Ozzy Osbourne live in Vancouver circa 1982: midgets, executioners, and possibly a dead bat
"It was thirty years ago today, Sgt. Newton saw the Ozzman play..."
Okay, I apologize. That was uncalled for. Take a few moments to wipe those wretched lyrics from memory.
Better? Okay, good. Well, what I was trying to say was that 30 years ago (yesterday) the Georgia Straight published my first review of an Ozzy Osbourne concert, under the headline Hang 'Em Short, Says Ozzy. He played the Pacific Coliseum on June 10, 1982, touring behind his Diary of a Madman album, and I was there in my recently installed capacity as know-it-all heavy-metal dude (thanks Dan) to take it in. Nobody else was angling for the job as far as I can remember. I did not have to arm-wrestle Alexander Varty for the assignment.
I wasn't anticipating it as the concert of a lifetime, mainly because my fave guitarist at the time--Randy Rhoads--had perished in a bizarre plane crash three months earlier, and I had no delusions that his replacement, Brad Gillis, could fill those shoes. (I was fortunate enough to have seen Rhoads perform with Osbourne a year or two earlier at Kerrisdale Arena, on the Blizzard of Ozz tour, with Motorhead opening up!) But I had interviewed Ozzy by phone a couple of weeks before the gig, and that chat--"OMG, I'm talking to the singer from Black Sabbath!"--had psyched me up a bit for the Vancouver gig.
So without further adieu, here's the full and unexpurgated (what does that even mean?) review as it appeared in the June 18, 1982, issue of the Straight. Keep in mind that my rock writing at that point was 30 years crappier than it is right now.
As anyone at his June 10 Coliseum show could have figured out, subtlety is not Ozzy Osbourne's claim to fame.
Whereas most acts open with the drawing of a curtain, Ozzy opens with the dropping of one. And while most performers stroll onstage accompanied by a spotlight, Ozzy 'materializes' onto a throne, huge black crucifix in hand. But it's all in the name of rock and roll. And fun. For Ozzy the two go hand in hand. He gets as big a kick out of starring in one of rock's biggest productions as the kids who pay to see him.
And being a kid at heart, I found myself just as interested in Thursday's show as the 8,000 or so teenagers in attendance. The music on the whole was great, from the opening song "Over the Mountain" to the encore "Paranoid". Mind you, there were times--particularly during Brad Gillis' extended guitar solo--when even my affinity for raunchy rock was tested. And Ozzy's vocals were not up to par either. He seemed tired, and incapable of putting out the energy that he does on record.
But as the sound quality in the Coliseum is hopeless anyway, it's only natural that the stage show itself should be the focus of the concert. A gothic, castle-like backdrop was the main effect, and from its two chain-covered 'dungeons' bassist Rudy Sarzo and guitarist Gillis were unleashed to contort in puppet-like fashion at both sides of the stage. Drummer Tommy Aldridge, formerly of Black Oak Arkansas and the Pat Travers Band, rattled the skins at the top of the fortress, and keyboard player Don Airey was stationed inside, behind the upper arches.
A black-robed midget with a ghoulish face was kept busy clearing the stage of debris thrown by the kids up front, and at one point it looked as if a dead bat had been part of the barrage sent in Ozzy's vicinity. A friend beside me pointed it out, and sure enough, that's what it looed like. But fortunately 'Little John' caught sight of it and picked it up before Ozzy could, looking a little hesitant and unsure while he did it.
As well as soaring flames and cascading sparks, another of Ozzy's more curious stage effects was a brawny, hooded 'executioner' who stood motionless by the drum-kit, only moving when the time came to 'hang' little John. His little legs kicking wildly for a few moments, the midget met his demise while Ozzy sang "Goodbye to Romance", a tune from the Blizzard of Ozz album. But I failed to see the connection between that song and the lynching. I think Black Sabbath's "Children of the Grave", a song he did later in the set, would have been more apt.
You can follow Steve Newton for all his wacky rock 'n' roll reminiscing on Twitter at twitter.com/earofnewt.