July 6 at AmSouth Amphitheatre
Heavy metal isn’t supposed to inspire reflection; it’s designed to whip up action and release. And that’s exactly what happened when OzzFest 2000, the heaviest of the annual summer rock festivals, came to town. The experience was all about energy, volume, movement, and visual outrageousness. After the all-day event finishedafter nearly 14 hours of pounding music, scorching sun, and drenching downpoursthe only things left were spent muscles, buzzing ears, and an endless roll of mental snapshots.
Earlier in the day, sitting backstage, OzzFest organizer Sharon Osbourne explained that the event was the only summer festival “that’s about breaking new bands and exposing new talent.” She’s right too. Other than headliner Ozzy Osbourne, the biggest-name acts were Pantera and Godsmack, while the remaining 18 bands on the bill consisted largely of little-known underground acts. Nonetheless, most of the crowd of 16,000 arrived early and stayed all day, despite the heat and the periodic torrential rainfall.
“Metal never gets any respect,” Sharon Osbourne said. “But it never goes away. It keeps growing and evolving. And it will always be there because there will always be young kids who are misfits. They aren’t the rich kids or the pretty kids; they’re the ones everyone ignores or makes fun of. They don’t want to hear songs about ‘I Love You’ or ‘Isn’t Saturday Great?’ They want something darker and angrier than that.”
Among the many new acts, the high-school-aged girls of Kittie attracted more screams and fervent devotion from the crowd than anyone else. During the band’s set, limp bodies had to be pulled from the crushing, surging throng so they could cool off in the shade. The Canadian quartet’s sound is a mix of old-school punk rhythms, metal chords, and Morgan Lander’s inhuman howl of a voice, an unbelievable sound that resembles an amplified vacuum cleaner hose. Simple yet ferocious, the band looked like this year’s OzzFest stars-to-bejust as Limp Bizkit, Tool, Slipknot, and System of a Down have emerged in years past. When they agreed to sign autographs at a dot-com company’s booth two hours before they took the stage, they drew a line of about 1,000 fans.
Michigan hard-rockers Taproot, blending metal howls and thrash-punk rhythms, inspired the hardest-moving mosh pit of the day, with singer Steve Richards often diving from the stage and banging heads with the band’s new fans. Later, he tossed bottles of cold water to the pit, asking the metalheads to take a sip and pass the water around. Like the band’s sound, Richard was as compassionate as he was energetic. His concern and generosity were a welcome breath of humanity amid the nonstop aggressive poses that most of the other young bands struck.
Los Angeles’ Incubus proved to be the most unusual band of the day, blending unbridled sexuality, avant-rock guitar work (a mix of Zappa and Santana), polyrhythmic beats, and the prancing, purring strut of singer Brandon Boyd. “We’re this year’s weirdo art band,” Boyd quipped backstage, prompting guitarist Mike Einziger, who was dressed in a red-silk kimono shirt onstage, to blurt, “Yeah, we’re the token sissy-boy band of OzzFest.” Along with Queens of the Stone Age, they also were the only band to inject inventive musical ideas into the formulaic sounds that dominated the festival.
On the festival’s main stage, the searing guitar interplay of Godsmack turned out to be surprisingly impressive. On record, the Boston band seems formulaic and contrived, a harder-edged version of such lame MTV favorites as Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind. Live, however, they were sharp and convincing, and they managed to turn the extensive guitar jams at the end of their songs into something fresh and ferocious.
Tommy Lee, post-Mötley Crüe and post-Pamela Anderson, inadvertently provided some comic relief as he flapped his arms, unsuccessfully trying to get the crowd to react to his silly clown posse of a band, Methods of Mayhem. After a while, he started screaming at the crowd, shouting, “Hey, come on you fuckers! We’re rocking our dicks off up here!” But the crowd yawned, and Lee eventually stomped off after throwing his guitar to the ground.
Not all the entertainment was onstage: There was the Never Never Land midway, with its tattoo parlors, body-piercing stalls, carnival games, and merchandise stands. Among the endless clothing tables, the most unforgettable, Room 13, sported about three-dozen different black T-shirts for sale, all striving to be as offensive as possible. A few examples: “Smile, Satan Loves You,” “Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck,” and “Kiss the Devil Good Morning.” Still, my favorite T-shirt of the day was worn by a pimple-faced boy of about 14 who was soaking in sweat as he left the mosh pit; the shirt read: “Chicks Hate Me.”
For sheer entertainment value, though, few attractions could top Ozzy himself, who moved across the stage in tiny stumble-steps, like a mental patient shuffling down the hallway of an asylum, while his young, bad-ass band played three decades’ worth of metal-music anthems. Osbourne, theatrical as ever but far from threatening, sprayed the crowd with water, dumped buckets of water on himself, and wielded his batty, high-pitched, tightly pinched voice with more power and subtlety than he’s ever shown.
Osbourne is still a court jester, but he has managed to transform himself from a pitiable clown into an entertaining figure deserving of respect. He’s clearly having more fun than ever. His closing set of the festival began with a hilarious series of videotaped segments that injected him into a variety of pop-culture scenarios: He wielded a sword in a scene from Gladiator, then luridly sang “Oops, I did it again” to Britney Spears. In a take-off of The Sixth Sense, Osbourne lay prone in a hospital bed and told an earnest Bruce Willis, “I want to tell you my secret now”which turned out to be that he can’t quit masturbating. On the set of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, in response to Regis Philbin’s portentous query if that was his final answer, Osbourne exploded in anger, screaming, “What, are you fucking deaf?!” Finally, the skits ended with the singer amid Budweiser’s “wassup!” commercial, wearing an Afro wig and howling into the phone.
Now playing to huge crowds across the country, the 51-year-old Osbourne, perhaps the British rock star least likely to have survived and flourished, is having the last laugh. Fortunately, he’s letting his fans in on the jokewhile showing them that the musical genre he helped create will live on as long as young boys and girls want to release their anger through rock music.
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