenni Marry Me” on one side….and “Dee Marry Me” on the other. Yeah, right. Tree festival my fat fanny! Well, it was festive, to say the least. The crowd did a nice arm-sway–if you viewed it from the stage without sound, you could have mistaken it for “The Price”, just with lots of women wearing sandals instead of metalheads. A real Spinal Tap moment.

Once Jenni was off-stage, our precision road crew set to task on all of the pre-show preparatory efforts. “The taping-of-the-rugs”….”The raising-of-the-backdrop”….”The microphone-feedback-check-that-looks-like-a-Catholic-incense-ritual.” The Stage Manager dropped by, and told me that they had sold out–more than 22,000 fans there today.
During the soundcheck, our own Mr. Stanton rewarded two very lucky kids. They had been baking in the sun all day for hours…then got literally soaked to the core during the downpour…but they NEVER BUDGED AN INCH from their front row and center spot. (Worthy of those Brazil fans, no?)

Danny tossed them each a stick, which prompted a “I love you!” from the adoring recipients. As Danny said to me, they’ll remember that moment for the rest of their lives–as will I. It really does move me every time to see a group like Twisted, who so clearly understand the passion of their fans, and show appreciation to them. It was a meaningful moment.

Then, at two minutes past 2300, I surveyed the enormous spectacle of this huge crowd, and opted to take this one in from stage right. The crowd was significantly younger this evening and extremely well-behaved in comparison to Kotka, but loud and appreciative. (this clearly would have been the better night to be in the front row. c’est la vie. It’s often a crapshoot how the crowd will behave) I saw Eddie and Jay Jay waiting in the wings, guitars slung around them at the ready, stage fog lapping at their ankles. It was sort of a cross between football players in the tunnel before the Super Bowl…..and WWF….. when they stepped out onto the stage during “What You Don’t Know,” they were backlit, just silhouettes in the fog. Arms pumping feverishly on the guitars, Eddie and Jay Jay were beautifully synchronized this evening–the guitars sounded great!

Behind the stack, I could see our guitar technicians/roadies–Keith and Mehtis–fine tuning the other guitars–one of those things that the fans out front will never see. We take for granted that when Jay Jay, Eddie or Mark switches guitars, that it will be in tune and sounding great–this isn’t by accident. A lot of work goes into ensuring that our Bad Boys of Rock n’ Roll have the instruments of their trade ready at hand, ready to rock.

Dee welcomed the audience with “We’ve come a very long way to kick your fucking ass!”
And ass kicking they did.

“The Kids Are Back” literally rattled the change in my pockets–Mark told me that bass frequencies played too loud or too close can actually cause arrhythmias–and I believe it! If I ever go down, forget the defibrillator–just hook up Animal’s bass and have him pound out “Shoot ’em Down,” If that don’t get my heart re-started, nothing will.

“You Can’t Stop Rock n’ Roll” was an absolute heavy metal locomotive–the guitars just accelerated and accelerated and I swear, the sound would have obliterated anything in its path. Just fantastic solos, great bass and drum work–absolutely loved it.
Jay Jay acknowledged the crowd–with only 15 shows this year, Finland, like Greece, was rewarded with two of them. Looking at that crowd–packed to the gills all the way to the back–it was easy to see why Oulu was deserving a gig. More than 22,200 fans, many of them under 25. It saddens me that American audiences are so fickle–it’s tragic that we can’t fill up even the smallest of venues these days, and precisely the reason why there were not more domestic dates this tour.

During Jay Jay’s “American Idol” rant, when he got to the point in his speech where he mentions how Idol singers “struggle” for a whopping 15-weeks, Mark and Dee stood behind him, back-to-back, and pantomimed a fitting, big “wanker” gesture. Followed by Jay and Dee thanking Finland for 35 years of support.

“The Fire Still Burns” was sharp as ever–the guitars sounded very, very tight….bass and drums were well balanced and I swear, there were a few moments where I could feel that song pounding from the inside of my rib cage.

It was now 2330, and while the sun had set, it was still plenty light outside, with sunset colors glowing, still on the horizon. I can’t recall the last time I saw “We’re Not Gonna Take It” played in the “light,” but it really didn’t matter–it was fantastic. I’ve met quite a few old schoolers out there who aren’t huge fans of WNGTI, seeing it as the song that led to the over-playing and ultimate demise of Twisted. I personally disagree–that song always gets me going, and there is something just magical about seeing 22,000 hands clapping above their heads in unison, like Twisted Sister’s own “radio Ga-Ga”…and that’s ga-ga as in the group, Queen, not GaGa as in Lady. The trio of Jay, Eddie and Mark lined up during the solos fills me up every time–the Twisted brothers three.

