My dad’s girlfriend and I spent some time the other day trying to calculate how many of my dad’s shows I’ve been to over the years. 14 years, two of which I attended every show, two of which I was in summer camp and only went to a couple, plus all the Christmas shows, the benefits, the Bent Brother (unofficial) shows… We estimated about 140-150.
And yet I had never been to Sweden Rock.
It was always too early in the touring season. I still had school, still had exams to sit, still had essays to write. The years when I could’ve done it, they weren’t playing it. It’s all the more ironic that the farewell tour kicked off there, since it was the exact place where things really re-started for them in 2003 when they played there for the first time. Coming off the string of South Korean dates, the band flew to Sweden and played their first “real” reunion show on the same field in front of the same wild crowd and, according to my dad at the time, the show had been a massive success.
Apparently that was a lie. Only now will he and the band admit that the show was incredibly sloppy, that they fucked up every song, that everything that could’ve gone wrong did, indeed go wrong. But that didn’t stop them from being invited back to the festival four more times, including this past Friday. And even though this year’s performance there bore some resemblances to the first (timing issues that I won’t go into and were definitely not as big a deal as the band thinks they were), the show was still nothing short of astonishing.
To begin with, the sheer number of people who turn up to Sweden Rock is amazing. Some estimated 60,000 while others thought it was more around 80,000. I have no idea how accurate either number is, but what I do know is that there was a sea of people as far as the eye could fathom, all the way back to where the barriers to the campsites started, some two miles away from the main stage. And the enthusiasm the crowd showed was so strong, so heartwarming, that at one point it actually brought my dad to tears.
There were so many moments that gave me chills, made me laugh, and made me tear up during that show, and I wish I had taken better notes because they’re now becoming hard to recall. The day started for the crew at 7:30 AM when they all went to the venue to begin set up, and although I was unable to join them, I was still kept abreast of their antics. In this case, those included Duane adding his name to Mark’s dressing room sign so it read “Mark & Duane”, followed by Duane’s mouth being taped shut and hands and feet bound together by pink gaff tape, presumably by Danny. (For those who are unaware, Duane is one of Mark’s bass techs, and has assumed the role of resident punching bag for the band and crew. Mark claims to hate him, but we all know that without Duane’s presence, the band and crew would get at each other’s throats and inevitably tear one another apart. Duane is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is the band’s most essential one.)
Uncle Markie was none too pleased with his revised dressing room assignment.
Pre-show highlights on the band’s part included Mark practically crushing me during a sightseeing boat ride around the beautiful town of Malmö, (“Is this comfortable for you? It’s comfortable for me. I think I’m gonna stay here like this. I could fall asleep like this”) and Eddie informing us during the bus ride to the venue that he dislikes the term “Hispanic” because “It has the word ‘panic’ in it and I don’t want my people to be associated with something bad. I prefer ‘Latino’.” There was also a suggestion by Mike of re-naming their marketed Meet and Greet sessions as “Mark Mendoza Beat ‘n’ Greets”, as Mark was availing himself of the opportunity to (jokingly) throw around every poor schmuck who thought they were just getting a picture with the band.
It was so cold that I had to wear 3 jumpers… and even then I was still shivering. At least I looked cute.
And as for the show itself… It may not have been the tightest. That’s a fair judgement. And the audience, for its enormous size, took some warming up (quite possibly because it was so fucking cold that I was wearing three jumpers and still froze my ass off). But a disappointment it was not. It was a million miles away from that. Time and time again I am reminded that Twisted Sister can rile up a crowd like no one else. Dee can get the most reluctant audience member on their feet and jumping up and down like a maniac – using humiliation tactics if he has to, but still. The fanfare after “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and the screaming after “I Wanna Rock” were only outdone by the fact that, during the audience participation segment of their cover of the Stones’ “I Know It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)”, they must’ve had at least 80% of the audience punching the air and jumping. Even the people at the back.
A particular highlight of the show for me was Dee’s fika (coffee) break mid-show, in which he had devoted roadie Armadillo come out with a cup of coffee for him and proceeded to chat with the audience while drinking it. What most of the audience probably didn’t see, though, was Mark chasing Armadillo around the stage afterwards while the poor guy was still holding a half-full cup of coffee… Honestly these guys are men-children.
Daddy and Dee; an average day at work.
They aren’t so mean to their crew though, in all fairness. They even took the opportunity to introduce all the guys to the audience during their encore, and then invited them to come onstage on the catwalk to take a bow, a moment that I know meant an awful lot to all of them… And then I nearly pissed myself laughing when I saw Duane jogging backstage afterwards and realised he had a strip of white gaff tape stuck to his ass that looked like a tail. No one has yet confessed to committing the crime. But it was funny as shit.
And, of course, there was the moment during “The Price” when tens of thousands of people raised their mobile phone lights – and a few lighters – in the air in memory of those we have lost. Dee always talks about A.J. in the intro to that song. He dedicates it to his memory every night. But A.J. is not the only loss the band and crew have recently suffered from. Duane’s beloved son, Joey, was killed by a car in January at the age of 17. More widely known was the passing of Lemmy, a close friend of the band’s and the reason they came to be accepted in the UK after he introduced them to his fans at a Motörhead show in the early ‘80s. Seeing the sea of lights in Sweden the other night (especially facing the second stage, named the Lemmy stage this year) brought tears to my eyes as we all remembered those who should have been with us this touring season.
I still have a very difficult time looking at the drum riser with Mike behind it. It still feels like a tiny punch in the gut every time I have to reckon with the truth that A.J. is no longer there. The adjustment has taken much longer and has been far more difficult than I’d ever anticipated, in fact I don’t think it will ever really be made. For any of us. The whole vibe amongst the crew is so different now. The joking around is still there, but the laughter isn’t as hysterical. There has barely been any ba-di-ba-da-ba-ing. (If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry, you don’t need to.) But I do know that Friday night would have made A.J. proud. He’d have been grinning from ear to ear.
Lighting up the night for A.J.
So basically TL;DR, Sweden Rock was a kick ass show. A fitting start to the farewell tour. A crowd none of us will ever forget. A wonderful tribute to A.J. And I cannot wait to see what the rest of this summer brings.
Post on Nova Rock to follow shortly. x
Bonus pic: Pre-show with some of our amazing, lovely friends who we’ve met over the touring adventures of the last 14 years. L to R – Tanja, Tore, Håkon, Daddy, Me.