On February 18th, 2011 I drove from my mom’s snowbird nest in New Port Richey to Tampa/St. Petersburg to see Ozzy Osbourne. The venue is right downtown, as arenas should be, and despite parking in the super-convenient adjacent five-storey lot and heading straight into the show I only made it to my seat in time for the last three songs from opening act Slash.
Which was fine, the songs were Sweet Child O’ Mine, some Velvet Revolver song, and Paradise City. I asked the guy sitting next to me what I had missed and was told, “nothing”. Slash is a great guitar player but I was okay just catching the hits. The guy just has a habit of surrounding himself with cheese-doodle vocalists. He’s like that cool friend who always seems to hook up with the lamest girlfriends; you’re happy to see him but after a while it can get to be too much…
Ozzy is another matter altogether. I had only seen Ozzy once before, way back in the mid-80’s on the Bark At The Moon tour and wouldn’t you know it, the aging, self-abused rockstar opened the show with the title track from that long-forgotten album, and we were off to the races.
(Okay, Ozzy’s set actually started with an over-the-top comical video montage that superimposed the wrinkling Prince of Darkness into a myriad of pop-culture monstrosities, including Jersey Shore, The Hangover, and more, proving that Ozzy takes himself much less seriously than many of his fans do.)
Though songs from his monstrously huge Blizzard Of Ozz album like I Don’t Know and Mr. Crowley were great it was the Black Sabbath numbers that really rocked. Fairies Wear Boots, War Pigs, Iron Man, on and on he went into that ancient catalogue and it was all drop-dead awesome. I had forgotten just how great those songs were; how groundbreaking they were. It’s curious to note how slow the songs are. True heavy metal doesn’t have to be fast.
But it was the character within the man himself who stole the show; in essence, the material was just a palette for Ozzy’s tried-and-true self-parodying stage antics. While his between song banter was exactly what you would expect from seeing Ozzy on his reality tv show, that is: a rambling, impossible-to-comprehend burnt out geezer who shuffles around like a drunken Yoda. But when the man launched into each song he was a flurry of manic agility, virtually tap-dancing about the stage and doing endless jumping jacks, and all the while singing into his microphone with the utmost clarity and diction, every lyric easily discernible despite the cavernous arena, the buzzing guitars, and thousands of cheering fans.
Obviously one of these realities is, in fact, a façade. Either the guy is a mumbling invalid or he’s an active, energetic senior with strong pipes and crisp vocal skills. Who can say which act is a put on?
Best of all, though, was the water hose. About three songs into the evening Ozzy ran to the back of the stage and re-emerged dragging a huge, firetruck-grade firehose. Levelling it directly at the crowded front rows of the floor Ozzy braced himself and turned it on, absolutely drenching hundreds of people in a matter of seconds with thick blast of a water/foam mix. From my spot safely up in the cheap seats it was absolutely hilarious, and it got better every time he did it. Time and time again Ozzy grabbed the hose and soaked the crowd. He was clearly enjoying it, even comically turning the hose on himself at one point.
He just kept doing it and doing it. For me it never got old, though I’m sure the people up front got tired of it pretty quick.
Of course the set ended with Crazy Train, which was crazy fun, and even more “of course”, he finished the encore with his signature song Paranoid, probably one of the fastest Black Sabbath songs on record but compared to what heavy metal evolved into one could almost classify the heavy metal hymn as “chill”.
What was fast was getting out of the parking lot after the show. Leaving the almost-packed venue smack-dab in the middle of the city was quick and effortless. I spent the whole drive back to New Port Richey ranting about how we should be so lucky in Ottawa.