“People always ask me what I do for Halloween,” Rob Zombie said from the stage of the Tucson Convention Center. “You get in a fucking bus and you drive to fucking Tucson!” Maybe not the answer you might’ve expected, but Halloween, 2001, Tucson was indeed the devil’s playground, as Zombie and Ozzy Osbourne kicked off their co-headlining Merry Mayhem tour. Add into the equation that this Halloween fell under a full moon for the first time since 1955 and you could just feel that there was something wicked this way coming.
Following brief opening sets from local band Soil and makeup-wearing howlers Mudvayne, Zombie took to a stage that was designed to be his personal house of horrors. Taking Alice Cooper to the nth degree, Zombie created a split-level setup featuring gargoyles, flaming pyrotechnics, a spiral haunted house staircase leading to the second level, and three video screens. And that was just the beginning: During the course of his fifty-minute set, Zombie paraded on stage twenty-feet-tall robots, blonde dancers in police uniforms, and mutant aliens that played drums, while the video screens showed images of Japanese anime, Charles Manson, people screaming, strippers, internal organs and flames.
Clearly a twisted mind, he gave an inkling as to just how much so during “House of 1000 Corpses,” the title song from his movie that Universal pulled the plug on. After announcing, “Technically and legally I can’t do this, because technically and legally I don’t own the rights to it,” he showed a montage of his movie, which was essentially a David Lynch meets Wes Craven freak show . . . but more twisted.
Between movies, robots and dancers, Zombie did play some music. Leading a quartet, Zombie did a well-sequenced set that drew on solo material new and old, as well as the requisite White Zombie hits, “More Human Than Human” and “Thunder Kiss ’65,” his most popular selection of the night.
Ever the showman, he displayed little sign of rust as a performer, despite the fact that it’s been over two years since he’s been on stage, something he reminded the audience of on multiple occasions. In fact, after a growling “More Human Than Human,” during which he slipped up, he said, “See it’s been so fucking long I can’t remember the fucking songs.”
That was not his problem though. The biggest shortcoming to what should’ve been an exceptional performance was the lack of space given to the songs. Recreating the tracks almost exactly as on record, Zombie and his musicians often played themselves into a corner, leaving no room for the sound to evolve over the course of his performance. In this abbreviate context, and with the focus on the hits, the problem was less glaring than during a full set, but the music and the theatrics deserved better.
Zombie made for a hard act to follow from a showmanship standpoint, but Ozzy was up for the task. Appearing on a Santa sleigh over the center of the floor, his was indeed a grand entrance. As wires carried the sleigh to the stage amid chants of “Oz-zeee,” he threw presents to the fans packed in on the floor (general admission, which led to some serious moshing and banging).
When he and his four-piece backing band kicked into the Blizzard of Ozz anthem “I Don’t Know,” it sounded like vintage Ozzy. And by the end, it was vintage Ozzy, but not without some bumps in between. Relying too heavily on guitarist Zakk Wylde during the early portion of the 100-minute set, Ozzy seemed a bit tenative and too hungry for the crowd’s adoration. Splitting the first six songs evenly between less obvious Blizzard of Ozz tunes and songs from the new Down to Earth CD didn’t help him build momentum. The turning point came from Wylde when he played a guitar solo at the end of Blizzard‘s “Suicide Solution,” a song that was dominated by the late Randy Rhoads’ guitar, and then segued into the holy grail of guitar solos, Jimi Hendrix’s version of “Star Spangled Banner.” Both Ozzy and the crowd were invigorated by Wylde’s skilled noodling.
The result was a wildly different second half, with a more confident Ozzy exerting himself on Black Sabbath’s classic “Children of the Grave,” as well as “Crazy Train,” the ballad “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” and the apt title track to Bark at the Moon.
Despite some rust and occasional shortcomings from each headliner, opening night of Merry Mayhem gave full indication the tour will find its groove soon enough. When it does, even if it’s not Halloween under a full moon, that wicked promise will be fulfilled.