OZZfest

 

Although there was a fair amount of diversity to be found among the acts that filled the 12-hour OZZfest with noisy rock, there were some common threads. For one thing, nearly every performer who took the stage addressed the issue of the 100-degree temperature by exclaiming, “It’s fucking hot!” For another, many the group proved that the influence of hip-hop culture has led to more than just rapped vocals, as evidenced by the prevalence of rap-concert-style call-and-response stage banter. Finally, each band that played, even those whose sets failed to impress as a whole, delivered a few promising moments that revealed why fans would risk certain sunburn to hear their offerings.

Usually a promising prospect can be found among the unfortunate openers who play under the sweltering midmorning sun for a handful of die-hards, and this year the lucky party was Apartment 26. This rock ‘n’ rave quintet, fronted by Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler’s son Biff, got the early birds moving and sweating with its pulsing industrial beats and precise, heavy riffs. Apartment 26 improved significantly on its second-stage performance from last year, proving not only that it deserved its slot on the main stage but also that it deserved to play later in the day.

Pitchshifter, one of Biff’s band’s main influences, followed the youngsters with a similar attack but was unable to elicit a similarly positive response. Likewise, the critically acclaimed desert-rock group Queens of the Stone Age proved its dense compositions are better served by indoor venues. Meanwhile, on the second stage, Reveille, Slaves on Dope, Taproot, Shuvel, Deadlights, and Primer 55 each had little trouble inciting boisterous moshing and body surfing, though admittedly some of the fans who flocked to this more intimate setting would have thrashed to anything with guitars and a beat. Of this up-and-coming crop, Shuvel seemed to generate the most genuine affection.

Finally, at roughly 2:30, came the first of the big names. P.O.D., backed by a painting that depicted a black, dreadlocked Jesus and two chubby cherubs, unleashed the intriguing rap/rock tracks from its gold major-label-debut, The Fundamental Elements of Southtown. Blending tight transitions, trippy breakdowns, and brutally heavy outbursts, P.O.D. entertained the growing crowd with such MTV favorites as “Southtown” and the set-closing “Rock the Party.” The group also provided welcome respite from the inane on-stage proclamations from nearly every other band. For example, when describing the weather, singer Sonny said merely, “It’s a beautiful day.” Instead of chastising his fans for not yelling loudly enough, Sonny said, “It’s an honor and a privilege to be on this stage.” After P.O.D.’s impressive six-song showcase ended, Sonny left the audience with words of wisdom, saying, “Let love lead the way.”

The antithesis of wisdom soon followed, as the event’s emcee launched into one of many pointless tirades against boy groups and female pop sensations. At least one part of this tiresome sermon to the converted bordered on clever, as the bloke promised that the “most evil of evils” would follow Pantera, then substituted the Backstreet Boys for Ozzy. After this would-be comedian exited the stage, aggro-metal blasted from the loudspeakers until a ferocious industrial beat kicked in, inspiring drummers Tommy Lee and Stephen Perkins to pound away with the programmed beat. This was the highlight of Methods of Mayhem‘s set, although it was amusing to see manic rapping sidekick TiLo enter on a low-riding bicycle and guitarist Kai Markus outfitted as if he were on loan from Orgy. “I’m glad to be here and not sitting in a jail cell somewhere,” Lee said, offering a bit of perspective for everyone who bitched about the heat. Clad in an open-chested jumpsuit, Lee proved he’s still a heavy-metal sex symbol, as legions of female fans hooted their approval. Perhaps more surprising, Lee’s band demonstrated it could entertain without the host of guest artists it paraded onto its debut album.

