Well, I took a great sigh of relief after my check-in at the Barcelona international airport, because it was my (hopefully) last ever flight with Vueling. In case it wasn’t obvious enough from my last post, I can’t fucking stand that shitty excuse for an airline. Let me count the reasons why: the planes are old and custy as fuck, the legroom is minimal at best, and they pay the same fucking songs OVER AND FUCKING OVER. I lost count of the amount of times I heard “Somebody That I Used To Know”, and on this flight, it even played as we were taking off. I kinda had to chortle. If I didn’t have that Big Mac at 5 in the AM for breakfast, I’d have been miserable as fuck.
But, when landing in Milan, all was gone with regards to the bad. Actually, the first sentence of that paragraph is a lie, I landed at the Malpensa airport, which is an hour away from Milan. Thankfully they have a train service, because I wasn’t about to take a damned taxi for an hour ride and have at least €300 wasted. Ouch. The train was luckily only €8 for a ride, and I was lucky enough to catch one right the minute I got down the stairs, as it took off. The trains themselves are huge.
I really tried hard not to fall asleep, because despite having no sleep before the flight, I needed as much focus as possible for Maiden. I wasnt going to nap when I got to the hostel, because I wanted to get my train route to and from the nearest metro station all figured out. Problem with Milan is that they charge for the outside urban area, which I’ll explain later. After I arrived t the main train station, I needed wi-fi if I was going to get the metro route all figured out, so I stopped at a cafe across the street that’s as big as your grandmother’s retirement home suite. I had some Dolci, as I was feeling quite hungry and drained of energy (which I somewhat got back later). Basically all I needed was to get to a train station that had a stop that included “Rhofiera” on the line. All that and I was good.
I took a taxi to the hostel, called Minas hostel. It’s pretty much the top room of an Italian apartment complex; multiple rooms and no keys to lock the doors, which I guess wasn’t too much to worry about, as the owner had one of those doors installed, where to lock it is operated by a dial. Kind of like a safe, almost. But the owner would flip his shit if I tried to take a key to lock the door. Honestly, what if someone went berserk and went all Anthony Perkins in Psycho on me? Anyways, before heading to Rho Fiera, I seeked out a store that sold shampoo, because I ran out of my travel pack shampoo. I got a not too expensive bottle for €3, took it back to the hostel (only just around the corner, conveniently), and headed for the train station.
The trains themselves are as huge as the airport trains. They were even double deckers on some cars. I believe the ride was 15 minutes, and only a few stops. Luckily I paid the extra for a day pass that includes the outer urban area surcharge, smart move on my part. I’m surprised I could navigate worth shit, because very few of the machines have an English option and it’s frankly all “boobity boppity” to me, where as I can understand some Spanish and French. Italian I was walking on eggshells to find an English option.
Anyways, the Rhofiera looks like it used to be an industrial complex. The outside of it looks like it belongs to a factory and the Sonisphere festival was held in what was essentially a courtyard and parking lot. Predictably, as it’s a festival, the lineup was long as I arrived, and after a mishap regarding my paper ticket sheet I got in an email, I was told by the guards to go back to the box office and to exchange it for a ticket. Which was great, because I got an actual ticket, and not just that- it said “Iron Maiden” instead of simply “Sonisphere Festival”. Magic!
I’ll take a moment to note that I was getting good vibes the moment I began approaching the ticket line. In a few words, this shit was the GOODS! I wasn’t even inside the festival site yet, and I was excited, running on strong Italian coffee and no sleep. You look around, and notice bootleg traders, sellers of metal records, hot dog huts, beer salesmen, the list goes on and on. Hey, I’m a trooper, I figured I got past the hard stuff and deserved a beer, so I ordered a beer, and sipped away as I walked to the ticket gate. As I approached the site, the mood was more and more exciting, as I could hear Voodoo Six just finishing their set, and Ghost beginning their ghoulish set. And as I walked into the site, I heard “Per Aspera Ad Infini” ring out from the speakers.
