Last Night: Ozzy Osbourne and Slash at the American Airlines Center

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Ozzy Osbourne, Slash
American Airlines Center
January 20, 2011

Better than: a stirring competition of Rock Band.

The greatest trick the Prince of Darkness ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

And, make no mistake, that's just what The Osbournes did. The four-season MTV reality series that focused on Ozzy Osbourne, his wife Sharon, and two of his kids, Jack and Kelly, pulled way back the curtain on the metal legend whose reputation in mainstream popular culture at that point was of a man who bit off the heads of bats while performing on stage. It revealed a bumbling, but ultimately caring and charming, modern American father. A hit across the board, the show instantly endeared the metal icon to those outside the metal community.

Beyond that, it allowed Ozzy, now 62 years old, with a lesser voice and minimal agility, to gracefully transition to a new phase of his career -- that of the living legend. These days, his presence alone, coupled with a new-found sense of mainstream humor, is plenty enough to keep his fans satisfied, some 40-plus years into his career.

The theatrics, indeed, just aren't what they used to be. But, lest there was any doubt, Ozzy remains an impressive performer.

He just has to keep himself more in line on stage these days, that's all. By sipping tea and water between each and every song, he keeps his voice in check -- a voice that isn't quite what it used to be, no, but that retains an impressive range nonetheless.

And, visually, he still remains a spectacle. His gut may be protruding a little farther out than even before, but the all-black garb, flowing locks and black eyeliner remain. So, too, do Ozzy's antics, for the most part -- throughout the course of his almost two-hour set (during which he took only a 15-minute break to allow his new bandmates to showcase their metal meddle), Osbourne jumped behind his mic stand, stalked the stage, razzed and riled up his enthusiastic crowd, and even sprayed that audience with some sort of heavy white liquid that came from a hose affixed to the stage. He teetered on the edge of falling with nearly every step -- drawn-out drug use will have that effect -- but, despite this on-edge appearance, he also managed to stay quite in control.

The fact is, Ozzy knows exactly what he's doing these days, just as one would expect from a performer as experienced as he. Before walking out onto the stage -- where he would be greeted throughout the night with chants of "Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy!" -- his stage ran a clip show that inserted the self-proclaimed Prince of Darkness into various popular culture situations: as a Na'vi from Avatar; as The Situation from Jersey Shore; as Edward from Twilight (during which he proclaimed "Vampires are pussies! I'm the Prince of Fucking Darkness!"); using a shakeweight; flashing CGI breasts; and, of course, as Iron Man. Most metalheads couldn't get away with this kind of hokey display. But for Ozzy, the elder statesman of metal, it hardly felt out of place -- it felt, well, right.

So did the music. With a new cast of flashy and capable players behind him to do much of the heavy lifting -- his long line of legendary guitarists, which most recently featured Zakk Wylde, is now gone -- Ozzy just had to be Ozzy. And he was; aside from a rare moment here or there where his voice would trail off, Ozzy remained on-point throughout the evening. But he didn't even really have to: His feverish fans knew most every word to each song, and gladly took the reigns from the performer when he'd hold out the microphone for shouted support. But his enthusiasm never wavered, and, during megahits and fan favorites "War Pigs," "Iron Man," "Paranoid," "Mama, I'm Coming Home," and night-closer "Paranoid," that was plenty -- enough, paired with his still-impressive range, to make you think, if you closed your eyes, that this wasn't a man on a victory lap, but a man still clinging to his peak, and not at all in a sad way.

The young 'uns in the crowd, who stood with mouths agape and fists in the air, certainly didn't think they were seeing a man on his last legs -- and they weren't. Having turned himself from The Prince of Darkness to the Most Endearing Figure in Metal, he's simply entered a different phase of career. Different, but no less iconic.

And that was a stark contrast from his opening act, Slash, which found the legendary Guns N' Roses guitarist in phenomenal form, still playing and leaping and spinning around the stage like it was 1989. Even though, thanks to the GNR- and Velvet Revolver-heavy set, his performance too felt like a victory lap, it showcased that this is a man from whom much can still be expected -- especially with his most recent cast of collaborators, highlighted by vocalist Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, who, though not a great Scott Weiland emulator, impressively matched Axl Rose's high-pitched vocals, note for note.

Metal heroes never die. They just find different ways to run with the devil.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
This was my first time seeing Ozzy or Slash, and, given their recent outputs, I didn't expect too much. But I was wholly impressed by what I saw, as I hope the above review indicates. I loved Guns N' Roses in my younger years -- who didn't? -- so it was thrilling to see Slash and Kennedy on top of their game. As for Ozzy, I interviewed him a few years back for a feature, and found him to be just as charming over the phone as he was on TV and as he showed himself to be on stage last night. His career transformation is really an unprecedented thing -- the guy helped create metal and now he's showing everyone how to age with it. But there will never be another Ozzy -- no one else will ever set themselves up as such a feared figure, only to turn himself around into the kind of person you openly root for. His importance can't be overstated.

Random Note: There were plenty of old '80s metal burnouts present at this show, sure. More impressive, though, were the numbers of families in the audience -- fathers and mothers accompanied by children as young as three or four years old.

By The Way: Slash vocalist Myles Kennedy played town just a few weeks ago, with a gig at Trees. Though the top section of the AAC was curtained off, its safe to say that this crowd outnumbered that one by a few thousand.

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