The crowd continued their warm reception prompting a “Fucking Great!” from Dee, who invited the crowd to see if they could sing WITHOUT the band, and another great a cappella version of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” will make the youtube bandwidths soon I’m sure.
Dee couldn’t go without commenting on the drinking culture of Finland. Now my disclaimer here–as any Twisted Sister fan knows, Dee does not drink or do drugs. Nor does he condone overindulging in such proclivities. But he certainly appreciates it when fans just lose their fucking minds when Twisted comes on stage. He looked around and commented: “Everybody here is fucked up!….You’re Twisted Sister’s kind of people!”

During “The Price”, it wasn’t really dark enough for cell phones or lighters, although quite a few appeared. Instead, it was a spectacle of synchronized arms, swaying to and fro. I was enjoying the moment as Eddie launched into one of my favorite solos, and as Dee leans in against him and resumed the lyrics, a black object comes sailing in–either a scarf or a tee shirt–and literally lands right on Eddie’s face, remaining there a few moments until Dee snatched it off and pitched it off for a roadie to dispose of. To Eddie’s credit, he did not miss of single note. That’s professionalism to the core, right there, I tell ya.

Didn’t see who threw it, but they earned my “Douchebag” award of the night. An “A” for aim, but an “F” for effort. Throwing things into the faces of the heavy metal marathoners is just not cool. I mean, do they go home and tell their friends, what? “Dude, that concert was so awesome. I chucked my tee-shirt at Dee and Eddie and it landed right on top of his head….man, how cool am I?” Way cool…like the frozen waters of the Finnish douchebags in the wintertime. Rule #1: Be a fan. Don’t be a jerk.
Oh, I digress. Back to the rock and roll.

“Under The Blade” gave me some wonderful visuals to store in the old memory vault–from my viewing angle on the side, I could see all four band members at their microphones, black sleeveless vests/shirts–muscled arms pumping furiously in unison–Dee’s air guitaring the riff–Mark pounding mercilessly– it was the heavy metal harmonic conversion. Just plain art. There was some fancy Eddie finger-work to finish off “Under The Blade” as Jay Jay tossed a pick so far I think it landed back in Kotka.

Dee acknowledged the old schoolers in the house as well as all the fresh young metal blood. To the old schoolers (and for the sake of argument, in this crowd, it was anyone over 30, never mind the fans from the 70’s and 80’s.) he not-so-reassuringly offered “You’re still fucked up [meaning: after all these years]…but it doesn’t get any better!” Actually, I gotta disagree–now in my 40’s, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Once again, “Shoot ’em Down” went out to the all the assholes (politicians) of the world, and I looked to my right, and there was Michael Monroe, totally rocking out backstage to Twisted. You know where you have those moments where you think to yourself, “Am I really here? Is this really happening or am I dreaming?” All it took was Animals bass to knock me back to reality–holy crap that man kills a bass. I can’t figure how his hands survive….or for that matter, the bass! That man isn’t an animal, he’s a beast!

Then, the crowd favorite…
Cue the fog…
Cue the spooky red spotlight…
Cue the scary voice…
“Burn in Hell”–another tight guitar duo, with a bass line that damn near blew me out of my pink neon-laced shoes. And then one of my favorite parts of the night–A.J.’s drum solo. In order to stay on schedule, he bypassed the “name-that-tune” portion of the solo this evening. I think the crowd was too young to appreciate it anyway, hell, even I didn’t know some of the riffs first time I heard it.

You know, after hearing his drum solos so many times, you’d think I get bored of them, but it’s quite the opposite. I’m always fascinated how he manages to change up each solo–a perscussive jazz–and tonight’s solo had a deep rumble to it that reminded me of a Harley with the carburator turned way down–sort of an underlying “buddah buddah buddah buddha buddah” If you’ve ever had a Harley Davidson pull up next to you on a summer day with your windows down, you know the sound I’m talking about. The solo wasn’t lost on this crowd–they gave him some loud appreciation. In a touching “in the wings” moment–during the solo, each member of the band came over to Michael Monroe and gave him a big hug.

