Monday, February 7, 2011

The Blizzard of OZ: OZZY OSBOURNE and SLASH Rock Hard in LA!

Well, it's been a busy week or so, and as much as I wanted to get back into a good blogging groove last week, it just wasn't in the cards. But, I did promise I'd talk about the OZZY and SLASH show that I saw last week, so ... ALLLL ABOARD! (HAHAHAHAHA).

OZZY OSBOURNE w/SLASH (featuring MYLES KENNEDY) Concert Review:

- Growing up, it felt like the great rock n' roll stars had a lot more magic and mystery surrounding them than they do now. Before an endless parade of Behind the Music specials and rehab reality shows, rock stars were an endless source of fascination. Who were these people? What did their music mean? And how could I - an unassuming Jewish boy from Bloomfield, CT - be a fraction as cool as them? As I got more and more into all things rock in my middle school years, two of the earliest - and edgiest - albums I purchased (on cassette!) during that era were Guns n' Roses' Appetite for Destruction and Ozzy Osbourne's hits collection The Ozzman Cometh. Even though this was the period when Guns' future was pretty uncertain, they were still, at least to me, the biggest and baddest band on the planet. Appetite was a pure adrenaline rush the likes of which I have never heard before or since. And the guitar - from the man known only as Slash - was straight out of some fiery cavern of hell. When I listen to the album now, I still know every guitar riff by heart ... I've listened to those songs so many times, and the guitar solos are so iconic, that they are practically embedded in my brain. And then, there was Ozzy - the Prince of Darkness. Discovering Ozzy was the closest that a nice kid with good grades and overprotective parents was going to get to the dark side. In those days before Wikipedia, I didn't know much about Ozzy or Black Sabbath, so you kind of had to use your imagination to figure out who these guys were. Judging from the music, I pictured a veritable rock n' roll madman who sang of black magic and midnight masses.

Now, I remember in college seeing The Osbournes for the first time and thinking that, on one hand, this show was genius, and on the other hand, it was a sort of sad way for a rock n' roll legend to be rediscovered by a new generation. On the show, we saw an Ozzy who was less Prince of Darkness and more kooky sitcom dad / husband. And, worse, we saw a guy who just didn't seem to be in very good shape. Ozzy had always been sort of nuts, but this new Ozzy was a person who seemed like someone with whom years of drugs and alcohol abuse may have finally caught up.

And yet ... I've been wanting to see Ozzy in concert, while he can still go. I was never all that enthused to attend Ozzfest though, because while I love the classic rock stylings of Ozzy and Black Sabbath, I never had much desire to sit through several lame / generic metal bands as part of the show. I love music that rocks hard, but up to a certain point. So, all that being said, there was something about the combo of Ozzy and Slash in concert that I couldn't resist. It seemed like an iconic pairing of two of the great characters of rock n' roll that I grew up idolizing. Both were coming in with something to prove. Slash, for one, released a pretty great album last year in which he teamed with a variety of vocalists. It was one of the better rock albums I'd heard in a while, but no, it wasn't Guns n' Roses. Slash is never going to stop being asked about GnR, and he will forever be associated with that band and with Axl Rose. With other ventures like Velvet Revolver currently on (permanent?) hiatus, Slash was now a lone wolf, so to speak. Sure, he was collaborating with Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy on this tour, but it was his name and his name alone that was on the marquee. So Slash had to prove that he was still an attraction, still a force, even without his old bandmates. As for Ozzy, over the last several years we've seen him clean up, get in shape, and put some focus back on the music after years of being known primarily as a reality star. In the past, there's been Ozzfest in which the man himself was just one of many acts. But this latest tour was all about the Ozzman and his stellar catalog of Black Sabbath and solo hits. Could Ozzy reclaim his place as a true rock n' roll icon? Could he prove that his songs are as lasting, as iconic as any of the other hall of famers? We were about to find out ...

After the crowd gathered at the Gibson Ampitheater at Universal Studios Hollywood, there was a definite buzz in the room, as Slash, singer Myles Kennedy, and their band took the stage to open the show. From the get-go, the arena was a-rockin', as Kennedy and Slash launched into "Ghost" off of Slash's latest album. It's a badass rocker, and it has a great, driving guitar riff that is vintage Slash. It's also a great showcase for Kennedy's crystal-clear, uber-powerful pipes. Kennedy's voice is lower and smoother than Axl Rose's, but he can also let out a GnR-style wail with the best of 'em.

