Photos by Greg Burk
A LOCUST MADE OF CLOUDS, BIGGER THAN AMERICA, hung in the sky over Ozzfest 2001, at the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion, outside San Bernardino, the last day of June. The insect's solitary eye, a waxing moon, shone down brightly on the baking throng, as if contemplating whom first to devour. An airplane trailed a banner: "Sin, death, Christ. Read John 3:16." Other reading material: many tattoos. Also T-shirts: Black Sabbath, Quiksilver, Cholos Rule, Lakers, Gilligan's Island, I Am Satan.
"Satan?" said a guy in a freeze-framed food line. "$4.75 for a hot dog -- that's Satan."
The reviews that follow won't include all the performances, a deficit that reflects attendee realities. Those wishing to eat, drink and urinate spent approximately 40 percent of their within-the-gates time in lines. Also, few witnessed the first four hours of bands (Hatebreed, Nonpoint, Beautiful Creatures, etc.). Not that they didn't want to. Average drive time from L.A. to within five miles of the site: 1.5 hours. Average "drive" time for that last five miles: 2.5 hours. Afterward, average time from arriving at car to egress from parking lot: 3 hours.
It was worth the pain if you truly love modern heavy metal. Or whatever you want to call it. One 28-year-old woman with a temporary insect tattoo on her bicep suggested "angry-male music."
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Zakk Wylde, the most radical human within several hundred miles, saw fit to observe from the microphone that Limp Bizkit sucks, an opinion not shared by most concertgoers, who greeted a flesh-shredding set by Wylde's Black Label Society with stunned incomprehension. Part of the gap is generational, widened by the patriarchal beard that the former Ozzy Osbourne sideman has sported for the past several months. But the real mystery was Wylde's fingers, which fluttered through improvisations of such complex hostility that many must have wondered how he did it, considering that the heavy metal electric guitar is now used almost exclusively for rhythmic accents and sound effects. Black magic?
The young dudes in Taproot clearly wanted to distinguish themselves from the dark hordes, dressing in white, playing songs with hooks and offering spring-tension rhythms. In spite of this, they went down strong -- must be 'cause they were in California, where it's sunny.
Crazy Town, though they're locals, didn't approve of sun, or of Hollywood Babylon, calling it a "plastic city." One felt most ashamed of oneself. Tall in stature, tall in attitude, these gents fell short only in imagination. Good slow grooves, though.
The groove was also the thing for Disturbed, fronted by a vocal-guy, David Draiman, who competes manfully with Fred Durst in the "bald prick" sweepstakes and who occasionally does a passable imitation of James Hetfield. Half the audience was glad to "get down with the sickness"; half was more interested in the trash fires on the hill.
Linkin Park didn't even have a decent groove. Whiners.
Two impressive things about the masked army Slipknot: The feedback they generated before they came on, and the way they whipped their green dreadlocks and headbanged in sync -- nice update of the Four Tops. You can get better horror masks on Hollywood Boulevard, though. Slipknot shocked the crowd by announcing that the corrupt record industry was deliberately withholding their already recorded but yet unreleased next album from their fans. You too may have noticed how music corporations prefer not to make millions on popular bands.
MUDVAYNE SINGER KUD SET THE TONE FOR THE whole fest by proclaiming early on, "I'd like to kill every fucking one of you." Murder and suicide: There's just no denying that many people now see those two acts as the central metaphors for their lives. When the master of ceremonies in the corpse makeup and the priestly vestments hammered a 5-inch nail into his sinus, pulled it out and licked off the blood, he plainly believed he was making a statement many watchers could identify with, and he was right. The overall level of life affirmation was near zero; even sex wilted in the blast of cheerful nihilism. Fake tits were solidly represented, and it would be insulting to assume that either displayers or oglers miss the parallels between augmentation and self-mutilation.
Marilyn Manson It was again left to Marilyn Manson, that veteran self-mutilator, to serve up a positive message. Cross-gartered and coifed in a rearward-flowing Afro, he introduced "Fight Song" by saying, "They want us to fight each other," and went on to offer his typically incisive critiques on drugs and depression ("The Dope Show"), powerlessness and anonymity ("The Nobodies") and gun worship ("The Love Song"), while his band gave an unassailable seminar in precision, dynamics and the art of noise. Needless to say, Manson always wants it both ways, so when he had opportunities to grope and simulo-fuck willing groupies onstage, he grabbed 'em. The scariest thing about his show was how unscary it seemed in context.
