Artist: Twisted Sister
Venue: Nokia Theater (New York, NY)
Opener: ZO2 & Dirty Pearls
Label: Razor & Tie Music
For the past couple of years we seem to have had a little extra kick in our holiday eggnog as the guys in Twisted Sister continue their rousing “Twisted Christmas” show. It seems like only yesterday when I first heard that the boys would be doing Christmas classics and I remembered shuddering quite a bit when the cold chill from such a prospect hit my body. Of course after a few listens I had to admit that the damned thing worked and was a whole lot of fun that just might work after all. They captured the Starland Ballroom appearance on DVD for the first go round in 2006 and then they delivered it in NYC with Joey Belladonna opening up in 2007 so I was unsure with having seen it twice already that I should even go. After all, how much different was this going to be when it came down to it – a few Christmas songs reworked here and a couple of Sister classics there and a stage decorated up in wreaths and holiday lights as it had been for those past two shows. Yet when I realized that this was going to be Twisted Sister up on Times Square how could anyone possibly resist the lure of that? The show featured two openers this evening and we sure it would clatter so we got inside early to see what was the matter. The first up was The Dirty Pearls, a Glam Rock outfit from NYC who I had only heard of in name before tonight’s gig.
Dirty Pearls: It’s always fun to see a band for the first time in the most cases and I would find this tonight as The Dirty Pearls took the stage of the Nokia Theater. With me only knowing their genre style to some degree I wondered if I would even like what they were doing and as they began to play I felt it was safe to say that I was. Tonight they would be the kick off band and as I was told they went on second last night. While it was nice for Sister to swap out the opening spot, the first up status before ZO2 made sense to me as the Brooklyn band is the star of their own Independent cable TV show and hence merits a higher spot on the bill. Musically the Dirty Pearls struck me as a little bit Glam Rock and a little bit Old School Street Punk and their singer came off as someone who had been influenced by both Elvis Presley and Billy Idol based on the way we strutted his stuff on the stage. The drummer also had a lot of Glam Rock guy in him while the guitarists looked like picture perfect 70’s era rockers. It was a weird visual dynamic and while the singer and drummer often mugged to the audience cameras, the guitarists didn’t even seem to care about them. Their eight song set was enough for me, and I did have to say that I liked it but need to hear more before I can say whether or not I rave about them or rally against them going forward. I will say that they had fans in the audience and for the most part were met with a good reception and this is a very good way to start. Twisted Sister is not an easy band to be the openers for as their audience only wants Sister, and other bands are in the way when it comes to that mindset. We see this often with a legendary act performing, and I was glad that whoever didn’t enjoy what The Dirty Pearls were doing was at least keeping it to themselves in my vicinity. ZO2 was up next and these guys I was rather familiar with.
ZO2: I’ve known about ZO2 from the days when two of their number performed in the KISS Tribute KISSnation and when the bassist served as a member of the mighty Trans-Siberian Orchestra and from this I can easily say that I am a fan of the Old School Hard Rock that they deliver in this power trio. The guys signed to Riker Hill Records a little over a year ago and released their second album “Ain’t It Beautiful” for the world to enjoy and this is a tasty record that I had the honor of reviewing for Metal Edge magazine when it was first released. They were a good choice for Twisted Sister’s annual holiday extravaganza and since they went over well with them in NYC last year it made sense to do it one more time. If you have never heard their stuff well the best way to envision it is like this. Take the bluesy feel we love from bands like Aerosmith, put it together with hooks we like from KISS and add some really grooving harmonies over it all – there you have it. Of course you might hear it differently, but that’s what they call to mind for me, and in the end it really works out well no matter how you slice it. The guys are also television personalities now, and the stars of their own hit show on IFC which is called “Z-Rock”. It’s a mock reality show that finds the band trying to become rock stars of the night while pursuing day gigs as a kid’s party band. It has it’s moments but might not be for everyone based on some of the adult situations and language that are par for the course during the show. Tonight the guys were all about the rock and they took the stage like seasoned pros. They are a good band live and very tight, having honed the skills at numerous area gigs and on a tour with a band that you might have heard of – the one and only KISS. Songs like “Isolate” and “If You See Kay” had the crowd rocking along and singing with them. Other highlights were from the album “Ain’t It Beautiful” and while they also played about eight numbers in total, it really moved quickly. All of the guys stuff is super melodic, but when the pipes of lead singer Paulie Z. get to belt it out he really shows how he can wail. After their set the guys remained at the merchandise booth to shake hands and do photos with those interested parties. In the crowd was also the lovely Alison Becker who stars as one of the guys girlfriends on the show and we bring her up since she is also a regular face on MTV these days. I asked Dave Z. if the show would be back and he said it would return for a second season so I am hopeful that this will find more of their original music being presented since it is really good stuff. If you like that solid Hard Rock vibe which we don’t find too much in today’s mainstream rock scene, then make sure you give the guys in ZO2 a chance to remind you that bands still play like that and do it well. Now it was time for Twisted Sister and I was really excited.
