Live Review: Black Label Society – The Sound Academy, Toronto, April 4, 2009

Few guitarists have left as big a footprint on the world of metal as the Zakk Wylde. Jeffery Philip Weilandt became better known around 1988 when he showed up out of the blue on Ozzy’s album “No Rest For the Wicked”. To me, Zakk has always stood on the top shelf shoulder to shoulder with my other favourite metal guitarists.

For me the list goes something like this: Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads, Kirk Hammett, Dimebag Darrell, and Zakk Wylde. Well considering 2 out of 5 of that short list is no longer with us, that leaves 3 guys to carry me til I find a few more worthy to stand on that top shelf. Even though two of those giants aren’t standing, the beauty and immortality of music lets them live on just as long and loud as your speakers can handle.

One really has to wonder what kind of nose Ozzy Osbourne was born with to sniff out 3 of my all time favourite guitarists… or is it just coincidence that I happen to listen to a lot of Ozzy and Black Sabbath and therefore find myself enamored with their guitarists more than anyone else? No man. Cuz there’s a bunch of other bands out there that I like more than the Black Sabbaths and the Pantera’s out there but I wouldn’t put their guitarists on that top shelf.

Not to be an arrogant prick but I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d agree that Tony, Randy and Zakk are at least in the top 10 of the all time greatest metal guitarists no matter who’s list you peruse. That’s actually a challenge I wouldn’t mind laying down on a few metal heads. Name me your top 10 metal guitarists… if at least 4 of my 5 favourite guitarists aren’t in the list, I’ll eat my hat.

So the last time I saw Zakk live was with Ozzy back in 2003. Even though it was a great show and the longest Ozzy had ever done at that point, I wasn’t overly impressed with Zakk’s playing as he seemed to me to just brush over the Rhoads solos in the set.. Sure I was impressed with everything else he played, how can you not be? It’s just the Rhoads solos I thought he really cheesed out on. So it got me thinking, is the guy really Rhoads fan or what?

Well last night at the Sound Academy Zakk put my question to rest with the most awesome, note for note reincarnation, of Randy Rhoads’ “Suicide Solution” solo from Ozzy’s live Tribute album. I just happened to be standing beside a well endowed girl wearing the exact Randy Rhoads t-shirt I used to wear back in 1985. The whole moment almost brought a tear to my eye as I could feel Zakk’s offerings to the polka dot guitar slinging Axe God at a spiritual level.

He fired up his own couple minutes at centre stage showing off his shredding abilities and technical prowess but when he took stage left, the all too familiar sounds of Randy’s immortalized solo came pouring out and I had to wonder how many people actually recognized and appreciated it for what it was. After half the solo he took stage right and finished up the rest to a T. I know this solo inside and out. I know for sure that’s what he laid down for that crowd that night and I know most of the people in the barn that night probably had no clue where it really came from.

The crowd gathered at the venue that night was totally inspirational. Not nearly as interested in the opening act, Dope, but polite enough the crowd was towards them as these guys showed their worthiness in BLS’s opening slot. I noticed Clammy bassist of Canadian metal legends Exciter, had made the trek from Ottawa to join the crowd of overly enthusiastic BLS fans.

Only having felt that kind of loyalty to a band every time I pulled myself up a seat in front of the likes of Kiss or Rush, I thought Zakk really has something the fans want. I felt like every wanna-be biker out there who’d kill to wear the colours of the Hell’s Angels or some other brotherly group of bad asses, had finally found a home.

At least half the crowd were wearing the BLS back patches on their jeans or leather as the price of admission to any given “chapter” of the Black Label Society is a mere $125 for the set and no dirty deeds necessary to ensure membership. A little needle n thread and bam.. you’re a member! Maybe Zakk Wylde’s marketing genius should meet up with Gene Simmons for a word or two about how to sell a pile of merch.

The crowd was rowdy as hell yet I only saw one fight that night. I expected to see a whole lot more which I’m sure there was but I actually saw TWO fights when I got back downtown Guelph that night outside the late night Chinese buffet! And these guys weren’t of the rough, biker looking ilk either. More like the pussy lookin clean cut jocks vs the hip hop gangsta wanna be’s that seem to be taking over everywhere you look these days. There was definitely a camaraderie amongst the Toronto chapter of the Black Label Society that night that I expect is to be found all across North America, if not the planet.

All I can say is this show rocked from the second the curtain dropped to the last ringing notes of one of Zakk’s beautiful custom guitars. Well worth the price of admission if you wanna take in a serious, top-notch, metal show. Black Label Society delivers the goods and then some.

Mike Forbes
Rebel Reviewer Dot Com