Packed snug in a chrome-studded leather coat with waves and waves of long leather fringe, Judas Priest lead-howler Rob Halford initially looked like a satanic chandelier at Nissan Pavilion on Sunday. But as soon as the near-capacity scrum of headbangers realized that the curious light fixture looming high above the stage was in fact the codpieced god of heavy-metal thunder, their zealous cries of "Priest! Priest! Priest!" turned the ninth annual Ozzfest into a raucous Robfest.
With all apologies to the lovable burnout who created this still-mighty bacchanal of 20 beastly bands, lumbering Sasquatchian riffs and a truly sinister food-and-fun midway -- featuring a $5-a-try game called "Kick Me in the [Bleepin'] Head, [Bleeper]!" -- it was Halford's recently reunited Judas Priest and not Ozzy Osbourne's recently reunited Black Sabbath that the skin-on-skin Ozzfest crowd was most excited to see.
Perhaps that was because the father of stoner rock and MTV's ditsiest dad is downright everywhere these days. Halford, the father of the 1970s New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, which turned sheer loudness into speedy goodness, hasn't been seen since 1993. That's the year he bitterly parted ways with Judas Priest after revealing -- much to the band's surprise (hahaha) -- that he was gay.
But time and big fat gobs of cash heal all wounds, and thus the leather-clad legend was back where he belongs, dressed as a member of Hell's Village People and celebrating Judas Priest's 30th anniversary. At 52, Halford still has that high-higher-highest operatic wail, which agelessly handled such Priestian hell-broth as "Heading Out to the Highway," "Electric Eye" and "The Green Manalishi."
The twin lead-guitar assault of hirsute hunks K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton tangled playfully with Halford during a defibrillating "Breaking the Law." And all was right in the heavy-metal universe again when the singer revved up his infamous Harley and steered that glistening monster into the spotlight during a transcendent and vintage-tight encore of "Living After Midnight" and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'."
While the thrash-metalists of Slayer, also on this year's bill, owe most of their success to Judas Priest, such doom merchants as Norway's Dimmu Borgir, Sunday's most notable up-and-comers, are all about bowing to the sublime sludge of Black Sabbath, which closed the show with a sloppy but high-energy 80-minute set.
Say what you will about the Prince of [Bleepin'] Darkness -- he waddled, he mumbled, he mooned the crowd twice (pull up your pants already, Ozzman!) -- but at 55 he remains a phenomenal showman with a strangely beautiful voice that hasn't deteriorated like the rest of him. (He also has a great sense of humor: This year's Ozzfest mascot was a demon atop an all-terrain vehicle, the same thing that almost killed a recklessly riding Osbourne last year.) With Sabbath regulars Geezer Butler on bass, drummer Bill Ward and guitarist Tony Iommi behind him, Ozzy opened with "War Pigs" -- images of death, destruction and Adolf Hitler flashing behind him -- and followed with power drills "Iron Man" and "Into the Void."
"You can't kill me! I'm bulletproof!" Osbourne cackled at the start of "Paranoid," and all across the massive venue, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters -- clad in black and suitably inked -- lifted their hands and flashed the international two-finger sign of metal-mania. Lollapalooza might be dead, but Ozzfest, in all its sublimely silly glory, rages on.