After that, the duo did a couple of grittier, more down n' dirty Slash's Snake Pit covers. But then, the crowd lit up as a familiar riff filled the arena - the kickass intro to the Guns n' Roses classic, Night Train. Here was our first real taste of Myles Kennedy as a substitute Axl Rose, and I have to say that Kennedy nailed it. He brought big energy to the song, which also worked as a showcase for Slash's continued status as a real-life guitar hero. It's amazing, because I've seen Axl's revamped Guns play twice, and while both shows were surprisingly excellent, there was something that was clearly missing -- and here it was. This was the other half of the equation - the guitar god Slash rocking and rocking hard, in all of his top-hatted glory.

After Night Train, we got another great song off of the new Slash album, "Back to Cali." It's one of my favorites from the album and it was awesome seeing it live. After that though, I legitimately jumped out of my seat when I realized what was next - one of my all-time favorite songs ... ROCKET QUEEN. Kick ... ass. Now, no one will ever be able to belt out the lyrics of this song quite like Axl, but Kennedy gave it his best shot, and the result was a fairly rocking rendition of the GnR staple. By this point though, the crowd was pretty electric. I don't think people were quite sure what the song lineup with Slash would be, and all of the old-school GnR fans in the house were now going nuts. I mean, this was Slash playing Rocket Queen - not something I was sure if I'd ever see with my own eyes. Now, next up was a song that really surprised me - Starlight off of the Slash album. I'll admit that I usually skip this one when giving the disc a listen, but Myles Kennedy gave such an awesome performance of this Aerosmith-esque power ballad that it made me look at the tune in a whole new light. Post-show, it's been getting a lot of play - a great song that, if you haven't heard, I recommend you go and download ASAP.

After Starlight, Slash, who'd barely said a word up to that point, sheepishly approached the mic and simply said: "I think some of you might know this next one." And then it came, as the crowd collectively rose to their feet and cheered and sang and pumped their fists ... as one of the greatest, most iconic opening guitar riffs of all time echoed through the Gibson Ampitheater. Because yes, in that moment, here, finally, I was hearing the man, the myth, the legend - SLASH - playing SWEET CHILD O' MINE. And lo, it was awesome. Myles Kennedy did the song justice - the more deliberate pace was well-suited to his vocal style, and he knocked it out of the park. In any case, this was, without a doubt, one of the truly transcendant moments of the night.

Next up, Kennedy channeled Scott Wylan with a cover of Velvet Revolver's Slither, and then for the grand finale, he took it on home with GnR's PARADISE CITY. The crowd was rocking, and appropriately so. Not only was Slash absolutely tearing down the house, but I think we all realized that we had just seen one hell of a badass set. Some GnR classics, some great new songs off of Slash's surprisingly solid new album ... it was a great mix of old and new, and Myles Kennedy really brought it as well. And watching Slash, I got that same feeling I did watching Eddie Van Halen in concert a few years back. Even without knowing a lot about the ins and outs of guitar playing, it was, I think, clear that we were watching a true master at work. Do I wish that the cosmic forces of rock would align to allow one final reunion of Slash with his Guns n' Roses bandmates? Sure - that would be truly epic. But, in the meantime, I think anyone at this show would have to admit -- Slash is still the man.

And then ... it was time for the Ozzman to cometh. And honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect. After Slash's virtuoso performance though, the crowd was primed and ready to rock. They wanted Ozzy - the Prince of Darkness - to rise once more. And rise he did. But first, we got a little reminder of new-school Ozzy, in the form of a goofy but pretty hilarious video package that opened the set. In it, we saw Ozzy, inserted MTV-awards-style, into a variety of popular movies and TV shows - from Avatar to The Hangover to Jersey Shore. It might have been sort of lame, except the bits were actually really funny. You had to smile when Ozzy finds himself face to face with Kristen Stewart in Twilight, for example. "Are you ... are you a ...?" she stammers. "A vampire?" replies Ozzy. "No, vampires are [bleeping] [bleeps]! I'm the [bleeping] Prince of Darkness!"

