Ozzy Osbourne has always delighted in playing dealmaker with his audiences: “The crazier you fuckers go, the longer we play,” he told the crowd at Allentown, Pennsylvania’s PPL Center several times on Thursday night. Looking around, though, he may have been the craziest one there. Although the 10,000 or so fans screamed, clapped their hands, chanted “Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy” like sports fans and even peppered in the random, heart-spilling “I love you, Ozzy” from the upper seats — by all metrics the kind of crowd any performer would kill for — he one-upped them with boundless energy as he careened about the stage, sprayed the front rows with a foam hose and doused them with buckets of water. It was the first night of the North American leg of his No More Tours 2 Tour (he says it’s not a farewell tour; he’ll still play gigs) and he came at it with his energy level at 10.
For the past five years or so, Osbourne has performed most frequently with Black Sabbath, the pioneering heavy-metal band he co-founded half a century ago. With that group, he essentially reverted back to being a frontman, one quarter of a crushing bigger picture, and he gave some of his best performances while doing so. Now that he’s resumed his solo career, which he launched in 1979 upon his eviction from Sabbath’s ranks, he’s embracing the spotlight again. He does have a great band, which includes his longtime sideman, guitarist Zakk Wylde, and two younger musicians who played in Sabbath’s touring lineup, but as Ozzy Osbourne, the main attraction, he becomes the consummate showman (an endangered species in heavy music these days, though Corey Taylor of tonight’s openers, Stone Sour, and frontman for Slipknot falls in the same class).
Even before the concert officially began with a rousing rendition of “Bark at the Moon,” he came out in a purple-sequined robe and hammed it up for the audience. “Are you ready for a little bit of Ozzy Osbourne?” he asked, going full PT Barnum. “What about you? What about you? What about everybody.” He kept it up for most of the nearly two-hour set. When an assistant came out to pick up his hose, after he had sprayed the audience during the ever-gothic “Mr. Crowley,” Ozzy climbed on the man’s back as if he was a horse. When introducing Wylde, who first joined the group in 1987, Osbourne quipped, “This guy I’ve known all my life.” And throughout the entire evening he kept up his deaf act, telling the audience he couldn’t hear them and he wanted them louder. These are tried-and-true stage antics, ones he’s been doing for decades, but even as he approaches age 70, he pulls them off with panache — and he manages to do so while singing.
Both Osbourne and his band were in top form throughout the evening. Ozzy’s voice was strong and on pitch, even during some of the songs’ impossibly high parts, and Wylde & Co. seemed to play a bazillion notes each on their instruments. The band’s star of course was Wylde, the natural-born guitar hero who replaces the likes of Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and Osbourne’s beloved first solo guitarist — the late Randy Rhoads. In “Suicide Solution,” a six-string showcase, Wylde went off book and played his own whirlwind solo instead of Rhoads’. On Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots” and “War Pigs,” he added some extra oomph to the riffs with pick squeals and an extra-long solo on the latter song.
When Osbourne needed a break after the latter tune, Wylde kept the crowd enthralled by walking deep into the arena, soloing and playing a medley of riffs of mid-career fan favorites like “Miracle Man” and “Perry Mason.” When he was in the middle of the crowd, the cameras on the stage still focused on him, showing the legion of fans filming them on their phones. Second to the guitarist, the most notable musician was drummer Tommy Clufetos, whose bass drums lit up as he played them — a touch that blended in with the overall stage design, which included a giant cross that bisected two video screens.
With it being opening night, there was one notable mishap. At one point, Osbourne stepped on his foam hose spraying backwards onto his legs, and his assistant had to go through three towels to clean it up behind him. Osbourne could be forgiven for forgetting where was, though, since he seemed to be wrapped up in the moment. After all, the set list spanned each era of his career, with heavy focus on his first solo offering, Blizzard of Ozz, and his best-selling record, No More Tears (including a particularly great rendition of the lengthy title song as lasers danced around the stage and engulfed the singer in a cage at one point).
Even if it’s not a goodbye tour, it’s hard to imagine that this wasn’t the last time he’d play Allentown; the last time he played in the city was 1992 on the inaugural No More Tours tour. The crowd that turned out was a cross-generational mix of fans around Osbourne’s age (the men’s room line was longer than the beer line before the show) and younger fans. Everyone seemed swept up with the spectacle. For as crazy as Ozzy went, the crowd caught up with him by the end of the night. During the night’s final song, Black Sabbath’s anthem “Paranoid,” red streamers shot from the stage, and several fans dived to grab them off the floor, so they could wear them out of the arena like a trophies.
“Bark at the Moon”
“I Don’t Know”
“Fairies Wear Boots”
“No More Tears”
“Road to Nowhere”
Guitar medley: “Miracle Man”/”Crazy Babies”/”Desire”/”Perry Mason”
“I Don’t Want to Change the World”
“Shot in the Dark”
“Mama, I’m Coming Home”