Twisted Sister: The time had finally come for Twisted Sister’s Holiday madness to take place and like I had mentioned earlier this evening’s show would be my third go at it, and as result I was almost hesitant to even come. The last two times we found the amps draped in garland and wreaths and bows, but we couldn’t see what was going on in advance tonight based on the large curtain that hung across the stage. It led me to believe things would be different and when they drew it back the entire audience viewed in a stunned fashion a Heavy Metal version of Santa’s Toy Shop. There were elves running all about carrying out certain tasks and in one corner we saw a pair of them manufacturing striped candy canes while the others enlisted some toy soldiers to help them man a giant chamber that spewed forth steam and the eventual band member. Above our heads was a conveyor belt that loaded “normal” looking Santas into a machine that transformed them into Metal heads with leather jackets, tattoos and spiked gauntlets. Clearly these versions of Mr. Claus were well prepared for the naughty as well as the nice. Soon the machinery of the chamber got to work its magic and the soldiers and elves opened the doors for the band members to make their dramatic entrance. They came out one at a time with the run down being AJ, Mark, JJ French and Eddie Ojeda and when the guys started to deliver the opening chords of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, it was the arrival of Santa Dee that made the place explode. Yes, the singer has been arriving for these shows in full Santa hat and coat with his bag of candy canes and condoms, but this time around he would enter on a sleigh that was pulled by none other than Mini-KISS. Talk about a show-stopping arrival that had the assembled in stitches and trying to catch the “goodies” as they sailed over their heads. It was clear that making sure I attended tonight was a good idea and as the band continued on just when the tune is about to speed up Dee runs off for a moment to toss the Santa stuff aside and is back to his “normal” Twisted Sister appearance in full SMF regalia. This led them into the ever appropriate “The Kids Are Back” which has always been a favorite tune and one that gets the audience singing nice and early.
Behind Dee and the boys off to the right hand side of the stage was a giant sign that spelled “SANTA” in bright lights. It was both very Broadway and very, very KISS at the same time. This flashed on and off during the show and gave anyone in close enough range with a camera a really interesting photo memory of the appearance. As the set progressed into “White Christmas”, along with its snow storm of soap bubbles, it would seem that the boys were doing a holiday number and then a classic tune in sequence. Of course there are those who wished that less of the Christmas stuff was done and the band left it to their revered numbers but that it not what the holiday gig is all about so they will just have to get used to that. The band worked their way to “Destroyer” and this one came with a special dedication to Sal Valvo who had worked as band security for a number of years. Sadly, Valvo had lost his battle with cancer only a few days before the show took place and the band members were still feeling this rather strongly. Musically the guys were presenting themselves as true veterans of the Hard Rock genre as the twin guitar work from Eddie Ojeda and Jay Jay French brought their time honored riffs to life and through it all Mark “The Animal” Mendoza pummeled his bass as if it owed him money. As they played both guitarists tossed out their guitar picks to the eager hands of the audience. Since Twisted Sisters axe-slingers used signature ones, you can imagine the excitement that was causing when one came into reach.
