When Ozzy Osbourne was chiefly known in middle America for decapitating winged creatures and urinating on the Alamo, he and his annual hard rock hoedown were greeted with protests, boycotts and prayer meetings.
But, oh, what a difference a year makes.
The former most-feared man in rock has now become its most beloved father figure, courtesy of the rib-tickling warts-and-all series “The Osbournes.” So as he returns to the road for the first time since becoming the toast of prime time, Ozzy and Ozzfest 2002 are being greeted not with protests but with open arms, and at least a few lingering questions: Can you still be the “prince of f–ing darkness” when that very title has become your copyrighted catchphrase? Can you stand as a larger-than-life rock icon when the world has seen you hunching over scooping poop? In short, can you be America’s favorite dad without losing your fangs?
If these roles do in fact exist in conflict, no one bothered to tell the 19,000 fans who turned out on Tuesday when Ozzfest 2002 rolled into the Tweeter Center.
“Come on you motherf–ers,” Osbourne pleaded while ripping through the Black Sabbath anthem “War Pigs,” producing a field of hands and a wall of appreciative screams.
It’s safe to say that Ozzy’s fans were well aware of his family-man ways long before a camera crew moved into his home. Those well-versed in Oz lore know the role his loving wife Sharon plays in his career, and his children often sidle up next to him during interviews.
Still, Ozzy and the Ozzfest class of 2002 seemed hell-bent on shaking any residual warm fuzzies lingering as the tour wrapped up its first week on the road (Ozzfest 2002 kicked off on July 10 in Scranton, Pennsylvania).
With Sharon resting at home with her children following her recent colon cancer surgery, traces of “The Osbournes” phenomenon were few. Some T-shirts were being hawked, and Ozzy passed along warm wishes from his wife during his set, but for the most part, this was a solitary Ozzy, clad in a black long-sleeve T emblazoned with red sparkling crucifixes, ignoring trends and sticking with what has worked for years: prowling the stage like a madman, crouching and springing like a frog, and dousing his audience (and himself) in gallons and gallons of water. Musically, Osbourne also stuck with tradition, mixing newer tracks like “Dreamer” and “Gets Me Through” with such classics as “I Don’t Know,” “Believer” and the obligatory “Crazy Train.”
If Osbourne was hoping to shed the taint of doting fatherhood and familial goodwill, he did well in surrounding himself with the likes of Rob Zombie, System of a Down, P.O.D., Drowning Pool and Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society, all of whom hit Ozzfest’s main stage with their not-ready-for-prime-time ferocity intact.
“We’re all on drugs, even on Ozzfest,” System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian chanted before the band launched into “Aerials.” For System, no strangers to the Ozzfest stage, this go-round showcases the band’s continuing evolution into one of the most important rock bands of today. Flanked only by amps and accented by waves of light, the band delivered its message of political awareness and cynicism – which has never seemed more timely – with manic energy and uncompromising musicianship.
Zombie preferred to let the music do the talking as well, offering up his set on a Spartan (at least by Zombie standards) stage set. Backed only by 15-foot-tall black-and-white photos of classic movie monsters, Zombie left his giant robot and wall of flames at home, preferring to save most of his ghoulish imagery for tracks like “Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy),” “Dragula” and “Living Dead Girl.”
Drowning Pool’s early main-stage set inspired the most mayhem of the day (or at least the most costly) as fans seated on the lawn of the amphitheater dug up sizable chunks of sod and sent them hurling down on those seated closer to the stage.
This year’s second-stage acts upped the brutality even further, as Down, Hatebreed and Meshuggah ruled the wide-open spaces of stage 2. Ozzfest’s second stage has provided a well-documented springboard for the likes of Slipknot, System of a Down, Mudvayne, Static-X and Drowning Pool. This year, Lost Prophets, Pulse Ultra, Neurotica, Chevelle, Ill Nino, Flaw, Otep and Soil are among the “baby bands” jockeying for position, but it was Hatebreed, Meshuggah and Apex Theory who commanded the lion’s share of the buzz on Tuesday.
But in this field of relative unknowns, the veterans of Down – Pantera’s Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown and Corrosion of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan – offered a lesson in pure, simple, brutal rock.
“Bad ass, motherf–ers. Bad ass,” Anselmo observed as a heaving mass kicked up dust in front of the stage.
While Ozzfest 2002 offered its best snarl, second-stage Ozzfest virgin Andrew W.K. was serving up hugs. Saddled with a 9:55 a.m. start time (the second-stage schedule rotates daily, with the first act hitting at 9:30 a.m.), A.W.K. mustered up his usual peak-hour level of mania and topped his set by leaping into the crowd for a round of handshakes, embraces and general goodwill for those in the first few rows.
“I look like a big idiot up there, but people still seem to be having a good time,” he said of his set.