“Death before dishonor, my friends!” OZZFEST EXPOSED: A FAN’S PERSPECTIVE
OZZFEST, Glen Helen “Hyundai” Pavilion. Aug 20, 2005
I settled into my Loge 4 nosebleed deluxe open-air box at approximately 7:20 pm, just in time to miss the pseudo-psychotic shenanigans of the MTV approved Nü Metal clown troupe SlipKnot. Suffice it to say I was pleased with my punctuality. Apparently the crap-tastic carnies conjured up the conscience to convey mercy on the under-whelmed audience and shave their dog and pony show by several blissful minutes, as the set schedule had them leaving the stage at 7:35. Having suffered the indignity of being publicly demoralized by a who’s who of amateur ear-splitters at last year’s debacle, I made it my business to the research this year’s running schedule.
At 7:45 or so, I was still surveying my surroundings and monitoring the minutes until Iron Maiden’s 8:05 scheduled start time when a voice boomed over the P.A bellowing a familiar chant, which to my recollection had customarily been initiated by the crowd. “Oz-zy, Oz-zy, Oz-zy!..” A disoriented DJ’s disembodied voice droned on, only to be doubled over and drowned out by an equally familiar chant. This one, generated the old fashion way (albeit by provocation) was closer akin to my remembrances. “Mai-den, Mai-den, Mai-den!…” To paraphrase Ronnie James Dio, “Somebody started the game and the darkness just got louder as it shouted away the light.”
Maiden took the stage at 7:50, and by “took” I mean seized. As any sane individual will attest, it was a full frontal Metal assault. Although the sound was a bit muted (at least from my Boondockian vantage point) the musicality and madness shined through. The opening number: “Murders In The Rue Morgue” was nothing short of a Metal clinic, which left the teeny-bopper sect in stoned silence, the meat-heads in disarray and the die-hards licking their chops.
No sooner did the song end than did front man Bruce Dickinson start in on what would be the first of several rants, all of which were delivered with an economic and profane eloquence, which I will attempt to paraphrase. Upon informing the audience that his band had just been pelted with various objects including eggs, Mr. Dickinson went on to shame the hecklers, “Right now, Nicko (McBrain) is over there cleaning off his fuckin’ drum kit!” He then went on to add, “If you’re an Iron Maiden fan and see and arm raise to throw something at this band, by the time that arm comes back down I want it broken in fuckin’ two!” It as this point that I began assessing my chances of making it to the orchestra pit (which seemed to be the eye of the storm) without getting sacked by the security, for I would gladly snap the arm of any base defiler who would participate in such a blasphemous and cowardly act.
From there the band roared into “The Trooper” and the whole crowd roared with them. As Dickenson traversed the stage with his customary Union Jack in tow, he seemed entranced, leading the charge and taking on all comers. Half way through the undisputed classic, (whose re-release recently debuted on the U.K. charts at #5) I was shook from my metal ecstasy by a sight I hope to never see again. An overgrown jabroni waving an American flag could now be spotted clumsily skipping along the scaffolding at the darkened right side of the stage. The unnatural spectral abomination confounded my sensibilities. My rational mind was thus awakened and in one nauseating wave it hit me. The egregiously unsuccessful attempt to manufacture an “Ozzy” chant at the start of the set, the various projectiles, and now the bloated bozo waving the American Flag were connected. And all signs pointed to sabotage (no pun intended).
As the “Trooper” came to its triumphant close, Dickenson stifled the roaring crowd with another raucous rant in which he rightfully referred to the patriotic plant as a “sorry excuse for an Ozzy fan” and began dispatching the orchestra pit with lines like, “These colors don’t run for you fuckin’ asswipes!” Then, riding high off the crowd response, he issued a slam, so spot-on, that the second it sprung forth its place was secured in the annals of Metal folklore. “The next song will not be heard on your local cocksucking corporate radio station. It won’t be seen on MTV, and sure as fuck won’t be played on a fucking reality TV show!” The over-exuberant crowd reaction spoke volumes. Once again the proverbial stage was set for another classic: “Revelations”, whose opening lyrics, “Take not thy thunder from us but take away our pride” (borrowed from a G.K. Chesterton English Hymnal) were to take on new meaning when late into the song the power (sound) actually cut out. Yes, the twenty-year-old classic was as poignant as ever. It is important to note that it took almost the entire 10 silent seconds or so for my particular section of the crowd to realize that this was not intentional on the part of the band. As anyone familiar with Maiden songs will tell you, most run well over 7 minutes and contain multiple changes, heavily accented arrangements and all manner of dramatic pause. So this simply seemed like a bit of stop-on-a-dime showin’ off to me.