Dee was regularly engaging the audience and told them that tonight would be the first time giving “Deck The Halls” a try and told us that they had kept from doing it since no one was getting it right. There is a healthy audience participation chorus during it and tonight we were able to help Dee and the boys make it happen. Much of Dee’s dialogue is the same as during a regular Twisted Sister show so this was a no holds barred type of thing if folks had wondered if he mellowed for the holiday season. The bands bang up version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” was another one of the highlights for me and as expected the entire crowd sang along. Its funny to me how when I originally heard this song I froze and now was finding myself rocking with horns in the air and smiles all around me. Fun stuff to say the least and well executed during a show. I was happy to find “Shoot ‘Em Down” in the set as this was one of my longest favorites from the Sister catalog and it led us into “Burn In Hell”, which outside of ‘You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll” was the heaviest number offered up tonight. The guys got a short breather while A.J. Pero took his drum solo and while some people hate these parts of the night, the drummer had everyone’s attention as he destroyed the skins. I liked the way his kit looked this time, as he had gone from two bass drums to one, and where the other originally was set up, now stood a fair sized Twisted Sister “TS” logo. The remaining bass drum had a wreath on it. The time had come to slow it down a bit and before they get into “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, Dee dedicates it to our men and women of the armed forces who are not able to get home and often in harm’s way. I feel this is a great touch to the number and makes it count all the more. Of course the real surprise was when Hard Rock goddess Lita Ford came out in her red vinyl suit and Santa hat to join Dee for the number. I had seen her out on Times Square walking into the venue so while the element of surprise was wasted on me, the anticipation was surely not. The song sounded great with her as a part of it, and she was clearly going over well in that outfit as well. Since Lita had been out of Metal’s public eye for so many years I felt that this was a great way for her to be reintroduced to everyone who had missed her and I am sure that we will see her again very soon.
The guest list part of the show didn’t stop here as Mick Foley, the Wrestler we also know as Mankind, came out dressed as Santa and seeing what the members of the band wanted for Christmas. He wandered around to Eddie and Jay Jay and even took a precarious step towards Mark the Animal, and of course when he got to Dee, the response to what the singer wanted was “I Wanna Rock” and well, I am sure that you know the rest from that one. As the song played it was amazing to find it as strong as it ever was. The final Christmas tune would come with the bands “Heavy Metal Christmas” and for this one the entire band gets you involved with the show. The tune is played over the PA and the guys all raise signs that line out the particular day of Christmas that they are singing about. In the original version they did the first day of Christmas finds Dee getting “a tattoo of Ozzy”, but for tonight’s fun, a giant statue of the Black Sabbath singer was rolled on to the boards making the new line “a statue of Ozzy”. It really made the song a lot more interesting to watch and to say that the band was having a blast doing this one would be an understatement. The downside of this tune is that it often leads to the closing number and that is the Heavy Metal anthem of anthems “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, and for tonight’s go at it we had everyone come out to join in from Mini-KISS to Lita Ford and I was pretty sure my eye caught Foley up there again. The crowd was really moving where I was during this one so it was a little hard to keep up for a moment or two. The bottom line was that this was an amazing and fun filled night that I think will have their fans anxious for the next go round and any of the other stuff that Twisted Sister is planning in between.
Looking forward, it seems as though 2009 will be an interesting year for the band as they will be celebrating the 25th Anniversary of “Stay Hungry”. According to interviews, the release will receive a remastering and the band will embark on a tour that finds them presenting the entire thing from start to finish. They said they’ll even use the same stage as during the famous MTV concert from so many years ago. That film was released on DVD a couple of years ago, and in November the band released “Live From The Astoria” CD/DVD which was recorded during 2004. Some fans tonight might have griped about some missing songs from the set, but with the amount of stuff coming up I think we will get our fill of them. Stay tuned.
Twisted Sister Set List:
1. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
2. The Kids Are Back
3. White Christmas
5. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
6. You Cant Stop Rock And Roll
7. Deck The Halls
8. The Price
9. Oh Come All Ye Faithful
10. Shoot ‘Em Down
11. Burn In Hell
12. AJ Pero Drum Solo
13. Silver Bells
14. I’ll Be Home For Christmas (with Lita Ford)
15. I Wanna Rock
16. Heavy Metal Christmas
17. We’re Not Gonna Take It – encore
Here is the blazing and bright marquee of the Nokia Theatre Times Square.
I shot this twice because the sign showed the names of the openers shortly after I snapped the first one.