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I spent most of this year's Ozzfest hearing my father's oft-repeated condemnation of rock and roll in my head: "That's just noise, kid." For the first time in my life, I agreed with him. Maybe this means I'm getting old, but more likely it means that the nu-metal that dominated this show deserves to burn out. This Ozzfest--my fourth out of a possible five--wasn't completely devoid of talent, but I found the sets of suffering outnumbered the rushes.
I slept in because I hadn't heard of most of the side-stage bands and because the thought of listening to metal at 10:00 AM delights me about as much as cold pizza for breakfast when I'm not hungover. I arrived around noon and disembarked into New Jersey acid rain. I needed to unload two lawn tickets and even though this was the last show of the tour and sold out, I knew the rain wasn't going to make for an easy sale. After a friend canceled on me, I had managed to buy a ticket in the 30th row off ebay, which I then obtained via a covert exchange at a Charlie Brown's restaurant in a New Jersey mall. I could tell you more, but then I'd have to get Slipknot to kill you. I walked around trying to sell the tickets and getting low offers and one threat from a cop before giving up and selling the tickets to a pro scalper for half the face value. I was disappointed, but at least I'd have some beer money.
Once inside, I caught the tail end of Beautiful Creatures' set on the third stage. Several band members dove into the fountain that adorns the amphitheater entrance. They were smart enough not to swim with their instruments, but that's about all I can say for them. I meandered through the village where many clothing items emblazoned with "Fuck" were on sale. Even the monster on this year's Ozzfest T-shirt had his middle finger extended. Many bands showed no evidence of vocabulary beyond this word and encouraged fans to show their true feelings by extending their middle fingers. It soon became clear to me who was getting fucked.
Other side stage bands I saw when not cowering under the Divine Records tent to avoid the rain were Taproot, Drowning Pool, and Mudvayne. Taproot stood out only by wearing all-white outfits that made them resemble orderlies from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Drowning Pool rocked and had the moshpit a-churnin', particularly during their WWF-ready anthem "Bodies." "Let the bodies hit the floor. Let the bodies hit the floooor," their singer screamed. I could smell what Sharon Osbourne was cookin' and for the first time that day it didn't stink. I was curious to see metal media darlings Mudvayne but they soon bored me and induced migraine symptoms. I admired their makeup, particularly the guitarist wtih the Blue Man Group face and orange mohawk, brows, and goatee. But too much time spent on makeup and too little on music will soon land them in the bargain bin next to GWAR. Of course, they drew the biggest crowd of the day to the side stage; the Slipknot youth love 'em, so who knows?
Instead of the side stage and main stage running concurrently as in previous years, all the side stage bands played first. Then around 3:00 PM, Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society kicked off the main stage action. Zakk has impressed me ever since I saw him complaining about Ozzy's prima donna behavior in the Live and Loud concert video. His current band tore the roof off the place. Looking like a lost Allman Brother, the bearded Zakk shredded his way through a 30-minute set, concluding with a ferocious version of "No More Tears" that made me realize that several layers underneath the string section, Ozzy shrieks, and slowed-down attempt at chick-appeal, there's a kick-ass riff at the heart of that tune and fire in its belly.
Next up was Crazy Town who got their ubiquitous radio hit "Butterfly" out of the way fast. The rest of their rap-metal set was uninspired if inoffensive (to me at least, but many more hardcore fans booed). It had been raining hard for some time and the hillside had become a mudslide. Mud-caked people walked around looking dazed, perhaps having Woodstock '94 flashbacks. I was very grateful for my seat under the shelter. Disturbed, the side stage band that had been promoted to the main stage, rocked hard. The mob sang along to their radio hits like "Down with the Sickness" and especially to their loving Pantera cover. I bought their album the following week, as my appetite had been dually whetted.
Linkin Park played an angry set to a mostly uninterested crowd. Papa Roach followed them and I found myself in a nu-metal coma. These bands couldn't write a memorable riff if their lives depended on it. Sharing the stage with Black Sabbath isn't teaching them anything, poor dears.
The Reverend B. Dangerous, the side stage emcee, emerged to introduce Slipknot. He warmed up the crowd by stapling a T-shirt to his arms and forehead with a staple gun, then pulling out the staples along with chunks of his flesh. The crowd went nuts and then reached fever pitch to welcome Slipknot to the stage. I'd noticed more Slipknot shirts and even Slipknot-esque work suits in the crowd than any other band merchandise. Off the strength of only one album, they've really succeeded in building a brand. I'd never seen them or really listened to their stuff. After a few songs I felt like I'd taken the Reverend's staple gun to my own forehead. It was a full-on sonic assault. I will admit the 9 masked men were entertaining to watch with dual drumkits that tilted and rose, requiring the drummers to handle them with the expertise of mechanical bull riders. They say they wear masks so that people will concentrate on their music and not on their looks, but all I can say for them is "cool masks."
After Slipknot, many younger fans left. I couldn't believe they'd skip Marilyn Manson and Black Sabbath, but they seemed to be monotheists. Or else they were tired of being muddy, wet, and cold. Although I'm not a fan, I knew Marilyn Manson would be entertaining and the band didn't disappoint. The former Brian Warner emerged on stage wearing a corset, torn fishnet hose, and that scary opaque contact lens. The video screens flashed subliminal and not-so-subliminal messages about pop culture, the "kill your idols" type stuff. A giant cross made of rifles hung on the stage. Marilyn wore stilts, molested bouncers, and sexually harassed his bandmates. He played hits such as "Beautiful People" and "Dope Show." True to his name, Manson's show is an amalgam of all that is brutal and beautiful about rock music and pop culture. And as Ed Sullivan might say, "It's a really big shew." He's worth seeing, once anyway, and his show was a refreshing change of pace from the usual "scream into a microphone, look fierce, say 'fuck', repeat" approach of most Ozzfest bands.
Finally, the lights went down and Ozzy began yelling "I can't fucking hear you," from offstage. Black Sabbath appeared and played pretty much the same set they've played since their 1998 reunion. Ozzy's voice cracked horribly on "Snowblind" early in the set and I could see him grimace and mouth "fuck" off-mike after missing a note. After the song he said, "I'm sorry I'm singing so badly tonight. I really wanted to give you my best." I think it's irresponsible of Sharon to book Ozzy 2 nights in a row. Her greed disgusts me more than a Reverend Dangerous routine. He still gave it a good try but kept saying how tired he was. His leapfrog jumps weren't as high as usual, although he still used the water cannon with great zeal. His voice improved later in the set, possibly because it was mixed lower so backing vocalist Geoff Nichols could carry the songs. The highlight of the set was "The Wizard" which I'd never heard live. It was magical to see Ozzy on the harmonica. Zakk Wylde and his son sat enraptured on the side of the stage watching the Sabs, reminding me that even when not at their best they are still an amazing, groundbreaking band and I'm lucky to get to see these legends at all.
Black Sabbath ended their set early with "Paranoid", skipping the new song they'd been playing in other shows and a few classics. As I walked to my car, I took a short cut through the grass, slipped, fell on my ass, and slid down the hill. I had to put a trash bag on my seat and drive home with a soggy, muddy bottom. The sludge on my ass seemed a fitting conclusion to a day of metal sludge.
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