Words: Alan Daly
Pics: © Olga Kuzmenko Photography
It’s been more than a decade since Zakk Wylde brought his Black Label Society to Dublin when he opened for the Prince of Darkness, and Brummie buddy Ozzy Osbourne in 2007. In fact, tonight is his first ever headline show in Ireland, and such is the anticipation, that the Tivoli Theatre show and two more in the Limelight, Belfast, have been sold out for weeks.
The atmosphere is electric in the packed venue from early on this Spring Saturday evening. Bucking the oft-debated etiquette of not wearing a shirt for the band in attendance, there are literally hundreds of BLS, Zakk Sabbath, Black Sabbath and Ozzy shirts proudly worn everywhere you look. It’s also a very “beardy” night, and support act Ten Ton Slug is no exception. The Galway based lads have been building a formidable reputation for themselves since earning a slot at Bloodstock Festival in 2016 and setting their sights on growth beyond their rural roots. They arrive without fanfare, and casually kick into the slimiest, sludgiest, grooviest tracks you can imagine as a dense fog engulfs the stage. Many in the audience seem uncertain initially but are quickly converted and spotted head-banging by the end of the first couple of (admittedly lengthy) songs. Frontman Ronán Ó ‘hArrachtáin growls the vocals with intimidating ferocity during the performance but casually addresses the audience in a relaxed Irish accent in between, ala Jekyll & Hyde. He introduces ‘Matriarchal Slime’ as a song about a queen of slugs, worse than Medusa, and the track is definitely one of the highlights of the night, prompting spontaneous clapping and fist pumping. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and energetic support show, deserving of the enthusiastic chants for “one more tune” from the fans in the audience. If you haven’t already seen these guys, watch out for them at Manorfest and Metal Days this Summer.
As soon as Ten Ton Slug exit the stage, a huge curtain bearing the Black Label Society logo is lowered to conceal the preparations for tonight’s headliner, adding an air of mystery to the excitement already welling in the admirably patient crowd. Finally, the house lights dim and a remix of Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ and Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ blares over the PA, heralding the imminent arrival of Mr. Wylde. After a brief pause, the curtain drops, and it’s all systems go. Literally. Before the canvas has even hit the floor, Zakk is rocking out, on a raised podium where he had been perched in waiting, flanked by his bandmates, also on platforms. Bathed in red light and smoke, the quartet blaze through the full-speed opening track ‘Genocide Junkies’, taken from one of their early albums 1919 Eternal. A mighty wall of speaker cabs lines the back of the stage, where drummer Jeff Fabb is perched high, and a selection of skulls and chains adorn the central microphone stand. As the second number ‘Funeral Bell’ kicks in, the lighting changes and suddenly our eyes and brains allow us to notice Zakk’s green kilt in all its glory. Rhythm guitarist Dario Lorina is also sporting a green top, presumably worn to impress the local leprechauns.
The setlist continues with a wide selection of tracks from the BLS back catalog, giving the iconic frontman endless opportunities to solo and show-boat, combined with the occasional primal chest-beating displays of egotistical dominance. Anyone who expected anything else from a Zakk Wylde show must not have done their homework. Of course, the shredding and axemanship are impeccable throughout, and the sound quality is flawless, as we have come to expect from this gem of a music hall and its crew. And this is exactly what the hundreds of loyal fans have paid to witness. The pace slows for a few tracks mid-set, starting with ‘Bridge to Cross’ before Wylde takes a seat at a baby grand piano for ‘Spoke in the Wheel’, and his tribute to Dimebag Darrell ‘In This River’. The slow set continues with ‘The Blessed Hellride’, but the tempo quickly picks up again with ‘A Love Unreal’ from his latest album Grimmest Hits.
The biggest spectacle of the night comes during an extended performance of fan favorite ‘Fire it up’, during which a bunch of beach-balls is launched into the audience, and Wylde takes a leisurely stroll through the dense crowd while shredding a never-ending solo above his head. It’s a truly immersive experience for the delirious crowd, everyone trying to make contact with the hairy rocker himself. An encore of ‘Concrete Jungle’ and ‘Stillborn’ brings the evening to a close. There’s no doubting that the night was a roaring success, and we’re sure to see a return visit within the decade!