Backwash

Rockers gathered in their masses during Ozzfest, one of Mile High's last hectic hurrahs.

Whenever they're blowing up Mile High Stadium, it's not soon enough -- and the 24,000 sweaty fans who converged on the arena for last week's Ozzfest would probably agree. As one of the last shows ever to grace the stadium where John Elway ascended to sainthood, Ozzfest was an appropriately brutal sendoff, one last hectic hurrah before the whole damn place, a metallic monstrosity, meets a more appropriate fate as a parking lot. Although the arena-rock experience is not one that usually includes the aesthetic and physical comforts of more comfy venues -- you don't expect lovely Fillmore-style chandeliers, for example -- it would not have been unreasonable to expect basic human essentials, such as beer. Note to the city: When you invite masses of rock's faithful to commune for a twelve-hour metal marathon, you should be a good host and not shut beer sales off at 5 p.m. Back-to-back sets from bands like Papa Roach and Slipknot -- whose music seems specifically engineered to dislodge vertebrae from spinal columns -- go down a bit easier with a tasty beverage.

The ability to move your limbs freely is nice, too. While squirming through the ridiculously congested corridor that led to the second stage -- where lower-tier bands such as Taproot, Mudvayne, Union Underground and Hatebreed began, like, totally ripping it up at the very rock-and-roll hour of 10 a.m. -- Backwash encountered a pregnant woman who truly feared for the well-being of her unborn child. "I'm worried about the effect of being around so many smelly rocker people," she said, hand on belly.

Of course, smelly rocker people are what Ozzfest is all about, and in this regard, Mr. Osbourne's little festival did not disappoint. Though the majority of the concertgoers looked like kids who'd ditched a rigorous day of high school in order to see their favorite MTV- created bands in person ("It's just not the same without the video," said one young woman in the bathroom after a set from Union Underground), there was a steady showing of old-school loyalists who'd come to worship at Ozzy's aged alter. And if members of the latter group were a little surprised by the stylistic hodgepodge of this year's lineup, no one could blame them. Of the nineteen bands who played, only a handful seemed even slightly indebted to the deep-groove and guitar histrionics of top-billers Black Sabbath; for every screaming guitar wank unleashed by former Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde -- who leads the Black Label Society and resembles a Nordic Hell's Angel -- there were MIDI noises, rapped couplets and synthesizer solos offered up by Crazy Town, Linkin Park and others who continue to probe the gap between rap and metal. In Ozzy's day -- when men were men and women happily flashed their boobies from the audience -- no roadie worth his weight in methamphetamines would load a freakin' keyboard up with the rest of the real metal gear. And after a pyrotechnic-laden set from Slipknot, whose players sounded like a bunch of drunk kids who had stumbled upon a real band's instruments, the older among us were left to ponder the meaning of this new animal-masked creature masquerading as rock and roll. (For Backwash, the filler played between sets -- the Stones' Let It Bleed -- was the musical highlight of the afternoon.) Judging by the rage, rage, rage that underscored the majority of the day's offerings, the imagination of the modern metalhead lies somewhere between the sampler and the sledgehammer.

He would probably shudder in his leather panties to hear it, but Marilyn Manson actually provided the most moderate, cohesive link between metal's past and future faces. While Manson and his band boast the same bombastic elements that characterized the majority of the day's earlier offerings, they are still rooted in the brooding, melodic elements that Sabbath practically patented in the '70s. The music is angst-ridden and full of bile, but at least you can tap your toes to it. And Manson himself made a grand entrance, introducing two of his favorite themes -- God and Government -- by blaring an aorta-rumbling choral rendition of "God Bless America" through every one of Mile High's speakers. The set that followed -- an hour-long performance that won the crowd over, save for a few femme-fearing frat-boy types in the stands -- had more to do with showbiz than with Satan or sacrilege or any of the other things Manson's been linked with in the media. Though some of his live affectations -- walking around on stilts like a giant metallic bug; humping the floor; growling in a Gwar-like rumble; demonstrating an almost compulsive preoccupation with his own bony ass -- became a bit tiresome, they were a welcome departure from the bevy of other Ozzfest frontmen whose stage presence was limited to crafting permutations on the word fuck.

Manson, of course, couldn't get through the evening without nodding his Spartan-helmeted head in the direction of "the people outside" -- i.e., the Citizens for Peace and Respect, the group that has been a persistent voice of anti-Mansonism since late April. Led by charismatic youth pastor Jason Janz, CPR had said members would be in the parking lot at Ozzfest to distribute literature on teen outreach services and suicide hotlines, as well as information on "Hopefest," an alternative Christian music concert they were hosting just down the lane at Elitch's. So from the stage, Manson read an abbreviated bit of Bible verse, told the crowd how beautiful it was and instructed the entire house to join him in wishing a collective "Fuck you" to his detractors, an order the audience complied with to ear-shattering results.

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