July 18-24, 2002
Notes From the Underworld
The state of the post-Osbournes Ozzfest.
With the runaway success of a certain cable show giving metal away to the masses and making it safe, homogenous and dull (relax, this happens every so often), one might have expected weaker artists and a shorter schedule at this years Ozzfest. Not so. The 2002 installment was every bit the grueling 14-hour metal smorgasbord of years past.
This year marks the seventh Ozzfest (formerly known as Ozzy's Retirement Sucks tour), which is notable because it matches the number of years logged by Lollapalooza, the originator of the modern music-festival tour. But unlike its predecessor, Ozzfest is still gaining strength and is likely to continue for as long as its progenitor can still scamper across the stage.
Part of the growing popularity of the festival is undoubtedly due to The Osbournes, but not a large part. Ozzfest played to sold-out crowds each of the past two summers -- long before the hit cable show. Ozzy (or, more likely, his wife Sharon) has created an incredible farm system of metal that permits the tour to sustain itself (and grow) year after year. Young metal talent is developed and cultivated on the second stage, and some lucky bastards graduate to the main stage in subsequent years, if theyve built a following. With this in mind, the second-stagers tend to put forth the best sets. Chevelle, Apex Theory and Ill Niño turned in impassioned performances, though sadly abbreviated due to sound problems.
While entertaining, Andrew W.K. didn't inspire the same intensity as the other second-stage bands with his beer-ad/frat-party anthem rock. He fails to be convincing as a serious artist or as a tongue-in-cheek 80s hair metal throwback. Second-stage headliners Down whipped the perpetual mosh pit into a frenzy and practically tore down the sideshow stage with the ferocity of their closing set.
The main stage boasted the strongest lineup in years, with a few exceptions. Drowning Pool successfully made the transition to the big stage, although their best song of the day was a cover of Metallica's "Creeping Death". Sound-alike pop-metal bands P.O.D. and Adema didn't distinguish themselves through their live shows.
Around 7 p.m., the crowd was visibly divided between metalheads who had been there since 9 in the morning and the tourists who came to see for themselves just what all the durn fuss is about Ozzy. These were folks who bought the tour program to find out just who they were listening to (Well, golly, honey, it says here that Drowning Pool is in league with Satan -- isnt that something?). The highlight of the main stage, Rob Zombie, joked about the "kinder, gentler Ozzfest" and reclaimed his credibility as a serious metal force with a stripped down set that cut back on the cartoonish stage antics that overshadowed his music in previous tours.
When the patriarch of metal took the stage it was impossible to turn around without risking a poke in the eye from the now ubiquitous heavy metal salute. Lambasted by critics for not remembering the lyrics to his own songs after 30 years, Ozzys voice remains as haunting as ever, and he knew every word of "Mama, Im Coming Home", which he emotionally dedicated to Sharon, who is recovering from cancer treatment. Guitarist Zakk Wylde, who pulled double duty (and played a double guitar) as frontman for Black Label Society (hands down the loudest band of the fest) single-handedly resurrected the lost art of the guitar solo on "Suicide Solution." As the closing strains of "Paranoid" continued to ring through the ears of the audience, it became obvious why Ozzys popularitys endured, and why its taken 30 years for him to mellow enough to be palatable to the MTV masses.