And that's when I realized, Ozzy is still the Prince of Darkness, but he's also one hell of an entertainer. Sure, he was willing to shed a bit of his demonic image for the sake of reality TV, but then again, hasn't Ozzy always been one of the ultimate showmen? I think Ozzy's set proved that that was the case. Yes, he blasted through darkly-tinged goth-rock classics like "Mr. Crowley," but what made the show so special was Ozzy's love for the crowd and their admiration for him. "I love you all!" Ozzy repeated time and again. "Put your [bleeping] hands together!" he cried. Ozzy sprayed the crowd with a foam cannon, he dumped buckets of water on the front rows. He brought out his wife Sharon for a cameo appearance, and daughter Kelly was briefly glimpsed on the jumbotron. This was, in some ways, perhaps a kinder, gentler Ozzy than back in his Black Sabbath heyday.

And yet, this was also a man who lays claim to some of the biggest, baddest songs in all of rock n' roll. This was a man who's played with Randy Rhodes, with Zack Wylde - who always surrounds himself with some of the hardest-rocking bandmates in all the land of rock. And that side of Ozzy was on display as well. As much as this was a fun, good-times show, there were moments - like when Ozzy and his band bellowed the dark, grinding Sabbath classic WAR PIGS, where, even if only for a moment, I travelled back in time. I was back in the dark, dangerous days. The Black Sabbath days. The Prince of Darkness days. And during those moments, I wasn't watching Ozzy Osbourne - middle-aged reality star, but Ozzy Osbourne - rock n' roll icon, certifiable madman.

And that contrast was immediate almost from the outset of the show. After the funny opening montage, Ozzy kicke things off with a bang, via the spooky rocker (and a mainstay on my Halloween playlists) -- BARK AT THE MOON.

Now I will say ... Ozzy looked a bit shaky coming out of the gate. We all know that the Ozzy of 2011 has some physical and vocal limitations, but I was curious to what extent he'd still be able to rock like the Ozzy of old. The truth is, there were ups and downs throughout the show, but as the night wore on, Ozzy seemed to tap into a reserve of rock n' roll energy, and there were moments where he was most definitely in the zone. In fact, it was almost funny because Ozzy just kept filling up this bucket of water that he kept onstage, and would periodically dunk himself in it between songs. I guess you do what you have to to get the blood flowing. But, I am happy that we did get those moments of vintage Ozzy. I don't know how much longer the Ozzman will keep going, but I'm glad I saw him in a show in which he was still able to summon that fire and kick some ass.

Anyways, Ozzy followed Bark at the Moon with the lone song to be played off his latest album - Scream. I'm not crazy about this song in general, but I'll admit it was WAY better live than it is off the album, because it's basically designed to be an arena rocker, and in that respect it did its job and got the crowd going. It's definitely more a nu-metal-ish song than typical Ozzy, but it was actually pretty badass live. However, after that, Ozzy went old-school with MR. CROWLEY, which is, to me, one of the all-time most spooky rock songs ever written. After that classic, menacingly ghoulish intro, the song's driving guitar kicked in, and I was definitely grinning ear to ear. From there, we got I Don't Know, followed by the Black Sabbath song Faeries Wear Boots. For some reason, every time he was about to do a Black Sabbath song, Ozzy would almost sheepishly ask the crowd "Do you want to hear a Black Sabbath tune?!", to which he'd be greeted with emphatic cheers. I don't know why, but I found this sort of funny (probably just the way Ozzy said it). Next up, Ozzy introduced his next song as being controversial, and I can only imagine that it was back in the day, although I wasn't that familiar with the specifics. But yeah, the song was Suicide Solution, and it got a nice reaction from the old-school fans.
It was the next song though that really tore the roof off - the Ozzy solo classic ROAD TO NOWHERE. I think this is probably one of the Ozzman's more personal songs, and you it did feel like this was one where he got into that zone, and put it all out there for the crowd. The lighters were definitely waving back and forth as Ozzy belted out this particular power ballad.

And I will also mention here that Ozzy's band seriously rocked. It was evident throughout the night, although I call attention here because obviously, Road to Nowhere has some killer guitar solos. But new Ozzy axe-man Gus G was seriously shredding throughout the night, and he seemed to more than live up to the legacy of Ozzy's legendary lineup of guitarists over the years. Meanwhile, drummer Tommy Clueftos was also kicking ass and taking names throughout the show, and performed a pretty amazing solo set as well.

