Photo by John Eder

at Hyundai Pavilion at Glen Helen, July 31

Thousands crisping on a grazeless pan of dusty desert. Hundreds of post-pit brutes spitting grit that dried before it hit ground. No shade, no drinking fountains. Water $5. The Ozzfest tour’s Second Stage — where 14 sequential bands spent seven hours “warming up” for a pavilion star orgy climaxed by a spectacular Judas Priest reunion — embodied the heart and root of metal.

Early peaks: the dirty, weighty melodies of Magna-Fi; the instant crowd connection of God Forbid’s complex gut groove; the huge local uprising for Otep’s jagged mystery. The first pit circle formed for the young Unearth, whose multiple simplicities and non-virtuosic but eye-drawing voxman added up to unexpected power. First hair twirls: a late-arriving DevilDriver — “We almost died gettin’ here!” informed supergrowler Dez Farfara. And at noon, the first fire-truck hosedown drew the parched masses away from Throwdown’s sloshy, bass-loaded rhythms.

Lacuna Coil sprang mightily forward with their dramatic thud and singer Cristina Scabbia’s knifelike keens, but these Italians won’t maximize their huge arena potential until they get better material and lose alternate mouthman Andrea Ferro. The popular Atreyu’s chorusy bash was more credible live than on record. Lamb of God were truly satisfying — midtempo thrash with three-dimensional guitar work — and their fans knew every word. Bleeding Through: standard-issue fast thrash. Hatebreed: pummel-pummel, yell-yell, no dynamics. The name most reverently invoked all day was Slipknot, who closed the Second Stage at 4:30 with their ugly, apocalyptic hyperstomp; when the dust settled, refugees limped to the pavilion for the last six performances.

Black Label Society showed them no mercy musically or politically — Zakk Wylde quoted his WWII-vet dad on Iraqi insurgents’ folly: “You mess with the best, you die like the rest.” But god damn did BLS bring the hammer down, as Wylde volleyed skin-ripper solos introducing shrouded battleship attacks like his hit “Stillborn.” Then, to cap an unfocused Superjoint Ritual set, throat vandal Phil Anselmo, after paying respects to Ozzy Osbourne, mystifyingly crowned himself the king of metal, inviting doubters to kiss his ass. Lengthy lines formed forthwith.

Superjoint was a tough act to follow for a bunch of guys in makeup, but Norway’s Dimmu Borgir (who shouldn’t really play before nightfall) persevered with their double-kick-spattered, keyboard-accented pomp, eventually winning a greater number of
audience devil horns than middle fingers. And what can you say about Slayer? Drawing on little more than working-class communion
and a monomaniacal devotion to hard & heavy groove, they have become gods. They built scary momentum, and “Dead Skin Mask” absolutely destroyed. Nice California moment: Beach balls were released during their set. Black beach balls.

From the moment that Rob Halford, cascading with studded leather fringe, marched out of a gigantic iris to catcall a furious “Electric
Eye,” the eminence of the reunited Judas Priest was locked. Blasting through their vast sing-along catalog (“Hell Bent for Leather,”

“You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”), they clued a lot of kids on what it means to be the most entertaining and musically effective act
in metal. New material, please.

Black Sabbath bordered on anticlimax, not always achieving their unmatchable coalescence; exceptions included an expanding surge through “Into the Void” and a bloody nailing of “Iron Man” (nobody plays slow like that). Ozzy sounded good, and baited us by asking what we thought he replied when the doctor told him to postpone touring. We all yelled his answer, and it wasn’t “Yes, sir.”

at Spaceland, July 22

Most singer-songwriters are happy selling you their latest CD after a show; at Rodney Graham’s, you could also acquire the hardbound catalog for his midcareer museum retrospective. Before his art career took off (see Art feature), Graham played in several Vancouver new-wave bands (notably UJ3RK5, with photographer Jeff Wall); after a dozen years exploring structuralist cinema and minimal “sound-works,” he strapped on the guitar again in 1995. There’s no firewall between his music and other projects: “Theme to ‘The Phonokinetoscope,’” the Syd Barrett homage that closed his recent Rock Is Hard disc (and this night’s set), also accompanied a 2002 film installation, now on view at MOCA.

Graham’s art-pop isn’t Pop Art; his lyrics are too melancholy (“Fatal obsession, 1979/The start of my decline”) to be read as self-consciously trivial or, worse, ironic. This was even clearer live: Shorn of the disc’s ornate production — horns, female backing vocals — and backed by a crisp three-piece band, “Autumn Complaint” and “Seein’ Stars” pointed up Graham’s resemblance (vocal and otherwise) to Lou Reed at his most engaged and engaging, with David Carswell’s apt leads credibly channeling the late Robert Quine. The well-heeled Donor’s Circle types in attendance might have been contemplating the artificial divisions between high art and popular culture, but those in front of the stage weren’t so high-minded; a few even danced.

Earlier, Gorge Trio (including Deerhoof’s John Dieterich) blasted through two extended guitar-guitar-drums instrumentals, à la Hella or Lightning Bolt, in 15 minutes. The French duo Cheval de Frise offered a more measured variant on similar influences; guitarist Thomas Bonvalet and drummer Vincent Beysselance are impressive technicians, even by math-rock standards. With no use for conventional song structure, both openers made the headliner’s forays into formalism sound refreshing —
if not radical — by comparison. (Franklin Bruno)

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