Hard-rockin' Pete Makowski ventures up to the English Midlands to see the reunited (though Bill-Ward-less) Black Sabbath in their native Birmingham——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
Almost a week later and my ears are still ringing — and I don't know if it's due to the rousing response of the audience or the brain-pummelling volume of the band. Either way, there is no doubt that Sabbath's intimate hometown show was an undisputed success, and the controversy surrounding the no-show of drummer Bill Ward was eclipsed by the crowds undisguised joy at seeing a beaming Tony Iommi up onstage looking unbelievably healthy for someone who undergone an intense session of chemotherapy.
Even the usual chants of "Ozzeeee!!!" were tonight replaced with a chorus of "Toneeeeee!"(and carried on throughout the show) as the band walked on to the now familiar mashup intro which was accompanied by the occasional karaoke screech and holler from an enthusiastic John Osbourne.
With a very simple stage set up and basic lighting, tonight was all about the music as the band kicked off with 'Into The Void' with the subtlety of an invading Panzer division.
This was followed by a rare and very welcome appearance of 'Under The Sun' with it's jaunty riff that had the audience from my balcony view swaying back and forth like a swarm of ants.
By the time we got to 'Snowblind' with its singalong-a-Satan chorus of "Cocaine!!!!" Ozzy's voice was in full power (earlier in the evening I had the privilege of standing outside his dressing room listening to him warm up with a range of operatic exercises).
"It's good to be back in Birmingham," he exclaimed, his strictly black attire shining with sweat. "I've been travelling around the world like some fucking astronaut, but I'm Brummie and I'm proud!"
'War Pigs' was an exercise in mob participation, with lyrics that are as relevant today as when they were written over forty years ago.
'Wheels of Confusion' was slightly marred by out of tune vocals (strangely enough Ozzy seems to struggle on the lower registers) but as one friend pointed out "It's a fucking rehearsal!!!" Point taken.
"People say why don't you play something from the first album," was the intro to 'Black Sabbath', the song that started it all with its ominous bell intro and those discordant notes that would become synonymous with what is now known as Doom Rock.
After the show Iommi revealed that he was concerned as to whether he would be able to maintain the level of energy and health required to last the duration. Judging by the huge grin on his face, he was obviously buoyed by the love and enthusiasm of the crowd.
"I can't fuckin' hear you," screamed Ozzy as the band ploughed into a cranium crushing version of 'Electric Funeral', by which time my hearing was beginning to malfunction.
There was a short drum solo during an instrumental version of 'Symptom of the Universe', a bold move considering the circumstances.
The set culminated with a fist-waving version of 'Children of the Grave' and then the band returned to play an encore (Paranoid preceded by the opening salvo of 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath').
"It's good to be home," said an emotional Ozzy to cheers of an audience acknowledging they had witnessed a historic event.
At this point it's pertinent that we talk about the proverbial elephant in the room-the Ward factor. As much as I would have loved to seen the eccentric figure of the drummer with his rotund belly spilling over the trademark tights, I'm glad that his absence didn't mar the spirit of the evening. Although Ozzy drummer Tommy Clutefos couldn't match Wards unique thunderous style he did more than a competent job filling that huge Ward sized hole and, like Jason Bonham at the 02, his youthful "how fuck did I get here?" enthusiasm elevated the band's energy levels.
I've been going to Sabbath shows since the mid-'70s and can honestly say that musically they have improved immeasurably. Iommi's endless solos have been replaced by more thought out, measured pieces revealing his blues/jazz roots. Ozzy has always been a consummate pro at getting an audience going and Geezer is the solid ballast around which the whole extravaganza revolves. While bands like Van Halen may maintain a level a musical integrity, watching them try to revive their former glory on stage is kind of like witnessing your dad dancing to Lady Gaga. With the Mighty Sabs it was always about the music and they're sounding better than ever. Hopefully the current intra band bickering wont put the kibosh on a new studio album.
The Mighty Sabs are back and stronger than ever; those of you with tickets to Download are in for a treat. There's nothing else to say except:
Setlist: Into the Void, Under The Sun, Snowblind, War Pigs, Wheels of Confusion, Electric Funeral, Black Sabbath, The Wizard, Behind the Wall of Sleep, N.I.B, Faries Wear Boots, Tomorrows Dream, Sweet Leaf, Symptom of the Universe (instrumental), Iron Man, Dirty Women, Children of the Grave, Paranoid w/ Sabbath Bloody Sabbath intro
© Pete Makowski, 2012
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