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Ozzfest Gets Czech Republic Roaring – Review

Strahov Stadium has had it all – communist rallies, anti-globalization protests, gymnastics exhibitions, drive-through movies and, now, Ozzfest.

The crumbling structure, which stands as the largest stadium in the world per square foot, lent itself well to Ozzy Osbourne and his latest touring comrades, who hit the venue Thursday night for the seventh stop on the metal tour. With their stage parked in the middle of the field, the hard rockers used only half of the 200,000-capacity stadium, carving out an almost cozy cradle for Bohemia’s metalheads within the concrete monolith.

While the tour got off to a less-than-grand beginning when it kicked off before a lackadaisical crowd at the Rock Im Park festival in Germany two weeks ago, the Strahov audience welcomed headliners Osbourne, Tool and Slayer with pumping fists and banging mullets (the two-tiered cut is still quite en vogue in the Czech Republic). This time when Osbourne hollered, “Are you having a good time tonight?” the ensuing roar seemed to give him the answer he was looking for, even if the majority of concertgoers hadn’t actually understood the question.

Osbourne and his band stuck to the same set list they used in Germany, scanning his Black Sabbath days for such classics as “Paranoid” and “War Pigs” as well as two decades of solo work, from Blizzard of Ozz’s “Suicide Solution” and “Mr. Crowley” all the way up to “That I Never Had” and “Gets Me Through” off last year’s Down to Earth. The metal king even wore the same outfit, a black getup adorned with both inverted and upright red crosses – one of his favorite Satan suits for some time now.

He repeatedly showed his appreciation for the warm reception by shouting out such terms of endearment as “You are number one!” and “I love you!” – often at the cheesiest possible moments, such as during the theatrical opening of “Road to Nowhere.” But Ozzy is a man of excess. “Louder,” he commanded. “I… can’t… f–ing hear you!” At several points he coached concertgoers on how they should clap their hands, appearing so mechanical in his movements that he looked like a kindergarten teacher demonstrating “Pat-a-cake.”

“The crazier you f–ers go tonight the longer we will play,” he declared, though the show ended as it had in Germany. Ozzy and company encored with the ballad “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” which curiously inspired more fans to put their cell phones in the air than their lighters; and a knock-down, drag-out rendition of “Paranoid.”

“Not many of you know this, but we’re Ozzy’s favorite band,” Tool singer Maynard James Keenan said as the group headed into “Schism” midway through its set. “And this is his favorite song, almost as much as the last one, but not as much as the next one.”

Keenan assumed his usual position as the background man, defying rock star convention by performing the entire show on a platform at the rear of the stage, with his body turned toward drummer Danny Carey. The singer wore a T-shirt featuring a rather communist-like red star and sported a streak of black paint down the middle of this scalp and face, which essentially served to give his profile a shadow. Guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor also faced inward most of the set, as if directing the crowd to concentrate on the music and the elaborate video show, not on them.

The three video screens – two gigantic ones towering above the stage and one small one framing Keenan – were blank during the first two songs, but were up and running for Lateralus’s “Parabol.” The sometimes-disturbing footage, which included naked bodies contorting in various positions, flailing underwater and engaging in unusual sexual acts, took on a more dramatic effect as the show went on and the sky darkened, thus sharpening the images onscreen.

The band won the strongest applause with the instrumental “Triad,” which saw Slayer’s original drummer Dave Lombardo joining in for a double-kit assault.

“Thank you for your support, thank you for your patience,” Keenan said. “Hopefully you were inspired by something you heard today, and hopefully you’ll take something home with you and make something positive out of it.”

The irony of watching death metal in the bright light of day didn’t deter Slayer from rocking out full-throttle to tales of insanity, death and hell in their usual way. Nor did the California quartet seem to mind that the wind triumphed over their smoke machines, blowing clouds of smoke back into the bandmates’ faces and off into the empty half of the stadium.Playing before a massive backdrop depicting the inside of a church, the band churned out such classics as “Chemical Warfare,” “War Ensemble” and “Angel of Death” alongside excerpts from their latest album, God Hates Us All. At one point singer Tom Araya pulled out his camcorder, and, scanning over the audience, yelled “Say hello to the world.”

Though the crowd didn’t begin to fill out until Slayer’s set, Royal Playboy Cartel, Metelium, Anti-Product and Skywor took the stage earlier in the day to help heat things up for the headliners.

Each concert on the European edition of Ozzfest features a different lineup, with System of a Down, Kittie, Bad Religion and Drowning Pool turning up on different dates. The U.S. run of Ozzfest, featuring Osbourne, System of a Down, Rob Zombie, P.O.D., Drowning Pool and Adema, will kick off July 6 in Bristow, Virginia.

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