Black Sabbath - US Airways Center - 8/30/13

Black Sabbath
US Airways Center
August 30, 2013 (View the complete slideshow.)
There were more devil horns on display at Black Sabbath's concert Friday night than at an ASU football game. That's not surprising, however, given the band's affinity for dark lyrics, occult-like imagery and satanic references. What was surprising was the great form the band displayed all night.

My last Black Sabbath show was during the first reunion tour, which coincided with Ozzfest in 1997. That is not a good memory. While guitarist Tony Iommi was his usual stoic self on stage, lead singer Ozzy Osbourne was little more than a quivering ball of flesh, flitting about on stage and holding onto the mic stand for dear life.

Not tonight. Clean and sober for many years now, Ozzy actually jumped, danced and shuffled--albeit a little awkwardly (he hit the ground twice, but it was hard to tell if he fell, or jumped down on purpose)--about the stage. And even better, his voice was commanding and strong.

But how Ozzy moved, and how much he annoyed the crowd with continual post-song calls of "I can't fucking hear you," was of little concern for the near-sellout crowd intent on reliving the past or discovering a future with these musical icons.

I say future, because many a parent who begged their parents for a chance to see the original lineup in the '70s (I was one), returned tonight with children in tow. From the thundering music to the stellar light show and syncopated videos, the band--complete with original bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler and fill-in drummer Tommy Clufetos (founding member Bill Ward bowed out of the tour over a contract dispute) was hardly disappointing.

With the sounds of impending doom filling the arena, the band opened the proceedings with "War Pigs." A cape-wearing Osbourne seemed immediately comfortable, happy to be on stage as Iommi slowly prowled among his dark power chords and searing riffs, while Butler anchored the song with deep precision and rumbling force.

Cluefetos, who's backed Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent, among others, drove the song's maniacal pace. Video footage of war imagery filled the triple screens array, draped in gothic-styled curtains. Unable to resist, the crowd sung along at the end.

The heaviness continued as the black-dressed band moved rapidly through "Into The Void," "Under the Sun," and "Snowblind." "Age of Reason" was the first song played from 13, the original band's first album since 1978. Iommi explained in a recent interview with New Times that the band was trying to recapture that early-1970s sound.

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Clearly, they succeeded as this song, as well as "End of the Beginning" and "God is Dead?" fit smoothly--almost too perfectly--into the vintage set, as if conjured up 40 years ago.

Really, it's hard to fill out a Sabbath concert song by song, as the tracks typically followed a similar pattern running though multiple sections (in varying orders) of fast, slow, loud and soft--the band's trademarked approach--all while sounding as if from a horror show.

Yet several things were striking, the least of which is the staying power and sheer magnitude of Black Sabbath's music all these years later. This isn't the Rolling Stones or even The Who, which has a much broader appeal, but a band with a darker sub-culture, a heavier, almost threatening tone. Yet, their new album topped the sales charts and hundreds of bands have followed their lead into heavy metal, grunge and the like.

What also stood out was that this beautifully loud, forceful and pounding wave of music is being made by 60-somethings. Such an idea was unfathomable when Black Sabbath began in 1970.

At that stage, rock and roll was just a teenager and anyone performing in their 60s was either crooning, yodeling or playing skiffle music. And here our rock and roll saviors continue to assault the senses all these years on, and we thank them for it, beg for it, pleaded for more.

For two hours the audience didn't waver in it's demands, and as long as they yelled loud enough for Ozzy, they got it: "Black Sabbath," "Behind the Wall of Sleep" (the song that coined the term "Heavy Metal"), "N.I.B.," a stunningly perfect, riviting "Fairies Wear Boots," and of course "Iron Man," which many of the kids in the crowd seemed to recognize, probably from the movies.

Oh yeah, and after "Fairies" these sectarians took a breather while Cluefetos belted out an insane 10-minute drum solo. Cluefetos, who looked like a raving-mad Jesus with a gong halo behind, and head banging disciples in front, was ferocious and crafty. It reminded me of a time when drum solos were a regular part of the rock concert experience. Where have they gone?

There are so many great drummers out there, but maybe the roles have changed for modern bands and drummers just lay down the beat and go home. Or perhaps modern audiences now are too tepid. Yet, with Black Sabbath, where the drumming is such a stand-out part of each song, it makes sense to give the drummer his due.

Coming out of the drums, Ozzy's guttural "I am Iron Man" cry ignited the crowd anew as Iommi threw down that now iconic opening riff. When the pounding subsided, the band segued smoothly into the quiet opening of a soon-to-be scorching rendition of "God is Dead?"

Perhaps the one seemingly out of place song followed: "Dirty Woman." Though this song came from the 1976 album Technical Ecstasy, the thinner rhythm and driving, higher-pitched guitar solo seemed out of synch with the otherwise heavy material. "Here's the deal," Osbourne announced at the song's conclusion. "We're going to do one more song, but if you go fucking crazy, we'll do more."

Pandemonium erupted as the band launched into the massive opening riff and unmistakable dark march of "Children of The Grave." The place did go crazy, Ozzy threw another bucket of water into the crowd, and strobe lights flashed and whirled. It would have been a great ending, but Ozzy promised more.

And it came in the form of "Paranoid," but not before the opening riffs of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" teased us into a false sense of direction. Why the switch? Was it a slip up on Iommi's part? In any case, "Paranoid" shook the house down, showing why all these years later, Black Sabbath's darkness remains the light in this audience's eyes.

Critic's Notebook: Last Night: Black Sabbath, heavy metal protagonists Personal bias: Saw the band in the 1970s and on the first reunion tour. Music has a regular rotation on the iPod. The crowd: Quite a mix with plenty of parents bringing their kids--because they (the parent) wanted to go, of course. Color of the evening: Black, of course. Random notebook dump on Ozzy 1: Ozzy's not as pathetic as in 1997. He's still staggering about and seems lost at times, but too much drugs and booze will do that to you. Random notebook dump on Ozzy 2: Ozzy seems too oblivious to the fact that this is not a hands-above-the-head waving crowd no matter how much he tries to cajole them. They just won't do it. Overheard murmuring: By the antsy guy behind next to me: "Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck, I love that, I love that, I love that..." at the end of almost every song. (View the complete slideshow here.)

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