The band has been so focused on and worn from the rigors, Dee admitted he forgot to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jay Jay the other night, and so the crowd of 22,000+ sang a rousing version to Jay Jay, with Dee’s tongue-in-cheek “Take your pick–any five women–they’re yours!” (relax, relax, all said in jest)

“I Wanna Rock” treated me to a visual I won’t soon forget–thousands of fists being thrown into the air. Dee first had the crowd scream “ROCK!” with one fist…. then two fists….
“okay…now one leg…your right fist…and ….”
well, maybe not, although Twisted Twister sounds like a lot of fun. When Dee asked the crowd to pump their fists in the air, yell “ROCK!” and jump–I swear to you, I could fee the earth shake. He dedicated the song to Michael Monroe (to my right) and Matt Harris, bassist from the band “The Posies”, who was rocking out to my left.

Had a chance to talk to Matt–a really great guy–who admitted that he’s been a Twisted Sister fan his whole life, and to get a tribute like that really meant a lot to him. I understand, brother, boy, do I understand!

After the band introductions, Twisted gave a special shout out to all of the members of their hardworking road crew and management–Danny, Keith, George, Dwayne, Marty, Johnny (Jay Jay still feels bad he forgot to mention your name! Nothing personal, brother!) Mehtis and Steve–you gents are the best of the best.

Hopefully the blog worked and you’ve seen the setlist–a few slight changes from the night before–without “Whole Lotta Rosie” tonight, they had time to play “Come Out and Play” and “S.M.F.” for encores. “Come Out and Play” was especially good tonight–Mark pounded on his bass as if to say, “Giddyup!” and we accelerated all the way to the last note. At 12:15, it was still not dark out– all, we were in the land of the midnight sun–although instead of the “Day of the Rocker” shuffle, we had “Tonight” with Dio. (Fitting, given our earlier “Rainbow-Not-Quite-In-The-Dark.”

Aa the road crew broke down the set and loaded the equipment, fireworks lit up the still surprisingly light early morning sky. It was a moment that a small group of standing on the back ramp of the stage enjoyed in complete silence. We just took it all in when Mr. Michael Monroe said out loud, exactly what I was thinking: It doesn’t get much better than this–this is what life is all about. Absolutely!

Oulu–you really rocked it. That was one of the best shows of the tour this year!

One of my own personal road report golden rules–what happens on the bus, stays on the bus–all I can say is that the road crew had me laughing so hard, my stomach hurt. Back at the hotel, the place was teeming with teens, given the under 21 club in the basement of the hotel. Even by 3:30 AM, it was still light outside, and the entire city was still buzzing with festival energy, people filling the sidewalks and local clubs. Another bizarre Twisted moment–when I first arrived in Helsinki, I chased down a guy who had the TS bones logo painted on his leather vest to say hello, and give him a pick, my new “calling card.” This nice chap hung out with me backstage….and then at the hotel…turns out he is from Lordi! Who knew? That scary dude onstage is actually a low-key, really swell chap!

It was almost impossible for me to fall asleep–now starting to face what we slamboarders call “concert drop”–the depression that sets in when we realize the show is over and we have to go home, back to the reality of our lives. I turned on the lights in my room–there were red LED lights around the bed, giving me my own “Burn In Hell” moment.

This morning, I break-fasted with the band and crew before a shuttle to the now-empty Oulu airport. The crew and band signed my Athens setlist as a special send-off to me. It absolutely kills me that they are now on their way to Russia as I sit here in solitude. I suspect that Russia show is going to be the absolute crown jewel of the reunion, and I’m kicking myself time and time again for not getting my visa squared away in time–I should have known better!

I chatted briefly with Dee for a few minutes–thanking him for the special tribute in Greece–it even made my mother cry as she watched in on youtube–and he told me an interesting tidbit about how his “Teenage Survival Guide” is now an official school textbook in Russia–required reading–that completely blows my mind. Honestly, I really can’t even wrap my arms around that one. Dee’s book–which SHOULD be required reading for everyone–talks about finding one’s inner strength through individuality….self-expression…and standing up for oneself, especially against abusive authority figures. How that translates in Russia is just baffling–but I’m determined now to find a hard cover copy in Russian.
Alas, concert drop is now taking hold.

Dee gave me a hug and some Karl Fazer chocolate (oh, it was heavenly–must buy more of that chocolate!) to help me nibble away the depression. I have two more hours until my flight boards for Helsinki, and as my European travels near a close, so too, does this edition from your faithful road reporter.

This is Armadillo….trotting off to shop for more flights to Canada…

Moy Moy my babies, and Kittos to the wonderful warm people of Finland!


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