Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Ozzy Osbourne, Finger Eleven and Voivod: June1, 2003, GM Place
My good friend Bob Sox came through with some comps for this show, charitably promoted by the Sun’s “Queue” section as a “white trash be-in.” This is in contrast, I presume, to the sophisticated events the Sun endorses, at which Malcolm Parry climbs a step stool and happily snaps away while the city’s intelligentsia mash their fake breasts together.

Anyway, after pre-show drinks at Dix (where Scum dropped a you-had-to-be-there reference to the blue Beatles double album), we headed to the rink. We had to be on time for this gig—no Trowering!—because Voivod were first on the bill.

Smash was hell bent on exchanging his comp ticket for a floor ticket, but the scalpers wouldn’t go for it, nor could he fool the folks inside GM Place giving out green wristband passes to people with floor tickets. Our seats turned out to be just fine—16 rows up on the left side of the stage.

When you’re facing a big unknown like a job interview or a major trip, you can mull it over for a long time, posit a scenario from all the variables and contingencies, and decide you’ve got a good handle on it. But oftentimes when the event arrives and you’re in the midst of it, you realize that you had no idea all along. This is what happened when the lights went down and Voivod came on stage.

Piggy struck up the crawling two-note intro to the Voivod theme song, the self-titled track that opened up their debut album—just like on Sabbath’s first record. “Ha-ha, a nice little teaser,” I thought. “Now they’ll go into something from the new album.” Snake played a little air violin for the crowd down front—the floor was about 1/3 full at this point, with a few hundred other people scattered around the lower tier of seats. Piggy finished the intro with a final note rising to full volume. Snake walked up to the mike…


Christ on a crutch! Away they went, thrashing like it was 1984, playing “Voivod” by Voivod in GM Place with an ex-member of Metallica on bass. Whoa. This wasn’t on the tickets or in the ads. There was no recent post on Blabbermouth saying, “Voivod to open set with ‘Voivod’”. I went a bit mental.

They didn’t peak with that molten oldie either. They maintained the mania through a stupendous seven-song set, which balanced the new—“Rebel Robot,” “We Are Not Alone,” “Gasmask Revival” and “We Carry On”—with the old, including a rock solid version of “Tribal Convictions,” the “hit single” (in South Burnaby or on Ganymede) from 1988’s Dimension Hatross (the tremolo guitar part near the end sounded huge in the hockey barn) and set closer “Astronomy Domine” where Piggy compensated for muffing up the solo by pulling out his toy laser gun for some spatial FX. A glorious half hour, which I’m still buzzing from.

After declaring a crushing victory for rock ’n’ roll, Smash took off for parts unknown while I waited for Finger Eleven to come on. When they did, F11 brought out the grumpy old man in me, with their overblown Percussion Institute of Technology-grad drummer and guitarists who thought they were in the Dillinger Escape Plan or Botch, spasming across the stage like electrified mice while playing F11’s heavily amplified campfire songs. The crowd didn’t take to it either, and started chanting, Ozzy, Ozzy… “He’ll be out here soon,” promised the singer, “but not soon enough, I guess.” I went for a walk after four songs.

Ozzy opened strong with “War Pigs” and paced himself through a nearly two-hour show. I’d been expecting an hour plus an encore at most. While I’m not a great fan of solo Ozzy, a lot of other people are, judging by the number of his tunes in Popoff’s top 500 book. The set list delivered the usual—“Mr. Crowley,” “Crazy Train,” “Suicide Solution,” “I Don’t Know,” “Flying High Again,” “Mama I’m Coming Home,” et cetera. To my relief, he busted out some excellent Sabbath surprises, like “The Wizard,” which kicked off a medley of “After Forever,” “Into the Void,” and “Fairies Wear Boots.” He also sang “NIB,” and sang it very well; better than he did in 1970, in fact (I have a videotape that can prove it!). He resorted to confused slurring at other points, especially the last part of “After Forever.”

As for the rest of the band, Jasonic was doing his best at being Geezer with a plectrum. I thought his tone suited Voivod better than it did Ozzy’s more bluesy material. Guitarist Zakk Wylde is like some genetically engineered, lab-tested rock star (yeah, and didn’t he play a rock star in Rock Star?), grimacing and sweating and soloing like a sumvabitch, and throwing in an excerpt from “Eruption” during his solo spot. When we compared notes after the show, Ken stated that he’s not a huge fan—“Zakk Wylde’s not a blues guy. I think Ozzy should hook up with Marino.”

Ozzy himself was quite low key, for Ozzy. Close-ups on the big screen showed his face screwed up in concentration while he sang, his gaze not connecting with anything except the teleprompter at his feet. He made an effort while away from the mike, attempting a few leapfrog jumps, getting the crowd to clap their hands, and throwing bucketfuls of water over the first few rows—don’t slip a disc there, Ozzy!

Near the end of the show, he abandoned his “go crazy!” and “I love you all!” mantras to give us an update on Sharon’s cancer (beaten) and Jack’s stay in rehab (going well), and a warning against drinking and driving on the way home. His current fame as a TV dad was reflected in the number of parents with kids in the audience. I won’t say much about the suitability of Ozzy on TV or in concert for impressionable 10-year-olds other than better Ozzy than Grand Theft Auto. I will say that I hope all the Billys in attendance got a wholesome dose of Voivod as well.

When the show was over, I waited for Smash to come back from the floor—he got down there using a wristband that Ken fashioned from excess green tape and dental floss—then we merged into the flow of people heading to the exits. We found Scum and Ken all right, but Sox never turned up. I didn’t get a chance to thank him for the ticket on the way home, so I’d like to do it here. Cheers, man. It was a great night.

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