Black Sabbath hit Rogers Arena last night for a capacity show, about three weeks after the postponement of the original date due to Ozzy’s illness and producing, I suspect, a bit of a sigh of relief given the rough last few months for rock icons. The tour has been ominously christened “The End”, so attendance is admittedly a tad bittersweet.
But the godfathers of heavy metal didn’t disappoint the masses, cranking out an economical set built exclusively on their work from 1976 or earlier. Nothing to find fault with in that given the quality of said work, though I must admit to a bit of personal disappointment at the lack of anything from their 2013 album 13, which was a great, leaden, doom-laden hunk of killer sludgy riffs and cynical lyrics. A minor gripe, though.
The bands that followed in Sabbath’s wake in the 70s and 80s legendarily turned the volume on stage production up to eleven. Sabbath, however, have largely kept things minimalist – a few flame pots and some smoke – and last night was no exception. What they did employ, however, was video projection: decidedly low-tech in today’s world but used to great effect here. It provided a hypnotic showcase for Tony Iommi’s riffing and soloing, Geezer Butler’s relentlessly funky bass lines, and tour drummer Tommy Clufetos’s skin-bashing. A band projecting concert clips of themselves from forty years and thirty pounds ago clearly has little lacking in the self-confidence department. And Sabbath’s always-timely nuclear paranoia trademark “War Pigs” certainly benefited from the video setup.
I saw Sabbath a couple of years ago at The Gorge in Washington with my wife, my son and my oldest friend. A great show then as well, though Ozzy’s usually unintelligible stage banter was even more so than usual that night and he seemed a bit unsure on his feet, repeatedly dousing himself copiously with water. Last night he was in fine form, however, bopping and headbanging at the mike during the instrumental breaks and displaying impressive dignity and poise for a guy who’s often the target of comments about his together-ness, accurate or not. The occasional Clown Prince of Darkness – entirely minus the Clown part. It was a great return to form with nothing to laugh at. Not all legends get to go out like that.
Earlier I mentioned 13. In the last year or so Sabbath have dropped hints about a possible follow up album (now shelved in favour of an EP with a few unreleased tracks), but it’s unusual, in my experience, to conclude that a venerable band doesn’t need to release one more album – and not because they can’t hack it anymore, but because their last one was a perfect swan song and encapsulation of their talents. The album ends with “Dear Father”, a song ostensibly condemnatory of the molestation of children by church figures, but perhaps also containing a veiled fuck-you to Ozzy’s own late father, who supposedly once told his son when he was just a lad that he expected him to be in prison all his life due to perceived shortcomings. Instead the son co-founded a genre of popular music and persisted for decades through stratospheric highs and crushing lows, ending 13 with the same distant thunder, rain and ominously tolling bells that introduced Sabbath to the world nearly half a century ago. If that ain’t poetic, poetry is a waste of time. And to top that off with actual onstage power and poise when much of the population considers you a punchline? Fuck you, indeed.