At this point I wasn’t sure Dickinson himself even put it together or did he? His post song commentary began with the rhetorical “How Satanic was that?” and it wasn’t until he wondered aloud how dozens of eggs could be smuggled past the crack Ozzfest security and into the front row that I realized the band was still under fire. “Well, a few eggs ain’t gonna stop Iron fuckin’ Maiden,” he exclaimed, feeling it. “Didn’t someone once say ‘I can’t drive 55’? Well, Maiden can’t play 55!” This was in reference to the bands allotted 55 minute timeslot. “Tonight we’ll play our full fuckin’ set!” This was met with a riotous response from what appeared to be all in attendance.
From the opening bell chime of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” novice crooners from all corners of the arena were psyching themselves up for the moment when Metal and Karoke meld into pure magic. The operatic: “Running looowww…” note is held ad infinitum. In most circles, accompanying Dickinson in the holding of the note serves as some sort of Metal right of passage. Not tonight. The moment was sufficiently disrupted when Bruce was forced to stop singing and focus on his harassers. It seemed he had spotted a saboteur: “I’ll rip your fuckin’ head off right now, you piece of shit!” He blew up, bolting to the front of the stage. “If I see you backstage I’ll shove that backstage pass up your ass!” There was a bit of commotion in the crowd until the tempo change turned all heads back to banging. Then, turning his back on his spineless transgressors, Dickinson rushed to the riser just in time to usher in the next sing-along. Joining him in a show of solidarity, the capacity crowd belted out the immortal lines: “When the priest comes to read me my last rights, I take a look through the bars at the last sights of a world that has gone very wrong for me!” Toward the end of the anthem there was yet again another abrupt P.A cut, this time in a less forgiving moment than the first and although the same can’t be said for the crowd, the band didn’t miss a beat.
Once the explosive outro let up, Dickinson was back to flying off the handle. Pointing down into the pit he screamed, “That asswipe right there, with the Ozzfest fuckin’ laminate around his neck, throw his fuckin’ ass out of here right now! You think you’re gonna stop Iron Maiden? It’s gonna take a lot more than some fuckin’ eggs! Because nothing, and I mean fucking nothing, is gonna come between this band and the Iron Maiden fans. This is death before fucking dishonor, my friends! This is Iron fuckin’ Maiden!” Just as though the entire altercation had been orchestrated for dramatic effect, the opening riff to “Iron Maiden” sliced through everything its path including the lawless applause Dickinson’s tirade had inspired.
Maiden was now firmly on the offensive. With a bottomless back catalog acting as ammunition, they began firing classic after classic at the crowd. Next up: “Number Of The Beast” and I’ll leave this one to your imagination and keep the moment for my own. Describing it can only diminish the memory.
As I remember it, one of the last P.A cuts arrived at a particularly inopportune time… for the saboteurs, that is. Those familiar with the song, “Run To The Hills” will surely know the section to which I refer. Directly leading up to the final chorus there is a protracted crescendo built from the bottom up by a groundswell chant that sits at a moderate but steady pace atop the sparest of musical arrangements. Gradually changing octaves and increasing volume assemble an insurmountable mountain of tension, which is then, of course, eclipsed by Bruce’s patented air-raid siren scream (or in this case Banshee wail) shot sky-high by a descending tom roll courtesy of the great Nicko McBrain. It was at the onset of this particular piece that the pathetic powers that be picked to pull the plug once more.
