It’s been a long time since Black Sabbath put out an album with Ozzy Osbourne, 35 years to be exact. So the tour behind 13, the band’s first album ever to debut at No. 1 in America, had something to prove. One of the first of 20 North American shows to be announced in support of the album, Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center was sold out, with 17,500 fans spanning multiple generations showing up to soak in some music from the architects of heavy metal.
Whether it was a cost-cutting situation or just an attempt to further point out that there’s no opening band that could touch Sabbath’s 43-year legacy, Andrew WK opened up by DJing an hour of metal. However, most of the hard-partying was taking place in the parking lot during his DJ set. When Sabbath took the stage for their two-hour set, from the opening sirens of “War Pigs,” the crowd roared their approval, showing that they were on board for whatever was ahead.
Anyone that’s seen Ozzy or Black Sabbath throughout the years knew what they’d be in for. However, with Ozzy not having played with the band since 2006, it was probably some of the audience’s first time seeing the band, as familiar as they might have been with their catalog. While there have been many YouTube clips showing Ozzy’s vocals to be lacking on this tour, he did an admirable job as a frontman. Was he in tune all the time? Absolutely not, but that hasn’t stopped critics from swinging all over Pallbearer’s dick, and this is Ozzy Osbourne we’re talking about here. If you’re honestly seeing Black Sabbath or Ozzy solo just for his vocal talents, you’re doing it wrong. Repeatedly thanking the crowd for being there, he trotted out the tropes many that have seen him are familiar with (“I can’t fucking hear you!,” “let me see your hands!”), and alternated ducking his head in a bucket of water and throwing it out into the crowd (water, not his head).
And while Ozzy will be Ozzy, Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi were in top shape yesterday. Iommi didn’t seem to be inconvenienced at all by the cancer treatment he’d been receiving, playing as fleet-fingered as ever. And Butler is as busy a bassist as ever, unflappable as his fingers buzzed around his bass. And as disappointing as it is that original drummer Bill Ward wasn’t part of the reunion, for whatever reason, it really is hard to imagine that he’d do as well as Tommy Clufetos did. Almost half the age of the other three on stage, Clufetos was energetic, hard hitting, and was given a solo that gave Osbourne, Iommi and Butler a chance to recharge.
As far as the music was concerned, the band’s two-hour set seemed much shorter than it actually was. Playing music spanning their 43 years of recorded history, there were some songs like “Snowblind” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” that were a little deeper to counteract the “N.I. B.”s and “Iron Man”s of the set. Thankfully, they didn’t overdo it on the new material either, playing three songs from the new album as well as a B-side (“Methademic”) that should have been included on the album. And while “this one’s from the new album” is usually translates to “pee break,” the new material blended in very nicely with the old.
In all, anyone that caught the show knew they were in for a special show. While not a full-fledged reunion, seeing Iommi, Butler and Osbourne on the same stage and the same page was inspirational. And given the sad and sudden death of another Black Sabbath vocalist a few years back, not to mention Iommi’s ongoing health issues, it’s not like any of these shows should be taken for granted, and by the time the last note of “Paranoid” rang out, the crowd had definitely gotten what they’d come for.
Set list and remaining dates below:
Into the Void
Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes
Age of Reason
Behind the Wall of Sleep
End of the Beginning
Fairies Wear Boots
God Is Dead?
Children of the Grave
(Sabbath Bloody Sabbath intro)
8/6: Detroit, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theatre
8/8: Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Arena
8/10: Philadelphia, PA @ Wells Fargo Center
8/12: Boston, MA @ Comcast Center
8/14: Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
8/16: Tinley Park, IL @ First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
8/18: Indianapolis, IN @ Klipsch Music Center
8/22: Vancouver, BC @ Rogers Arena
8/24: Seattle, WA @ Gorge Amphitheatre
8/26: San Francisco, CA @ Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View
8/28: Irvine, CA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
8/30: Phoenix, AZ @ US Airways Center
9/1: Las Vegas, NV @ MGM Grand Garden Arena
9/3: Los Angeles, CA @ Los Angeles Sports Arena
[Photo courtesy of Chris Becker, CMJ]