Somewhere south of Marysville last month, it was Odin happy day
Maybe I was careless, but I thought I could handle it.
What started as a part-time habit became five days a week working responsibly in a cubicle. Sometimes, I even worked overtime. Every night, I’d go to bed at a reasonable hour. This went on for months. I never knew I had a problem until the day I passed a punk rocker with peacock-hued liberty spikes and thought, “How does he expect to find a job looking like that?”
That’s when I realized where my 9-to-5 habit was leading—I was becoming pragmatic, settled! Without immediate intervention, I was on a one-way road to a life of ER reruns and bargain hunting at Costco. I was in need of a powerful antidote to the blandness of impending middle age, something to shake the monkey of responsible adulthood off my back.
I needed heavy metal.
Which explains why I’m at the
Sacramento Valley Amphitheatre at 10:30 a.m. on a workday with hundreds of diehard metal fans, all of us braving a mean drizzle to attend Ozzfest 2001. The crowd consists primarily of teenage girls shivering in halter tops they’re not allowed to wear to school, teenage boys in obscene T-shirts they’re not allowed to wear to school and middle-aged Sabbath fans sparking doobies before they even hit the gate.
After passing the customary body search, I’m rewarded with a map and a to-the-minute performance schedule of the 20 bands that will play one of Ozzfest’s three stages. I make a futile attempt to pinpoint my location on the map before I stuff it in my pocket and follow the sound of guitars.
Pure Rubbish, a quartet of sleazy teens in faded ’70s concert T-shirts and stretch jeans, has its work cut out for it with a 10:30 a.m. set time. Most concertgoers are sleepily rubbing their eyes as the band tears through songs that rival old-school Kiss and Alice Cooper for bad-assitude. Lead singer Derek Dunivan lifts his guitar to the heavens and plays solos that belie hours logged in his basement mimicking Aerosmith records. The crowd watches quietly. He screeches, leaps and throws water bottles. The audience gazes in silence. Finally, he resorts to the one surefire method of rousing the Ozzfest fans—profanity.
“Say yeah!” Dunivan yells.
“Yeah,” mumbles the groggy crowd.
“Say fuck yeah!” Dunivan screams.
“FUCK YEAH!!!” the crowd roars. The air fills with hands in devil-horn salute. Pure Rubbish’s members may still be in high school, but they know the first rule of hard-rock performance: Never underestimate the power of the F-word to generate enthusiasm. Mosh pits form, heads bang, and the concert begins.
Ozzfest action happens one stage at a time, requiring a mass migration at the close of the set. According to my map, the second stage is just around the corner, but what looks like a straight shot on paper is actually a maze of vendor booths, roadblocks and marketing displays. I weave through menacing carnival games like “Doomsday Darts” and “Bloodfest Ball.” From somewhere beyond a row of porta-potties, I hear American Head Charge take the still unseen second stage. “Are you ready?” the singer roars.
“Not yet!” I yell as I wait for a bus to pass. I round the Playstation 2 trailer, dodge the 1-800-COLLECT van and circumnavigate the giant Yoo-hoo bottle in time to watch the band leave the stage.
Before I can mourn, a creepy bald man grabs the mike. His face is blackened like Wile E. Coyote’s after an Acme explosion and his robe looks like a Leatherface original.
“I’m Reverend B. Dangerous!” he yells. “When you hear my voice, come running because something fucked up is going on!”
This is one of many cameos by the good reverend, who fills the lulls between bands with bizarre displays of his “talents.” Before day’s end, he will stick power drills up his nose, staple a shirt to his face, hang suitcases from his nipple rings and inhale a condom through one nostril and pull it out his mouth. The metal gods smile upon me and I am fortunate enough to witness the condom trick twice. Odin be praised.
The day assumes a rhythm: Watch band/bang head, push through crowd dodging people with T-shirt slogans like, “Please don’t say something stupid and make me kill you,” find stage, watch Reverend B. Dangerous torture one of his body parts. Repeat.
The afternoon is a blur of white boys with guitars generating an up-tempo wall of rage, with a few standouts. Godhead plays a hardcore cover of “Eleanor Rigby” while the singer twitches as if he’s been edited for MTV. Otep, the sole female artist in 20 bands, is a petite blonde in pigtails who roars like Linda Blair tied to the headboard. Mudvayne appeals to both the intellectual and the easily amused with their blend of math-rock and scary makeup. Finally, after five hours, 12 bands and the early symptoms of hearing loss, it’s time for the big guns.
Former Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde opens the main stage with his band, Black Label Society. BLS speeds through metal like Metallica used to before they cut their hair. Wylde pauses between songs to pour a can of Bud on his face, growl phrases like “Limp Bizkit sucks dick” and hurl the can into the pit before starting another round of your-ass-is-grass-and-I’m-the-lawnmower rock. Clearly, Black Label Society is here to do two things and, lucky for those in front, they never run out of beer.
The next band, Crazy Town, is just the sort of group Wylde would sick his rottweilers on. The slick L.A. band has two MCs, a DJ and the standard hip-hop-thrash sound. Not unlike the next act, radio-friendly Linkin Park. The crowd perks up when Linkin Park plays “Crawling,” the first familiar tune of the day.
If Linkin Park makes the crowd perky, Papa Roach inspires glee. Frontman Coby Dick radiates energy. He shouts lyrics, bangs his head on monitors, runs into amps and dances a neo-metal version of the running man. He praises the NoCal scene and waves to his friends in the pit. When a smitten female fan climbs on her friends’ shoulders and flashes him, Dick says, “I have boobs, too,” and lifts his shirt to show her. After using a megaphone to deliver a poignant speech about self-reflection, he bounces the megaphone off his skull and leads the band into “Last Resort.” Local boys make damn good.
After a quick set change, the nine members of Slipknot burst onstage. Each wears a black jumpsuit and a mask from your worst nightmares (clown with his brain exposed, man with face full of pins, etc.). The music is ferocious and overwhelming. Masked monsters leap, yell and hit things with sticks. There are pyrotechnics and drums that move by themselves, shaking the fiendish ghouls pounding on them. By the end of the set, I’m left with the distinct impression that I’ve left Marysville and entered hell.
This idea is re-enforced when Marilyn Manson appears in a corset and feathered headdress singing “God Bless America” like a beauty pageant finalist. Manson, metal’s reigning queen of disturbing aesthetics, delivers one hell of a show (pun intended). His stunts include walking on stilts and crutches like a rangy, four-legged beast, dressing as a Catholic bishop and pounding on a podium under a cross made of shotguns. Manson closes with “Beautiful People,” kicking his way offstage like a chorus girl. There’s no encore. Only Sabbath.
Topping Manson is a challenge, but Black Sabbath has the weight of seniority behind them. Their reputation is proven and the crowd screams in their honor as they emerge. The band has aged, but the music retains its intensity. They play some eerie new songs and all the favorites, from “Iron Man” to “War Pigs,” as giant screens play disturbing images from war newsreels and horror movies. There are classic touches, like Ozzy on harmonica, and surprises, like the huge water guns Ozzy turns on the crowd. Jets of water pour from the top of the stage simultaneously, soaking everyone in the pit. At 11 p.m. sharp, the band disappears in an explosion of fireworks and black feathers that float out over the crowd.
I drive home humming “Paranoid” in time to the ringing in my ears. The next day, I ignore my alarm clock and sleep until noon.
I think I’m cured.