Five years ago, if you told someone that Black Sabbath would be playing strong, sold-out shows across North America, they probably would have shook their heads. Even as recently as a year or so ago, the idea of the band putting the right pieces together for a last hurrah seemed like a long shot, especially in light of Tony Iommi's cancer diagnosis and Ozzy Osbourne's on-going battle with sobriety. Add to that original drummer Bill Ward's exit for contractual reasons; the past few years haven't been kind to the heavy metal pioneers. You could forgive fans if they proceeded with caution. After all, how many lives does Black Sabbath have?
Yet, last night when the band took the stage in Osbourne's long time home of Los Angeles, all of these issues were on the backburner.
The last show of Sabbath's North American tour saw them run through their standard set list, but the band wasn't just going through the motions. The show had punch. For a group that's been together on-and-off for 45 topsy-turvy years, there is very little that Sabbath has left to accomplish. Yet with the release of their latest album, 13, the group's first LP with Osbourne since 1978, Black Sabbath accomplished something it never could pull off during their salad days: a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200.
"I just want to thank you for helping us get our very first-ever No. 1 record in the United States," a completely drenched Osbourne said while pointing to the crowd. "We couldn't have done it without you!"
Beginning with the thunderous "War Pigs," Sabbath was on top its game, sounding crisp and precise. Playing in front of a gigantic backdrop with multiple screens, the band powered through classics like "Iron Man" and "N.I.B." These songs were well received, but it was during new songs that Sabbath showed its grit. "End of the Beginning" and "Age of Reason" didn't feel out of place, and between Iommi's rich guitar and bassist Geezer Butler's pulverizing bass lines, the band managed to make the notoriously unforgiving Sports Arena actually sound like a venue fit for a concert.
Black Sabbath's resurgence isn't limited to their surprisingly strong new material, in fact it would be easy and even understandable if the trio (plus new drummer Tommy Clufetos) slogged through an greatest hits package and went on their way. This wasn't the case last night though. If you caught them at the right time, Osbourne and Iommi could be seen smiling at one another, almost as if this latest Sabbath reunion is too good to be true.
Ozzy was his usual boisterous self. Between dousing himself and hurling buckets of water into the first five rows, Osbourne was at his energetic best, still able to mesmerize the crowd. Despite him being somewhat of a caricature due to his family's MTV reality show (remember that?), there are few singers who are able to command an audience's respect like the Ozzman. If he wasn't yelling, "I can't fucking hear you!" or pleading with fans to wave their arms from side-to-side, the singer he was sprinting around on stage riling the crowd.
Granted, the years of substance abuse have taken a toll on the singer (let's just say he's not the most graceful of runners), but even so, it was excellent to see the 64-year-old bouncing around like the wide-eyed teen who once ran wild in his hometown of Birmingham, England. He was in complete command of his singing, hitting every note and showing few signs of fatigue.
The band closed the two hour set with "Paranoid," and then stood together triumphantly saluting the crowd. In the midst of unseasonably warm weather, Black Sabbath proved that three 60-plus year olds rocking could be more scorching than the late summer heat.
The Crowd: The bassist is called Geezer, a name that can also be applied to the many shirtless men in attendance.
Random Notebook Dump: Even the security guards were feeling it. Caught the older woman grooving along to Iommi and Butler.
See the list below
Into the Void
Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes
Age of Reason
Behind the Wall of Sleep
(Preceded by "Bassically" Geezer Butler bass solo)
End of the Beginning
Fairies Wear Boots
(Followed by Tommy Clufetos Drum Solo)
God Is Dead?
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Children of the Grave
Paranoid (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath Intro)