So there we were, at least 40, 000 strong, in a cappella harmony with Dickinson at the helm. And I’m here to testify that the man didn’t balk for a second. Before our very eyes Dickinson disappeared and a Metal Maestro manifested, conducting the crowd in a majestic Metal symphony. Slowly but surely, the tension began to build without the help of technology. The implications were now clear; we were not machines and we did not need machines, the plug could not be pulled. Then miraculously, as if the plug-puller suddenly caught a future glimpse of long lonely road down which his futile actions were leading him, the power was restored. Perfect timing! My metal brethren and I were loud for sure but hoarse and off-key and luckily let off the hook. Though many of us would have tried, not one of us would have come close to out-shrieking Dickinson. And all the air-drummers in the free world would not have been able to ape the percussive precision of Nicko McBrain.
If Maiden’s two encores “Running Free” and “Sanctuary” were interrupted, I don’t recall. All I remember was singing myself silly, surrounded by smiling faces, all equally immersed. The pulverizing wall of sound provided by Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers buoyed by the propulsive pyrotechnics of Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain brought out the best out of all of us, including Dickinson, whose boundless energy and pitch perfect delivery defined the word showmanship.
It is imperative for all to understand that the last of Dickinson’s words were not spent on the classless conspirators. He was no longer addressing the detractors but us, the fans. “Glen Helen, you’ve been amazing! You made it all worth it,” he gushed, adding: “I don’t know about you guys but I’m sick of the bullshit. Don’t worry, however. You haven’t heard the last of Iron Maiden. We will be back!” With that his microphone was cut. As the band bowed, exiting the stage, the same peculiar voice that first pestered us at the top of the set, shot through the speakers again, “Oz-zy, Oz-zy, Oz-zy…”. Even more instantaneously than during his first attempt, the faceless and disgraceful DJ’s dull chant was drowned into nonexistence by a now rabidly pro-Maiden contingency. “Mai-den, Mai-den, Mai-den!” The chant echoed on and on into the night.
“Excuse me. I have an announcement!” a grating, shrill and strangely familiar voice rang out, obliterating my bliss. “It can’t be”, I thought to myself, squinting and scanning the stage for signs of my third grade teacher, Mrs. Lynch. “Quiet! Quiet, for one minute…” Wait it a second, even Mrs. Lynch wouldn’t attempt to silence an audience this unruly. My eyes pulled focus and who did I find slithering onto the stage but the Yoko Ono of Metal herself Sharon Osbourne. Once she made it into plain sight, scattered booing became her backdrop. She began slyly, “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Iron Maiden and their crew…” The crowd hushed allowing her to proceed, and she proceeded cautiously. “The crew and the band have been unbelievable and we love them…” Then with a good portion of the crowd paying attention she dropped the bomb, proving she had been playing possum all along. “But their lead singer Bruce Dickinson is a fuckin’ PRICK!” she screeched. And like nails over the chalkboard of Metal, the slight was met with loud boos and moans of revulsion. Most likely, foreseeing the possible PR nightmare, she back tracked, “I want to hear it for Iron Maiden… they’re a great band.” The paying audience had endured enough. A barrage of boos, beer cups, bottle caps and a sundry of unidentified projectiles rained down until what soon resembled a beer-soaked witch was forced to relent, taking her refuge in the bowels backstage.
Although I’m a huge fan of Black Sabbath and recognize them as the founders of Metal, Sharon had forced my hand. So, with my head held high and half the crowd behind me (it has since been widely reported that Sabbath played to half capacity, which adds up to just over 20,000 people) I walked. Not only was this a vote of confidence for Maiden but an ethical stance. Besides, watching Sabbath with the knowledge that their balls are firmly tucked away somewhere in Sharon Osbourne’s purse would only mar the experience and my memories of what was once the greatest Metal band in the world. That is until Iron Maiden took the torch and ran with it.
All in all, Maiden suffered at least five P.A cuts throughout their blistering set. In the end, nothing was lost but the dignity of the conniving cowards who conspired to crush their spirit and gather support for the corporate co-opting of Metal. Just as the protagonist transcends death at the end of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” Maiden had transcended the bullshit. Energized by every altercation, Dickinson made it his mission to destroy the forces that had mounted against him and his band. He did this by quite seamlessly building off the escalating debacle’s own momentum and out matching it with the music we had all come to hear.
In an Aug 25th issued statement, Sharon Osbourne admitted: “Yes, I did cut Iron Maiden’s sound.”