[page]

Up next on the second stage was Disturbed, which seemed to be the tour’s biggest buzz band. David Draiman, who (unlike any of the vocalists who preceded him) was an actual singer, was wheeled on stage in a muzzle and straitjacket, then emitted an odd monkeylike noise, signaling the start of the group’s “Down with the Sickness.” Early in the set, Draiman made a deal with the crowd. “We’re all about to die from the heat,” he said, although it was hard to empathize with Draiman as he, like so many other frontmen, inexplicably succumbed to Slipknot fashion by wearing a cumbersome jumpsuit on a scorching August day. “You give us energy and we’ll give it back to you.” The fans must have decided this was fair enough, because they thrashed and sang along in a spirited fashion. For its part, Disturbed contributed a crunching version of its choppy single “Stupify” and a clever cover of Tears for Fears’ “Shout.” Like the groups that preceded them, Disturbed had a fascination with rap slang (see “Dropping Plates”), but this was more new grunge than new metal. Draiman addressed the crowd with a seemingly split personality, prefacing his comments with an earnest “my brothers, my sisters, my blood,” then screaming in a high-pitched Sam-Kinison-style squeal. Finally, Draiman dismissed his followers, urging them to vote for Disturbed on TRL, thus angering those ever-unpopular boy bands and their fan clubs.

Draiman possesses a competent grunge-style voice, but Incubus‘ Brendan Boyd owns the tour’s finest vocal chops this side of Ozzy. The shirtless Boyd, who occasionally strapped on a drum, fronted a funky group whose songs were accentuated by the constant scratching of DJ Chris Kilmore. Catchy tunes, such as “Pardon Me” and “Consequence,” were much more effective than the blue lights that flashed during the group’s choruses despite the fact that, this being 4:30 p.m., they were rendered impotent by the sun. Not content merely to croon and provide auxiliary percussion, Boyd offered his fans a health tip: “If you drink beer, drink a water, then have another beer, then have another water.” Few probably followed this advice, as this suggested cocktail would have cost an alarming $22, but you can’t blame Boyd for trying.

The day’s heaviest band (save Pantera) played next on the second stage — the all-female Kittie, which turned Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” into a death-metal dirge and its own “Brackish” into a Static-X rivaling apocalyptic disco. On record, singer Morgan Lander goes from menacing growls to sweet girlie vocals, but in concert she sticks almost exclusively to the roar and adds plenty of gratuitous profanity for good measure. Bassist Talena was the most active, strumming out brutal basslines while banging her head, while guitarist Fallon Bowman was immobile yet venomous, hissing out the vocals to “Choke” with an icy glare. However, Bowman had her fun side, joining Lander in spraying the enthusiastic crowd with water guns before, during, and after the set. Similarly, Kittie soaked the crowd with harsh, uncompromising metal, making the only female voice on the tour a strong and confident one.

With Static-X came a couple of firsts: The first memorable melody (during the infectious “Love Dump”) and the first string of danceable tunes. Backed by a throbbing electronic groove, singer/guitarist Wayne Static and company set the crowd in constant motion with its rhythmic industrial compositions. At one point, its drummer held up a sign that read “Get the Fuck Up!,” but the reminder was hardly necessary, as most of the audience was already upright. By the time the eraserheaded Static, whose hairspray is obviously heatproof, barked his way through the hit “Push It,” crowd participation had crescendoed to its peak for the fest thus far.

[page]

Closing down the second stage was Soulfly, which delivered an emotional performance on the fourth anniversary of singer/guitarist Max Cavalera’s stepson Dana’s death. Members of various other second-stage acts assumed the vocal duties of on-the-records guest stars, such as Fred Durst and Chino Moreno on “Bleed” and “Pain,” respectively, while “Back to the Primitive” displayed the full fury of the group’s new album, Primitive, which will be out in late September. As always, the highlight of Soulfly’s set was its multimember percussive jam, which on this evening occurred late in “Umbabarauma.” The only sour note to arise from Soulfly’s show, and it was a relatively minor one, was that its dated bashing of Hootie and the Blowfish during “No” made jokes at Backstreet and Britney’s expense seem relevant.