The site is bleedin’ HUGE. This is what every metal fan wants. This is what they pay good money for; a huge festival site, excellent sound, food hits, beer huts, etc. the list goes on and on…
Ghost were pretty good, but much to the bafflement of some of the fans, they didn’t play “Secular Haze”, but did play “Year Zero” (which is a bigger hit than the former). Nonetheless they played a good selection of some stuff from the new album and “Ritual”. They encouraged crowd participation when they closed out with “Monstrance Clock”. And left the crowd in some good vines, I must add. From there on, Mastodon was next, but I had 2 bands to go before Maiden. Well, I was also interested in Megadeth. So I went to what was a Red Bull van with a band on top. And to my surprise, the singer was Cristina Scabbia. Which I found odd, because Lacuna Coil wasn’t on the bill, but this was an impromptu jam session with Rezophonic, an Italian Alternative Rock band. They played mostly covers, including a ripping rendition of “Highway to Hell”. Knowing that at this point, Lacuna Coil are popular enough to headline big arenas, it was cool to be right at her feet pretty much. And hearing her speak Italian was pretty sexy, I won’t lie.
I’ll be honest here, Mastodon wasn’t my thing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find them impressive as musicians, because they really are, but an hour of pure wankery live is just boring to me. In fact, I met up with a member of the Greek FC, and he shared the same opinion as me. But next was Megadeth, who I couldn’t miss, and as predicted, Megadeth were nothing short of fantastic. They played a ripping set from beginning to end, thankfully keeping Super Collider stuff to a minimum. They began with “Trust” and ended with “Holy Wars”. They actually ended up playing a full 80 minutes, and that inc,used an encore. Thankfully Mr. Dave Mustaine had the decency to keep his mouth shut, as a few nights before, he was reported to have made some homophobic remarks, and according to my cousin Mike, ranted for 5 minutes about the US government on the “Countdown to Extinction Anniversary” tour. And whole I’ve always been against “A Tout le Monde” being a duet, it was done well with Cristina Scabbia. And before you know it, the funniest sight had occurred: Ashley Groom came out and sat to the side of the stage like a lug watching their set. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen! He looked very clearly like the traveling was finally getting to him too.
Anyways, 30 minutes of waiting, the lights finally dim, “Rising Mercury” blares, and the place erupts like a fucking volcano. It’s still light out, which did kind of kill the mood- a tour like this is definitely best in a closed top coliseum. But nonetheless I was still excited, and I had very little voice left, literally. And that didn’t matter when the pyros went off and Maiden came running onstage. They went on through “Moonchild” and “Can I Play With Madness” with the gusto of soldiers not letting invaders take their land, and the crowd ate every particle of it up. I was already getting a Latin American vibe from the crowd, as they sang to every instrumental part. I was forgetting that I could barely even speak and was all energized despite no sleep and screaming my fucking lungs out at Muse the night earlier.
Before “Afraid to Shoot Strangers”, Bruce even noticed somebody in the crowd who was a tad too used to him wearing a beanie hat on the tour, who had a sign that read, “Bruce, please give me your cap!”. Bruce responded by pointing at his head and saying, “I’m not wearing one!”. Too hilarious! And here’s a photo of that sign:
Afraid to Shoot Strangers” was even more beautiful this time around, and brought some tears to me eye. To hear the crowd sing along to every second of it made me realize one thing- Europe is my home away from home, especially when it comes to gigs. While Edmonton has some amazing crowds, they’re nothing compared to this. “The Trooper” and “Number of the Beast” took care of themselves, and a real rousing rendition of “Phantom of the Opera”, which showed just how passionate the band are about their craft. The song is always a complete ripper live, especially with Bruce’s pyro demonstration and food puns, and the musicianship that is as powerful as a thunderbolt to the face. “Run to the Hills” was as amazing as it always is, even with Custer Eddie and sparkling pyro. “Seventh Son” was as hypnotic as ever, with the synth-drenched interludes and theatrics involving gigantic candlesticks and fog, “The Clairvoyant” was as powerful as always, and when you hear the crowd sing to “Fear of the Dark” and the Eddie comes up during “Iron Maiden”, there is nothing but smiles and cheers.