But, the song where everyone came together and just knocked it out of the park was the next song, the aforementioned WAR PIGS. It was a true showcase for the band, and the song's methodical pace allowed Ozzy to really get in the zone. This was the one where I just forgot about reality star Ozzy and, for a few minutes, felt like I was at a Sabbath concert sometime circa the mid 70's. As Ozzy's ominous voice rang out, a dark and foreboding atmosphere hung over the arena. It was a reminder that this wasn't a joke, this was some seriously dark and dangerous rock n' roll. Badass.

I was actually really excited for the next song, FIRE IN THE SKY, as it's one of my personal Ozzy favorites. The crowd only seemed moderately into it (the synthesizer-heavy song was maybe a bit jarring after the stripped-down thrashing of War Pigs), but I still thought it was pretty sweet. I have no idea what this song is about, but the lyrics are definitely pretty evocative -- and I was definitely psyched to see it played live. We then got Sabbath song Into the Void, followed by the song that first got me hooked on Ozzy's music -- SHOT IN THE DARK. It's just so moody and atmospheric - every time I hear it, I think of some different story behind the noirish lyrics. But yeah, I'd always get excited when this one would come on the classic rock radio stations in CT back in the day. After that, we got another Black Sabbath tune - Rat Salad - and then the biggest Black Sabbath song of all ... IRON MAN! It's an iconic classic - one I've heard so many times that if I heard it come on the radio I might even flip the dial. BUT ... hearing that legendary intro, hearing Ozzy scream "I AM IRON MAN!" as only he can, hearing that thumping war drum live ... well, it was freaking awesome! I was completely geeking out. I was listening to Ozzy by-god Osbourne sing Iron Man. This was rock n' roll, baby. And it should be noted that, during Iron Man and indeed, during some of the other, heavier Sabbath songs, there was a genuine mosh pit going on in front of the stage (I watched safely from our seats in the back). Now that's what I'm talkin' about.
After the high of Iron Man, we got the more pop-ish I Don't Want To Change the World, which was nonetheless a song that played well with the crowd and was fun to sing along to ("I ... don't wanna change the world! I don't want ... the world to change me!"). But then, the roof was blown off as Gus G played the classic intro to ... CRAZY TRAIN! People were jumping out of their seats, going insane, dancing around like crazy people, and clearly, Ozzy was loving it. Yes, Crazy Train is one of those everpresent songs that is played all the time, but with good reason -- it friggin' rocks. I mean, if you can hear that opening guitar riff and NOT scream "Ay! Ay! Ay!" at the appropriate moment ... then, well, I don't know if we can be friends. This was another great moment in the night - a whole arena of rock fans jumping up and down and singing Crazy Train, with Ozzy caught up in the moment and Gus G positively owning on guitar. Awesome stuff.
That was it for the main show, but man, Ozzy's idea of an encore was kind of funny. Rather than disappearing for an extended period, Ozzy went backstage only briefly and then came out and actually led the crowd himself in their chants of "one more song!" But yes, we did want one more song, dammit, and we actually got two. First off was one of the all-time great rock power ballads (if you're into rock power ballads, which I am), MAMA I'M COMING HOME. Once again, the lighters were a-waving, and the crowd sung in unison along with this Ozzy staple. And then, finally, it was time for the finale. The epic crescendo that Mama built to was such that the show could probably have ended there, but instead Ozzy went out with a fast-paced bang - PARANOID, to be specific. Yet another classic rocker, Paranoid has got to be one of the all-time great rock songs with one of the all-time most adrenaline-pumping intros. Once again, the crowd was jumping around, and Ozzy was feeding on the energy, hopping up and down and going all-0ut, as his band wailed away like nobody's business.

When all was said and done, Ozzy mock-collapsed onto the floor. Sure, he was sort of joking, but I think it's safe to say that he really did give his all for this LA show, and the crowd respected him for it. Chants of "Ozzy! Ozzy!" filled the arena, and I think that most of us were pretty blown away by the show we had just seen. Yes, at age 62 Ozzy is worse for wear. He's jittery and has limited mobility, and his voice comes and goes. But knowing all of that going in, I was impressed. The guy put on a hell of a show, and hearing one classic, iconic rock song after another was awesome - truly making you realize what a stamp this man has left on the world of rock. I'm glad I had the chance to see him live. I don't know how he can go out there and perform like that over and over on an extended tour at this stage of his career. But for one night, he showed why he is still the [bleeping] Prince of [bleeping] Darkness, and beyond that, true rock n' roll royalty.

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