By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
at the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion, August 31
Dark days for the darkmen. The dearth of challenging new pods within the heavy metal subculture made this year's Ozzfest — the vast touring barometer of all things rockin' — mostly a hollow amalgam of retro sounds skillfully revisited, or aimless acts with more volume than vision. Forty-five thousand punters strong, the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion crowd was the biggest Ozzfest this year, but with such flaccid offerings, size really didn't matter.
The drawl-rock supergroup Down, featuring members of Pantera, COC and Eyehategod, left many in the crowd groping for reference points with its bluesy bayou sludge. Similarly old-school was Black Label Society, always a likely Ozzfest feature, since main man Zakk Wylde is also Ozzy's six-string sidekick. Dredging a channel somewhere between Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains, BLS delivered with furious, epic expertise. Ozzy himself has become a human jukebox, performing greatest hits from the era of many attendees' potty training, yet still the strongest tunes aired today. Wylde and former Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin reinterpreted the classics with paranormal dexterity, making Osbourne's set a solid finale.
Andrew W.K.'s midafternoon Zodiac Mindwarp-meets-Benny Hill hijinks should be restricted to frat parties, not imposed upon thousands. Adema are to Adidas-metal what Trixter were to cock-rock — manufactured come-latelies hoping to dart in before the door slams shut on this numbingly stale style. Tommy Lee, faced with replacing Drowning Pool after D.P.'s Dave Williams passed away midtour, fared little better. The epitome of rock & roll, Lee was nevertheless doomed to mediocrity by his limp material and only-in-the-shower voice. Rob Zombie's set was leaner than his prop-heavy, Vegas-style headlining shows, causing a regrettable spotlight shift to his songcraft and B-movie imagery, which have been treading water since his White Zombie days.
One of the day's few bright hopes, New Jersey emo-core heroes Glassjaw, were plonked on the second stage at 9:20 a.m., so all but the overnighters missed their jagged brilliance. POD leavened their stylistically mundane rap/rock crossover with an increasingly rare musicality; ultra-effected swaths of guitar and tribal grooves propelled these SoCal boys well beyond the median, and they were the first act to rouse the entire audience to their feet.
System of a Down are the most potent hard-rockers alive right now, denizens of a creative planet few rivals have even visited. SOAD exhibited effortless artistry and punishing precision, flagrantly disregarding songcraft traditions through their confrontational carnival-metal and achingly addictive harmonies. No one else ever sounded like this.
Considering the ubiquity of TV's The Osbournes, the Ozz in Ozzfest is increasingly Sharon. Painted as a mother figure to the metal legions, the matriarch has used her charm and brilliance to milk a cash cow fed with $10 beers, suffocating corporate sponsorship and traffic nightmares (though the Glen Helen gridlock was substantially alleviated this year). While the fest has become an admirably efficient metal monster (high-fidelity sound, sharp security, impossibly swift band turnarounds), the heart of the beast — the music — is starving for fresh blood.
The bands fell into two main categories: aggressive/demonic and loving/nurturing. Dominating the first category was Zakk Wylde and his Black Label Society: "When we kick Iraq's ass, they'll know the reason — rock and fucking roll," the über-patriot roared. Rob Zombie, besides the larger-than-life head shots of famed movie monsters, brought his own baggage: excessive sarcasm, plus rips on his old White Zombie bandmates. He started "Thunderkiss '65," then aborted. "I think we've all heard enough of that one," he suggested, and nearly got booed off the stage.
In the loving/nurturing column, San Diego's POD are the mothers of the god-awful "Alive," but that doesn't mean lead singer Sonny Sandoval's big heart won't melt you, especially when he invites fans onstage and parades around with a tyke on his shoulders. Andrew W.K.'s cuddly pop-metal stood out like a Cheap Trick fan at a Radiohead concert, but his chest-pounding, hair-whipping antics beat pseudo-angst every time. "I love all of you," he gushed through a toothy grin, "and there's nothing you can do about it." Bringing out Kelly Osbourne for a duet only helped his cause.
System of a Down were the nabobs of nurture. System's wildly disparate personalities — from the bug-eyed mugging of bassist Shavo Odadjian to the whirling-dervish ecstasy of vocalist Serj Tankian — complement the band's blend of Armenian/Balkan/world styles and contemporary riffage. "In a world given over to the self, there is only one truth that unites us," pleaded Tankian, "the universal truth of love." Noble sentiments, clearly wasted on the average Ozzfest pig.
Add a third category: the clowns. Lovable dufus Tommy Lee brought showmanship to an all-time low with his Titty Cam, and the females were more than happy to get a few seconds of softcore fame on the giant screen. Phil Anselmo's side project, Down, might as well have been a cannabis tribute band. "To all you people who take the time and effort to grow your own weed, thank you very much. And to those who grow the hydroponic kind, thank you very, very, very much."