Rudy Sarzo writes in the liner notes to “Speak of the Devil” of Ozzy’s “fragile mental state” as the 1982 “Diary of a Madman” tour soldiered on in the wake of Randy Rhoads’ unthinkable death. The old saw about how “the show must go on” meant as much to a distraught Ozzy in his time of mourning as it ever did for any entertainer down through history, and Sarzo, Ozzy’s bassist at the time, shudders to think how the singer would have reacted had his traveling circus been shut down.
Desperate for the warm, sympathetic embrace of thousands of rabid fans, Ozzy and his carnival of the damned rolled into Irvine Meadows, California, on June 12, 1982, after an understandable delay and held a head-banging Irish wake for the virtuoso guitarist, slamming Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave” and the encore “Paranoid” to the wall after plowing through a slew of Ozzy’s solo hits. Now out on DVD, with audio restored and remastered with crystal – perhaps even unnatural – digital clarity, this is more than just a historical document of an electrifying performance from one of metal’s legendary front men. As he pounds his chest during a blazing rendition of “Crazy Train” – with Rhoads’ replacement, the underrated Brad Gillis, hungrily tearing through the song’s familiar riffs and manhandling its scorching leads – or somewhat clumsily executes one of his exuberant frog jumps, Ozzy, clapping away with arms raised, makes a grim reaper-defying gesture here as he drinks in the healing elixir of rock ‘n’ roll, as clichéd as that sounds.
Born again, Ozzy’s rebirth comes while surrounded by a really cool medieval castle for a stage and all the smoke, fire and pulsating multi-colored lights that rock ‘n’ roll fantasies are made of – plus a laser-lit bat that flies overhead during Ozzy’s dramatic entrance. Visually, though awfully dark on occasion, “Speak of the Devil” is filmed with professional sensibilities, combining expansive faraway shots and close-ups that often focus on the careening musicianship and clenched-teeth intensity of Sarzo and Gillis during marauding, energetic romps through “Over the Mountains,” “Steal Away (The Night),” “I Don’t Know,” and “Flying High Again.” When, in a moment of unscripted playfulness, Ozzy bites into Gillis’ head and threatens to bash his skull as he grinds away during a blistering “Suicide Solution” solo, the camera frames the moment artfully, just as it does when Ozzy hugs Gillis while he shreds “Mr. Crowley.”
All of Ozzy’s demented, crowd-baiting antics are on display, as the comically ghoulish dwarf mascot “Ronnie” is hung during an otherwise lovely and nostalgic reading of “Goodbye to Romance.” Later, before launching into “Paranoid,” Ozzy slips on a glove that shoots fireworks out of its fingers. And the staging is absurdly massive and gloriously tone-deaf to fading calls for rock to be less ostentatious. Up high in one of the fortress’s balconies is hooded keyboardist Don Airey, whose regret-tinged piano colors the eco-friendly, peace-loving “Revelation (Mother Earth)” with all-too-human expressions of sadness, while his sinister intro to “Mr. Crowley” is pure horror-movie magic. On the staircase that serves as a drum riser, Tommy Aldridge pounds the night away, throwing the sticks aside and using only his hands in the midst of a frenzied drum solo.
Everybody gets their turn in the spotlight on “Speak of the Devil,” and if there were any extras – maybe an interview with Ozzy or any of his band mates to give context to the event, or just a smattering of behind-the-scenes footage – this DVD would be absolutely essential. As it is, “Speak of the Devil” is a thrilling snapshot of a time when Ozzy was on the verge of going off the rails but somehow managed to keep the train rolling.
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment (the concert is in DVD format and can be ordered here).
Formerly the editor of Goldmine magazine, prior to the reign of one Patrick Prince, Peter Lindblad has been a music journalist for the last 10 years. His work has also appeared in Elmore magazine and Lostatsea.net, among other publications. He believes heavy metal has the power to cure the sick and make the blind see.