April 25th, 1984 was a lifetime ago. For a date that sits so far back in my past I remember this night remarkably well. I was sixteen and was renting a room in Toronto’s west end. I would have put in a mind-numbing day at the Thrush muffler factory (or just as likely called in sick) before making a snap decision to hop on the TTC and head downtown to see Ozzy Osbourne live.
It was a no-brainer really. Up to that point in my life Blizzard Of Ozz was basically tied with Pink Floyd’s The Wall as my most-listened to album, or more accurately: cassette; the two recordings would constantly alternate in my treasured and omnipresent Sony Walkman. And while I mourned the recent passing of the great Randy Rhoads my young musical palette could hardly tell the difference between the genre-defining late prodigy and his unfortunate replacement Jake E. Lee.
And when I came out of the subway tunnel I ran into a sea of scalpers, all yelling, “Who needs a ticket?!? Who needs a ticket?!?”
This was good news because I needed a ticket. It was close to showtime and I’ll never forget staring at a scalper who was standing in front of Maple Leaf Gardens yelling, “Ozzy tickets for a buck!” with a stack of tickets in his hand.
The $1 tickets were for the grey section, the worst seats in the Gardens. I bought a single green ticket from the guy (the second-worst section) for $5 and in I went.
(Witnessing this less-than-face-value ticket fiasco would come back to haunt me when months later I went to the Gardens to catch Van Halen on their 1984 tour. I felt pretty safe showing up with $20 in my pocket and was completely shut out from my last real chance to see the original lineup of the band when I found scalped tickets were starting at $75.)
I took my seat near the rafters and took in the scene. The warring sides of popular music were on display as a pair of metalheads circled the floor section below with a bed sheet crudely lettered with the phrase “F*** Duran Duran, Ozzy’s our man!” An arena full of Ozzy fans cheered for “our man” on every pass, fully aware that the hated Duran Duran had filmed their concert here at Maple Leaf Gardens just the week before for their upcoming video for The Reflex.
The opening band was Ratt, and I loved their set. They had just come out on the scene, I had seen their video for Round and Round (featuring Milton Berle) on MuchMusic a few times so I was a bit familiar with them, though their followup hits like Wanted Man and Back For More had yet to hit FM radio.
I remember the lead singer doing the “let’s see which half of the arena can scream louder,” thing. “C’mon let’s hear This side, now let’s hear That side! I don’t know This side, That side might have you beat. Let’s try it one more time!!!” And such a young concert-goer was I, I failed to realize it was a tired schtick and I took it really seriously, screaming my little lungs out. I remember being really disappointed with my side, sure the other side was going to win.
I was barely consoled when we came out tied.
After a short setbreak I tingled with excitement when the lights went down marking the beginning of Ozzy’s set. From the darkness stained-glass windows lit up on both sides of the stage. The screams of the crowd were met with a booming pipe organ. It was the opening notes of Mr. Crowley. There were nothing but goosebumps up there in the green section.
At once the stage lights came on showing a robed figure standing atop a wide, gothic staircase that took up most of the castle-themed stage, his arms outstretched. As the organ swelled Ozzy slowly descended one step at a time. As he neared the bottom of the staircase Ozzy leapt to the stage amid a wall of pyrotechnics and the band kicked into the song.
I even remember what I was wearing; I was dressed in faded jeans, a black Q107 t-shirt, and a worn brown sports coat purchased from a thrift shop. I was on my feet for the entire show. Matter of fact I was more than standing; I was more than standing on my seat even. I was actually standing on the back of my seat and the back of the empty seat in front of me for the entire concert and the whole time I was pounding my fists in the air along with the music. Come to think of it I had most of the section to myself but dutifully stuck to (the back of) my seat for the whole show.
The show progressed from greatness to more greatness, enthralling me to no end. When the massive staircase parted like the Red Sea before Moses, delivering the drumset to the centre of the stage for the obligatory drum solo it was my Baptism of concert hydraulic miracles. I emptied my lighter during Goodbye To Romance and I ignorantly thrilled as Jake E. Lee widdled through what was probably a mindless shredding of dorian modes in unintended and unholy mockery of a stunning Randy Rhoads guitar solo.
By the time Ozzy encored with his Black Sabbath signature song Paranoid I was sweaty, hoarse-throated and a changed (young) man. I was really getting into this live concert thing, that’s for sure.