Psychedelic organ jams, heavy metal fusion, Hendrix tribute, African roots — Vernon Reid & Masque hurled themselves into it all at Catalina’s June 24, wearing expressions of men watching movies of themselves. Musta caught a glimpse in a mirror one time, thought, “Naw, we can’t be doing all that,” and the blank wonderment stuck permanently on their mugs. Sleeveless drummer Don McKenzie was buff and crazy; bassist Steven Jenkins smiled a shade at his own plugged-in bigness; keyboardist Leon Gruenbaum scratched his stubble (did I leave the coffeemaker on?) while busting unconscious funk. And ex–Living Colour guitar man Reid, slouching under his crumpled porkpie, piled on the gargantuan riffs, the exploding-starship F/X and the impossible shredding distortotronics till he plain broke the axle. Ow!

Next time they’re here, see these buggers even if you gotta hock your church. Anyway, the proper way to experience them isn’t in a nice sit-down club; they should be at Ozzfest, and you should be totally wasted. If only.

Did I mention Ozzfest? This year’s slate seems deliberately designed to piss me off. Am I going? Hell yeah! Not many more opportunities may arise to shower in the sweat of Ozzy Osbourne, and god knows in that baking pit, even ozzperation will look like a viable thirst quencher. He’ll be headlining the second stage, making one of his selected manifestations on the tour and avoiding the upstaging he endured at the hands of Iron Maiden last year and Judas Priest in 2004 by scheduling unthreatening eclectophiles System of a Down as the main-stage closer. The 2005 Ozzfest DVD (unsurprisingly) contains no mention of Sharon Osbourne’s embarrassing feud with Maiden and (surprisingly) no footage of Black Label Society, which to my mind is the most powerful unit in metal. Strange treatment to accord BLS guitar flayer Zakk Wylde, the Ozzy band’s unfailing munitionsman. Praise be, BLS is returning to Devore; the two Zakk epiphanies alone are reason enough to attend.

The rest of the bill covers a lot of territory. A Life Once Lost, while kinda monochromatic, rock fiercely. The inconsistent artiness of female-fronted Italians Lacuna Coil is making it look as if they’ll never realize their crossover potential. I wish the hard-charging Strapping Young Lad were an instrumental outfit. Dragonforce are old school to the cartoonish max. Emo metal annoys me, therefore so do the melody-mad Atreyu and the double-kick-obsessed All That Remains — but hey, they’re popular. Hatebreed are a timeworn headache; Disturbed, pomp without circumstance.

My own faves: the wildly thrashing and charismatic Unearth and the songwriterly yet abandoned Full Blown Chaos. In virtually all cases, the live shows will be better than the records. Cuz this shit is determined.?

Ozzfest hits the Hyundai Pavilion in Devore, Saturday, July 8.

LA Weekly