And then, a moment came which showed just how total troopers (pardon the pun) Maiden are. After the snare hit that signaled “Aces High”, the band ran on stage, but Nicko hit his snare too hard, thus breaking the skin. Instead of stopping the song and waiting to get a new snare, Nicko continued to play the snare parts on his lower toms until an engineer brought a new snare in its place. What a player! Any band would halt the performance, but Nicko isn’t one to prevent the crowd from witnessing “Aces High”, a song with tons of power and energy. Bruce still hit the high notes, the solos were as ripping as ever, and lead nicely to “The Evil That Men Do”, where Bruce said: “The evil that men do lives on, but the good is often turned with their bones… and so is the snare drum”. That and “Running Free” helped round out another successful gig on a happy and high note, which even beat the Paris gig, something I didn’t think was possible. Hearing the frenzied soccer crowd cheer Maiden on with the “Ole, ole ole ole, Maiden, Maiden!” chant was just beautiful. It was then where it hit me: Europe is a continent where its citizens are taught to love music like you would your favourite soccer team. If only North Americans could learn a thing or two from Europeans.
Getting out of the Rho wasn’t as much of a problem as I’d imagined. Despite 40, 000 Maiden fans to get ahead of, I was in good spirits all along, and even managed to make a last-minute catch-up with Dee and Tom Svartsyn before making my way to the train station.
Another thing hit me when I got on the train: I was tired. I fell asleep on the train, but I was lucky: I ended up at the centre of town, which wasn’t too far from the hostel (a good 5 minute drive), and a guy woke me up telling me to get off, as lines were now closed. So I took a taxi and arrived safely at the hostel, and to my surprise, when I arrived in the room, I had a roommate. He was another Canadian, an Asian guy who had been in Europe for a month already. He and I had a nice chat and I could get used to him, as he seemed cool and we hit it off real nice.
The next day, I woke up at 12:17 PM, a real change. I needed a good sleep after being sleep deprived and it showed. So I took a shower, and gave myself an hour to use Facebook and my email. I took a walk through Milan and explored, looked at the city, saw the sights, etc. I went to this one particular avenue that had shops, restaurants, bars, etc. I decided to stop at one restaurant for a glass of wine and to chill for a bit, and with it, I got some chips and bruschetta. Now, there’s where it occurred to me: I work in an Italian restaurant that’s part of a big trans-national chain. And here I am eating real, authentic Italian food and drinking Italian wine. After all that hard work and saving, and traveling too with little time to relax, I was living the high life.
I explored some more, looked in shops, and saw some architecture, when it began to rain. Well, not as bad as what came later, but I ran for cover under a huge arch, and when it calmed, bought a €5 umbrella from a salesman which, predictably, broke. Well, I guess I shouldn’t expect much from an €5 umbrella.
I went for dinner at a place on said avenue, had some more wine, and had Norwegian lobster on the grill. This was some of the yummiest stuff I’ve had all year. Anyone who knows me really well knows I’m a huge lobster enthusiast, and paired with the yummy Cabernet Franc, all went down together nicely. This was it, there was no way I could get a better Italian cuisine experience. Authentic Italian food and wine, in the country itself, it was, in a word, “magnifico!”
I got back on the train back to the station nearest the hostel. When I got off, it began raining, and I mean POURING. Worse yet, this city was confusing as fuck to navigate, and I eventually got tired of walking around wet, so I hailed a taxi.
Now, here’s a lesson in linguistics, folks. Half of Italian is the word, “preggo”. It has a million different meanings, and Italians even have a hard time understanding each other because of it. And while thankfully none of this involved that word, it did involve pronunciation issues. I told him the address clearly: “Via Pietra Calvi, 18″. Well, he clearly didn’t listen and rove me halfway across town because of it. I told him, “I think you may have taken the long way, man.” Then, he tried to convince me I told him a location that didn’t exist. Even more insultingly, he had a GPS. I had him stop the car on the side of the road and very clearly said, “VIA PIETRA CALVI, 18. DIECIOCHO.” I didn’t yell, but I did say it firmly and clearly, and finally got some sense and used the GPS.
Having been drenched and soaked, I got back to the hostel and showered, changed into my PJs, used my iPad for a bit, then hit the hay early. I got up at 4 AM , showered and changed again, headed for the train station and caught the first train out to Malpensa, where a change of airlines and cities, not to mention a new country with a different kind if language was to take place. Two Maiden concerts, both sold out, in one city, and where epic events were due to go down. I’m talking about Frankfurt, baby. The city that I’m positive will take me forever to write about.
In the next installment of my Maiden journey, I discuss drunkenness, hipster smiles, band members in pubs, German fans, free merchandise, Trooper beers, First to the Barrier, event shirts, and a lot more. Auf Wiedersein!!! Or as the Italians say, “Preggo!”