The more things change, the more they remain the same, which is good news for the heavy-metal merchandising empire that is Ozzy Osbourne (with wife and manager Sharon by his side). Disaffected youth and adults alike continue to stream into OZZFest each year while other multi-act bills struggle to get out of the gate.
Clearly, this summer’s concert highlight was the return of singer Rob Halford to the fold of his Judas Priest cohorts after more than 12 years apart.
The all-original lineup of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-worthy (and long overdue) Black Sabbath may have been heartwarming to witness, given icon Osbourne’s debilitating ATV accident last December, but band’s closing hour felt anticlimactic (or perhaps just fell on a tired aud’s ringing ears) after the raucous Priest reunion.
Both groups released career-defining boxed sets this year, with Sabbath’s Saturday night songlist culled entirely from its first four seminal early ’70s albums; Judas Priest’s crowd-fave status, however, likely stems from catching the MTV wave in its ’80s prime.
Halford, in all his studs ‘n’ leather glory, sauntered around the stage as he soaked up every drop of adulation that greeted his first appearance during the opening riffs of “Electric Eye” on through the apropos “Metal Gods” and “Heading Out to the Highway.” Band, featuring the radio-ready leads of guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, plowed through a three-pronged encore of “Hell Bent for Leather” (with Halford returning on a motorcycle for its duration), “Living After Midnight” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ ” that left fans delirious.
Of course, the specter of Spinal Tap-like moments on the road are hard to avoid as the metal genre grows ever longer in the tooth. In a moment strikingly similar to producer Don Mischer’s profane on-air utterance while waiting for the balloons to drop at last week’s Democratic National Convention, an impatient Ozzy cried, “Open the fucking curtain!” after growing weary of standing in silhouette with his Sabbath bandmates to start their headlining show.
Drummer Bill Ward mixed swing in with his bash, and in tandem with the propulsive bass lines of “Geezer” Butler, ax man Tony Iommi served up some of the fattest, sludgiest, most influential riffs to ever have been appropriated by countless others, outshining all the multiguitar outfits that preceded him on the main stage (including OZZFest old-timers Slayer and Black Label Society and newcomers Dimmu Borgir and Superjoint Ritual, all screaming for attention and respect).
Unfortunately, Osbourne, when not exhorting the aud in vain, spent the evening in the neighborhood of the key to each song but never quite making it home. The classic “Fairies Wear Boots,” where Ozzy seemingly sang the least, proved most enjoyable, while vid clips such as Al Pacino in “Scarface” during the tune “Snowblind” were more watchable than the singer’s stage antics.
The most rabid crowd response of all probably occurred earlier in front of the daylong second stage where — with too many bands to mention, capped by another OZZFest vet, Slipknot — a roiling sea of humanity (and/or inhumanity) stirred up enough mosh-pit action to add a caked-on layer of dust and dirt atop the blissful participants’ blistering skin.