Finally, the day of the first show. I woke up at about 7:30 after a good night’s sleep and went down to breakfast in the hotel. I was a bit surprised to see that Tom’s bed (we were sharing a room then) was unused, but it all made sense when I saw everyone else was already at breakfast. Jim had simply gotten up before me, but the other three had never went to sleep (and were still pretty juiced) after running around to various bars all night long. I’m kinda sorry I missed it, and am sure I didn’t hear half of what happened that night!
Since those three were going to get some sleep, and Jim was heading out to the club to meet the truck finally, I decided to go with him. We arrived at the Rodon Club before 11AM, and there was already a group of twenty or thirty kids outside. I’d never seen a show being set up before, and it was pretty interesting. I got an opportunity to explore the whole place, and see how everything comes together. The crew was very cool, and like Jim, said that the fact that this was a live recording didn’t mean any added pressure for them; it was just another day at the office. With the help of a few fans, all of the gear made it on to the floor, and then slowly into its assembled form onstage. Meanwhile, the lights were aimed and set, and Jim worked outside in the truck to get everything up to speed there. The truck ended up next to the venue, parked precariously at the edge of a huge pit, so that made things a bit of an adventure. They had walkie-talkies for communication, but sometimes messengers had to run back and forth.
At about 4PM, the band finally arrived. The show in Thessaloniki had been a big success, so they felt good for the shows here as well (despite the fact that Jon had managed 15 minutes of sleep between the two shows). They got to soundchecking pretty quickly, and of course spent a lot of time getting everything just right. Brent did his very cool drum solo/warmup, and then the whole band played some stuff together. I think they started with “Melancholy”, and after a little bit of that, suddenly busted into “Dante’s Inferno”! They played the full thing (to a crowd of about 10 people), so I got to hear it twice live. I felt I could have gone home without even seeing the show after they played that. Eventually, everything was all set, and at about 6:30, they opened the doors.
Immediately, a steady stream of kids started flowing in, and as soon as they got in the door, they sprinted up to as close to the stage as they could get. I really wanted to be up close for at least one of the nights, so I went up there before too many people came in. But I kept getting squeezed back, and I figured I had three hours to wait, so after a little while, I returned to the back of the club. Eventually, the entire place was filled…the floor, the balcony, and even the big staircase. Banners were unfurled and hung from the balcony, and an electric feeling began filling the place.
If I didn’t already know that Greece was a very special metal place, it became quite obvious when the pre-show tape rolled along and got to Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”. At the intro, a huge roar went up from the crowd, and every person in the place began spontaneously singing along. I’d never seen anything like it. Not only were they singing, they were jumping around and generally going crazy. I was completely amazed. They continued to sing to every song from then on, for at least an hour…Iron Maiden, Slayer, Blind Guardian, everything that the tape played. Of course, I just had to be in a crowd like that, so I began to work my way up from the back once again. The little mosh pits formed during “Master of Puppets” helped me quite a bit, as I was able to sneak through them. Still, it took me close to an hour to make it up as far as I could go (three or four rows back), which shows how densely this crowd was packed, and how unwilling they were to give up an inch in their quest to see Iced Earth. About half an hour before the showtime, the Iced Earth chants began. There were about three different versions, all loud enough to drown out the PA. Then, smoke started leaking out from between the curtains on the stage, and there was a huge surge forward (which I didn’t think would be possible, but somehow we managed to pack even tighter). The curtains opened, and Iced Earth’s first official live recording was underway.
I’d seen plenty of Iced Earth shows before, and metal shows in general, but none could compare to this. The energy from the crowd was unbelievable, and the band just reflected it right back to us. They’d played a few times before in Athens, so they knew a little bit of what to expect, but they were still obviously blown away by the response. After about the fifth song, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore up there. Between the singing, the screaming, the jumping up and down, and trying to keep my balance in the constantly shifting sea of bodies, I was getting seriously worn out. Which makes the kids in Greece all the more amazing: I was quite a bit bigger than most of them, and tall enough to get some fresh oxygen every once in a while, but every one of them was giving non-stop, insane energy, even if their face was buried in the back of the person in front of them. So I started to make my way back. But after moving a few inches, I said to myself “Wait. This RULES! I’m staying right here”. I did the same dance for the rest of the set…after every song, I’d tell myself that I had to get out of there and take a break before I died, and a soon as they’d start the next one, I’d be drawn right back into the thick of it. I simply couldn’t leave, it was that incredible.
I did finally work my way back through the crowd about halfway through the final song, “Iced Earth”. Once I broke free, I ran up to the backstage area, to the side of the stage where Jon’s parents and wife had been for most of the show (which was very cool for them and for Jon). The rest of our group was also there by then, and I arrived right at the “we are together now” line, which I thought was pretty neat. The band took their bows, and cleared off the stage. The venue slowly emptied out, and we waited around for the band to get cleaned up, still reveling in what we had just seen. After an hour or so, it was time to leave. My job temporarily turned from fan to bodyguard, as I had to help hold the crowd back from the band and the smaller women in our group. We ran through the gauntlet of hundreds of screaming fans, and safely made it onto the bus (although Brent almost got smothered, but hey, he’s tough.). They surrounded the bus, yelling, waving, and jumping up and down. As we drove off, kids even ran down the street after us.
After driving about halfway back to the hotel, we stopped at a McDonald’s (yeah, classic Greek food) to pick up some food for the band. We weren’t stopped for more than two or three minutes before a bunch of kids spotted us and came running up to the bus. Luckily, Mike McGill was standing guard at the door, and was able to keep them from surging on. Since it would have been too hard for the band to go out, or for the kids to come on, they instead passed their CDs, records, tickets, and shirts on to be signed by the band and then passed back out. Unfortunately, some jerk stole a signed shirt that belonged to someone else, and the band was pissed about that, but there wasn’t much they could do. The food came back, everything was signed, and we continued on our way. Of course, there was a large crowd waiting at the hotel when we returned. Apparently the magazines let the kids know where the band is staying, and it becomes fairly common knowledge. So while the band was held up signing autographs, I went up to my room, got out of my still-sweaty clothes, took a shower, and passed out.