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.