No longer was it necessary to stroll back and forth between stages, so fans expended their spare energy by moshing maniacally to the sounds of rock radio favorites Godsmack. The most accessible of new-school groups on the bill, with a sound that brings to mind Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains, this Boston-based crew showcased several new tunes from an album that will be released on Halloween day as well as pounding out heavy-rotation favorites “Whatever” and “Voodoo.” Singer Sully Erna requested “total fucking insanity” from his fans; while the resulting outpouring of energy didn’t quite merit that description, it did establish that 1999’s OZZfest fan favorites have become even more popular.

If Godsmack won applause through recognition, Pantera was able to elicit cheers through sheer intimidation. Looking and acting like crazed cavemen as they paced the stage and spit profusely, the self-proclaimed (again and again) “kings of heavy metal” played the part perfectly. The early part of the group’s set focused heavily on its latest album, Reinventing the Steel, but fans didn’t seem to mind as it unveiled one muscular blues-rock romp after another. After wordlessly leading the crowd in a chant of “Pan-ter-a!” by thumping his microphone against his chest, singer Philip Anselmo asked all real heavy-metal fans to put their hands in the air, and he labeled one chap in a Motorhead shirt as a “fag” for not participating, though the accused protested that he’s instead a fan of rock and roll. (Anselmo later made peace with this fellow.) Pantera teased the crowd with the first verse of its best song, “Cemetery Gates,” which it almost never plays live, before shifting into the full-velocity “Fucking Hostile.” Between songs, Anselmo extolled the virtues of various debaucheries at great length, although he took a break from such banter to exclaim simply, “I hate hip-hop.” By the end of its hourlong set, Pantera was in vintage form, stomping through the title track from its breakthrough record, Cowboys from Hell, with its unmistakable swagger.

After a lengthy set change, necessitated both by dozens of crew workers’ erecting an enormous demon-themed facade and by tour sponsor Sega Dreamcast’s promoting its products by broadcasting video-game bouts. (Guitarist Marcos of P.O.D. lost twice, first to a local lad and then to a member of Static-X.) Finally, the stage went dark, and an Oscar-style parody film appeared, during which the smirking metal god Ozzy Osbourne inserted himself into footage of Gladiator, American Pie, The Sixth Sense, and (par for the course) Britney Spears and ‘N Sync videos. It was juvenile but amusing, and it was certainly a refreshing change from the macho posturing that preceded it. Minutes later, Ozzy appeared on a throne, wearing a shirt that read “Evil.” He had much more energy than during last year’s Black Sabbath performance, as he looked like a mischievous hyperactive child instead of a fifty-something veteran of hard living. Osbourne ran across the stage, dumped buckets of water in the crowd, manned a powerful hose, and clapped incessantly between capably crooning selections from his 20-year-old classic, Blizzard of Ozz. Osbourne’s distinctive voice still sounded crisp on “I Don’t Know,” the keyboard-filled “Mr. Crowley,” and the lengthy rendition of “Suicide Solution,” while his guitarist managed some transcendent solos, though occasionally his soloing was intrusive and drowned out Ozzy’s voice. Osbourne’s group’s version of the Black Sabbath epic “War Pigs” wasn’t quite as strong as the real band’s performance of the song last year, but it still did justice to one of metal’s finest compositions. Coming on the heels of nearly 12 hours of relentlessly heavy rock, power ballads such as “Mama, I’m Coming Home” and such nuanced numbers as “No More Tears” soothed strained ears. In a concert setting, longer doesn’t necessarily equal better, and some of the once-concise tunes lost something in the transition to sprawling, hand-clap-accented jams. Nonetheless, Osbourne confirmed, as he does yearly, that he’s one of the most consistent showmen on the touring circuit and that metal’s new generation still has a lot of catching up to do. While most of the bands entertained during their allotted time, nearly all of them need tighter songwriting, increased vocal range, and more flair in their performances to have any hope of being on the road 20 years down the line.

Categories: Music