Twisted Sister pay tribute to A.J. Pero at Starland Ballroom Sayreville, NJ 6-13-15

Twisted Sister pay tribute to A.J. Pero at Starland Ballroom Sayreville, NJ 6-13-15

On March 20, 2015, the Rock-n-Roll world was saddened to hear of the untimely death of A. J. Pero, drummer of Twisted Sister, which occurred while he was touring with his other band, Adrenaline Mob. At only fifty-five years of age, his passing left his friends, family, and fans devastated, not only for the loss of one of the best drummers around, but a great all around guy. Adrenaline Mob continuing their tour alongside Drowning Pool as well as Full Devil Jacket with one-time Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy taking over, and on March 21st, held a very special tribute show at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ in Pero’s honor. Now just shy of three months later, after coping with the loss of Pero, Twisted Sister came together in the late drummer’s honor at Starland Ballroom Saturday June 13th for a special tribute show. Making a unified decision to put this show together, as well as deciding to wind down their touring career in 2016, this would be a historic night in the band’s career for a number of reasons. With many well aware of the magnitude of the show, the venue packed out rather quickly as the evening kicked off with opening acts Billy Mira and the Hitmen and Four by Fate.

Added to the line-up just days before the show, Billy Mira and the Hitmen were well-prepared despite the short notice. Hailing from New York, this Swing/Rockabilly cover band were dressed the part in gunmetal gray suits and had the swagger and attitude to match their aesthetic style. The charismatic Mira remained in character throughout the set, mimicking the vocals and mannerisms of an old-timey crooner, while his band backed him up with the smooth expertise of a well-oiled machine. The musicianship was flawless as the band played hits like “Zoot Suit Riot,” by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, “The House is Rockin’,” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, and “Oh, Pretty Woman,” by Roy Orbison. Mira related a conversation he had once had with A. J. Pero, where they were discussing what pre-Heavy Metal singer would have been best-suited to the genre, ultimately agreeing on Tom Jones. The band then played a rendition of Jones’ “She’s a Lady” that had Mira alternating between his regular singing voice and Metal-style vocals. On Pero, Mira said, “Even though life took him waaaay before his time, A. J. will always be with us in our hearts, minds, and souls.”

Danny Stanton, Twisted Sister’s tour manager and owner of Coallier Entertainment, introduced the next act, Four By Fate. Four By Fate, which was formed in 2014, features Tod Howarth (Frehley’s Comet, Cheap Trick) on vocals and guitar, John Regan (Frehley’s Comet) on bass, along with newest members, Patrick James (Pound, Flywheel) on guitar, and Rob Affuso (formerly of Skid Row) on drums. Forgoing stage banter to instead focus on putting a great set of songs, mixing in a broad range of songs. Sounding tight, these seasoned musicians demonstrated the kind of skill and expertise that can only be obtained through years of experience. Through the set, they rocked out with Frehley’s Comet tracks “Something Moved,” “Calling to You,” “Follow Me,” as well as Rick Derringer’s “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” to close out their performance.  Keeping the crowd going with their energy and talent, Four By Fate definitely paid their respects to Pero. Be sure to check them out for future live performances.

Next up was Twisted Sister, but before they took the stage, Pero’s sons and oldest daughter — the younger daughter, Briana, could not make it because of a knee injury — were invited up to say a few words and pay tribute to their late father. In typical Twisted Sister charitable fashion, all of the proceeds of this show would go to Pero’s family. When Pero’s children were done speaking of their beloved father, Stanton came out again to introduce the band, and the Rock-n-Roll show was underway. Frontman Dee Snider immediately expressed his gratitude toward Mike Portnoy for being there to play drums in Pero’s honor. Joining them were of course long-time members Mark Mendoza on bass and Eddie Ojeda and Jay Jay French, both on guitars.

Although the guys no longer don the garish Shock-Rocker makeup that was their signature look in the ‘80s, they certainly are not lacking in theatrics and energy. As always, Snider is an excellent showman, and during the set he engaged the audience with frequent one-liners. He introduced most, if not all, of the songs in the set with a background fact, a joke, or a heartfelt comment about Pero’s time in the band. To introduce “Shoot ‘Em Down,” Snider said, “This is for all the assholes in the world. Before launching into the hit single “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” he talked about how the song has endured and is popular even among those it was meant to criticize. To drive home the point of the universality and potency of anger, Snider ended the song saying, “Don’t you ever fucking take it anymore.” For “Fire Still Burns,” Snider commented on Pero’s inner fire, but the song that truly resonated as a tribute to the late drummer was “The Price,” which Snider prefaced by saying, “A.J., I know you’re up there, mother fucker! The nice one died.”

Moving along the emotional performance, “Burn in Hell” was another highlight, especially when Portnoy put down his sticks, the stage went dark, and a video of Pero, playing an amazing drum solo, appeared on the monitors. For “I Wanna Rock,” also a massive hit for the band, the audience was invited to contribute to the show by screaming the second “rock” in the titular part of the chorus. Before the encore, “Twisted Sister, come out and play” was heard over the speakers, and the band reappeared on stage. Snider dedicated the encore song, “Sick Mother Fucker (SMF),” to the band’s earliest fans, and the show ended with the band showering Portnoy with high fives.

At Starland Ballroom that night, from the beginning of the show to the very end, there was amazing energy. The opening bands were good enough to be the headliners, and the actual headlining band was even stronger. These musicians were the real deal, not only playing their hearts out, but also having a great time in the process. Those who have been fans of Twisted Sister for a while were able to relive the band’s glory days, while newer fans got a chance to see what all the hype was about. Although Snider claimed this might have been the band’s last time playing New Jersey since, as mentioned above, they plan on retiring from the live scene soon, fans will be able to relive the experience of seeing Twisted Sister in all of their iterations when the documentary Twisted Sister: The Movie is released. Meanwhile, Horror fans rejoice: rumor has it that Snider will be reprising his role as Captain Howdy in Strangeland II: Disciple, a prequel to the 1998 Horror film Strangeland. Above it all, Twisted Sister came together in honor of their bandmate and brother whom they shared so many memories with over the past three plus decades. While Pero maybe gone, he is surely not forgotten. Those lucky enough to make it out to Starland Ballroom experienced a killer show that A.J. Pero surely would have approved of.

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Meghan Ritter
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