NUREMBERG, Germany — You know you’re a long way from home when Groove Armada and Faithless play for wilder crowds than the godfather of heavy metal.
“I can’t f—ing hear you!” is Ozzy Osbourne’s standard concert rallying cry, but it took on a new urgency Friday night at the kickoff of the three-day Rock Im Park festival in Nuremberg. As the 53-year-old showman peered out at the half-full Frankenstadion, his famous baffled expression — mouth agape, black-lined eyes open wide, arms extended as though desperately soliciting a hug — looked a bit more confounded than usual.
Of course the metal madman delivered, leading his band through such solo tunes as “Mr. Crowley,” “Suicide Solution” and “Mama, I’m Coming Home” along with Black Sabbath classics like “War Pigs” and “Paranoid.” But the crowd was apparently too burned out from all day in the sun to show him the love he’s accustomed to.
Strange things are bound to happen when the headliners of Ozzfest spend the weekend with the likes of Santana, Neil Young, Lenny Kravitz, Macy Gray, Jewel and nearly a hundred other rock and electronica acts, as was the case at Rock Im Park and its sister festival, Rock Am Ring, held about 300 miles away in Nürburgring, Germany. The events, sponsored by MTV, collectively drew about 85,000 fans, mirroring each other by offering virtually the same lineups on different days.
Friday at Rock Im Park was mostly metal, featuring P.O.D., Bad Religion, System of a Down, Tool and Osbourne on the main stage. Saturday was more pop, with Jewel, Faithless, Counting Crows, Santana and Kravitz. Sunday was a bit harder to pin down, as Young topped a bill featuring Jamiroquai, Bush, Wyclef Jean, Natalie Merchant and Gomez.
But fans who ventured out of the stadium found a lot more noise to plug into. The 8,000-capacity Alternastage featured such performers as Macy Gray, Alien Ant Farm, Wilco, Groove Armada and Starsailor, while a smaller space showcased a host of indie rock and electronic acts, including Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Super Furry Animals.
Playing after Drowning Pool and Black Label Society, P.O.D. were the first to get a real rise out of the crowd. Concertgoers flooded toward the stage as though on a pilgrimage to a mecca of tattoos, dreads and rap-rock imbued with the Good Word. “If you don’t know this one, act like you do,” frontman Sonny Sandoval commanded as the band charged into “Southtown.”
The hard stuff continued with Bad Religion and System of a Down. Tool rocked the sun down with their head-nodding grooves and percussive hammering. Wearing nothing but a Speedo-like garment and purple spray paint with orange dots, frontman Maynard James Keenan hovered in his now-standard position next to the drum set, his silhouette complementing, rather than a distraction from, the band’s disturbing video show. “Sober” featured an image of an eyeball pinned open and being squirted with a liquid as footage flickered overtop showing two naked women spasming in fear as they were beaten with mechanical whips.
While Tool were tearing up the main stage, jazzy electronic outfit Groove Armada were getting asses shaking at the Alternastage with the party numbers “I See You Baby” and “Superstylin’.”
Ass-shaking skills were tested once again when Gray took the stage, sporting a long pink wig and retro shades. “I wanna see some booties shakin’,” she demanded as she headed into “Relating to a Psychopath.” The hopeless flirt, who’s been known to get a little raunchy, was downright demure during “Sweet Baby,” jumping down from the stage to serenade fans and even slow dance with a security guard.
Saturday’s menu for the Alternastage brought Alien Ant Farm, Aussie rockers Powderfinger and Germany’s own Beatsteaks and H-Blockx, while highlights for Sunday included Wilco, Muse and Starsailor. Wilco bandleader Jeff Tweedy looked like he’d just crawled straight from his bus bunk to the stage with his bedhead and sleepy eyes. The band loosely traced the story of love gone through the wringer from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, starting at its beginning, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” and eventually arriving at “Reservations.”
Kravitz proved to be an ideal headliner on the main stage Saturday, as the crowd embraced him with an enthusiasm that felt like an hour-long standing ovation. The retro rocker hammed up every second but held off from playing any big hits until he was six songs into his set, which only seemed to heighten the effect when he finally sang “Let Love Rule.”
Kravitz may have owed some thanks for his warm reception to Santana and Faithless, whose sets established a feel-good vibe for him to build on. Santana’s performance drew the strongest response from the predominantly young crowd with Supernatural material, which featured touring vocalists subbing for the album’s superstar guests.
Jewel was all smiles earlier Saturday afternoon, showing no sign of her recent equestrian mishap, save for a barely evident brace underneath her black vest (see “Collarbone, Not Spirit, Broken As Jewel Resumes Tour Early” ). Jay Kay, who performed with his band Jamiroquai on Sunday night, also looked as though he’d recovered quickly from the scuffle he was involved in last week in London, which reportedly left him with facial injuries. Between such crowd-rousers as “Canned Heat” and “High Times,” the flashy singer called on the ladies in the house to bare their breasts, saying, “Give us a wobble.”
His request apparently had a delayed effect, because the monitors on either side of the stage featured a seemingly endless procession of topless girls during the 40-minute downtime before Young’s headlining performance. Young, 56, put an end to the girlie show when he took the stage and knocked out some good ol’ rock and roll, including such classics as “Cinnamon Girl” and new tunes like “Goin’ Home,” from the recently released Are You Passionate?
While Young played on, Kittie were sinking their claws into the Talent Forum, the smallest of the three venues and the place where music lasted the longest each night. A late-night dance party brewed up Saturday night with drum’n’bass trio Kosheen and continued when Lamb took over to bring the tempo down.
Concertgoers who wanted a break from the music had other options, including a venue showcasing comedians, vendors and other attractions like the brain chamber, where for three Euros they could chill out and watch trippy light patterns through special shades while listening to ambient music.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the world, check out MTV News Tour Reports.