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Review: Ozzy Osbourne at 1st Mariner Arena, November 29

Contributor Evan Haga reviews Ozzy Osbourne's show Monday night at 1st Mariner Arena.

Playing a video segment before a concert is nothing new. Often nonsensical, these clips set the mood, heighten the anticipation and allow audience members to find their seats without missing anything.

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But the short program that opened heavy metal icon Ozzy Osbourne's 100-minute show last night at 1st Mariner Arena was something else - savvy, explicit and hilarious.

It featured Osbourne verbally sparring with Snooki from "Jersey Shore"; dancing, in drag, alongside Lady Gaga; and working himself into various blockbuster films, "Avatar" and "The Hangover" among them.

Funny stuff, and it made a point. Osbourne is now pop-culture property beyond rock 'n' roll. He's an advertising personality known to millions, not as the Englishman who invented heavy metal, but as the mumbling, bumbling grandfatherly star of reality TV.

So a challenge was set: Can the Prince of Darkness still bring it? The short answer is yes. The best hard-rock frontmen have been Pied Pipers to their head-banging fans, lion tamers at the circus that is the arena metal show.

Those literal and figurative pyrotechnics were present: a shower of sparks at the head of "Mr. Crowley"; a marathon solo from drummer Tommy Clufetos atop an elevated riser; and many startling blasts of fireworks, from the opening "Bark at the Moon" to the final encore, Black Sabbath's "Paranoid."

Osbourne tended to pitter-patter around the stage—the same geriatric gait America came to love on MTV's "The Osbournes"—and carried a gut that even his head-to-toe black attire couldn't downsize. Still, he was absolutely the centerpiece of the madness, and seemed to enjoy it.

More than once, Osbourne mercilessly drilled security and the front of the crowd with a foam canon. After one blasting session, he tossed two buckets of - what was hopefully - water onto the ground-level fans. But his gratitude toward them was palpable.

Throughout his mostly indecipherable between-song addresses, he repeated one of his new album's song titles, "I love you all," like a nervous tic. (And that foamlike substance? Washable, he said.)

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The crowd, cross-generational with a large quotient of middle-aged fanboys, bountifully returned his enthusiasm. But as fervent as the audience was, the numbers weren't overwhelming. The floor and lower concourses were pretty filled out, but the rest of the arena looked barren. In the end, reality TV can only do so much.

The elephant in the room was, of course, the voice. With Black Sabbath and into the '80s, Osbourne touted a sturdy vocal instrument, perhaps the most appealingly "evil" voice in hard rock. When metal singers either growled or squealed, Osbourne's pipes were something else altogether, and you could recognize his tight, compressed mid-range a mile away.

You still can, but the wear and tear is, to put it kindly, very much audible. The 61-year-old warbled, wheezed and stopped short; in "American Idol" parlance, he was pitchy, to say the least.

What pulled up the slack was, first of all, an excellent and diverse set list, with 15 tunes plus instrumental spotlights for guitar, band and drums. Solo hits, like the tender "Mama, I'm Coming Home," notorious "Suicide Solution" and hooky "Shot in the Dark," were strategically ordered around Sabbath classics, which the band performed without too much revisionary decoration.

A recent single, "Let Me Hear You Scream," painlessly advertised the new album. Osbourne's other saving grace was his four-piece band, particularly new guitarist Gus G. As he himself recounted, Osbourne has collaborated with some of the best and most influential rock guitarists, and G. held up his end of this dynasty. What most impressed was how he seemed to blend this legacy with his own identity. In other words, he got in some original wailing but respected the past, quoting or recreating the most memorable leads of the Ozzy canon: Randy Rhoads' solos on "Crazy Train," or Tony Iommi's immortal breaks on "Iron Man" and "Fairies Wear Boots."

G. seemed to work a stunning balance between the neoclassical school that Rhoads influenced and the beefier, blues-based shredding of Zakk Wylde, whom G. replaced last year. There didn't seem to be a fingertapping lick or rapid-fire arpeggio that escaped him.

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Osbourne's opening act, Halford, had two of its own certified guitar virtuosos, and worked a different dynamic than Osbourne: zero pyrotechnics, except for Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford's thrilling falsetto, which sounded remarkably on point. But some fans seemed disappointed this wasn't an outright Priest set, even if it did include "Jawbreaker" and Priest's covers of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi" and Joan Baez's "Diamonds & Rust."

Halford has a new album out, and the band played several of its songs. They had rip-roaring harmonized guitar leads, pummeling double-bass drumming, titles like "Thunder and Lightning" and surplus volume. Isn't that enough?

Rob Halford setlist:

Resurrection  
Made in Hell  
Locked and Loaded  
Made of Metal  
Nailed to the Gun
Fire and Ice  
Thunder and Lightning  
The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown) (Fleetwood Mac cover)  
Diamonds & Rust (Joan Baez cover)  
Jawbreaker (Judas Priest cover)  
Like There's No Tomorrow  
Cyber World


Ozzy Osbourne setlist:

Bark at the Moon  
Let Me Hear You Scream  
Mr. Crowley  
I Don't Know  
Fairies Wear Boots (Black Sabbath)  
Suicide Solution  
Road to Nowhere  
War Pigs (Black Sabbath) 
Fire in the Sky  
Shot in the Dark 
Guitar solo/Full-band jam/Drum solo  
Iron Man (Black Sabbath)  
I Don't Want to Change the World  
Crazy Train  

Encore:

Mama, I'm Coming Home  
Paranoid (Black Sabbath)

Evan Haga is a frequent Midnight Sun contributor, and the managing editor of JazzTimes.  He last reviewed The Cult at Rams Head Live. Erik Maza edited this post. 

Photo: Gene Sweeney Jr/Baltimore Sun

Our Ozzy photo gallery is here.  

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