Rumor had it that Ozzy Osbourne was suffering from an ear infection, so when he repeatedly screamed "I can't hear you" at the audience, it may not have been just his usual act. Anyway, he and the rarely assembled rest of Black Sabbath bulldozed brilliantly through their hits, and only a small percentage of the crowd didn't stay to the end. Especially strong were a slow-grinding rendition of "Iron Man" and a definitively nuanced (the word really applies nowadays) "War Pigs," where drummer Bill Ward sounded as if he were playing one long, seamlessly connected series of rolls. The lone new selection, "Scary Dreams," turned out to be a slow blues -- un-ambitious, but Ozzy plainly felt it in his soul.
In the press tent, as the geezers slogged through their theme song, the horror-show masterpiece "Black Sabbath," a 5-year-old girl ran headlong away from the sound, hands clapped over ears, mom in hot pursuit. It was nice to see that. But by the time she's 8 . . .?
Or maybe crucifixion?
Except for GN'R-type throwbacks Beautiful Creatures and the romanticized angst of Linkin Park, the typical Ozzfest band -- from Mudvayne to Slipknot -- exorcised its demons with good ol' primal-scream therapy; the Blockbuster Pavilion was a rough place to be if you were the God-fearing sort. Slipknot singer Corey Taylor declared, "This next song is gonna piss off a lot of Christians," before launching into "Heretic Song" from the forthcoming Iowa. During Papa Roach's set, front man Coby Dick responded to the overhead invitation to John 3:16 with "Fuck that plane." As my friend Lane said, "Of course kids are gonna eat that up -- it's such an easy message to sell." Maybe so, but religion could never match the cathartic pleasures of amphitheater-quaking grooves, a sentiment nicely conveyed by Dick: "Does everyone feel all right? I was feeling like shit until I got up on this stage."
The modern advances in crowd control are impressive: Was the three-hour logjam on I-15 part of the plan to sap fans' energy? But some of the festival spirit was missing. Where were the riots and overturned portable toilets of festivals past? What happened to rushing the stage? With 30,000 people, couldn't someone at least have been trampled? Nope, this was controlled chaos. In a marvel of logistical planning, the bands were on and off exactly when the itinerary said they would be -- before, even. But if you paused more than two seconds along the corridor that ran through general seating to enjoy the antics onstage, your loitering self was gently prodded with a graphite baton. Two football fields' length from the main stage was where the fans were setting stuff on fire at dusk, so why weren't the patrol goons out there? In the main-stage vicinity, there was a security guard for every two people, and when a fight actually did break out, it was yours truly who got hurt after a uniformed gorilla slammed into me trying to pull apart the brawlers. Thank god for media passes and their access to shady tents with manicured lawns, icy tubs of Arrowhead, and lots of minor-league adult-film actresses. But these amenities could keep us from the pit for only so long.
Never mind that Ozzy Osbourne is approaching brain death; my beefs with the fest are that the reflexive lip service being paid to Ozzy's legacy borders on slobbering idolatry, that the importance of his band's contribution to music is accepted without question, and that the godfather of metal has long ceased to connect with his audience except on the shallowest level: "I smell some good weed out there," he trenchantly observed at one point. The anticlimax of Black Sabbath's set adds to a sense of incongruity: This band is the highlight of a festival that showcases a nu-jack brand of metal taking its cues from hardcore punk and hip-hop far more than from blues-based stoner rock, and Sabbath was at its prime years before the average Ozzfest attendee was even born. Yet even though dehydration, drugs, 113-degree temperatures and claustrophobia took their toll on the crowd, it was a sight to behold: an oceanic surge of bodies, hands over heads, swaying back and forth to the Iron Man's every incantation. Thirty thousand people can't be putting on an act, can they?
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On this tour, Black Sabbath refused to submit even to the concert photo-op (first three songs) the other big groups permitted. When our photographer, Ted Soqui, edged toward the stage, experienced Ozzfest lensfolk warned him off, saying that any camera pointed in Ozzy Osbourne's direction would become the target of the Madman's liquid ammunition: water buckets and water cannons capable of trashing expensive equipment.
Wazzup, Ozzy? Last plastic surgery not too successful? Or are you afraid the camera will take your soul? We thought you'd already sold that for rock & roll. --G.B.