As Geezer, Tony, Ozzy and Tommy Clufetos took to the stage, backed by three screens framed by crooked stone-rendered cave mouths that looked like something out of Beetlejuice, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. But a few seconds later, the intro to “War Pigs” exploded like a bomb, almost blowing the place off its foundations. Any doubt disintegrated to make way for a moronic grin that I could not wipe off my face.
The band’s sound was monstrous, with the bass and drums creating a ribcage rattling earthquake underfoot. Geezer Butler was fantastic, and blew more than a few minds with a searing bass solo at the end of “Behind the Wall of Sleep”. Tony Iommi’s guitar sound was as thick, creamy and evil as could be hoped, allowing the iconic riffs to cascade over everything like a tidal wave. When he kicked off the second song, the aforementioned “Into the Void”, his SG tore through the venue like a giant chainsaw. Put simply, Iommi was astounding.
The first run of songs was a relentless barrage of classics: “Under the Sun”; “Snowblind”; “Electric Funeral”; “N.I.B.”. But for me, the highlight of the night was “Black Sabbath”, which began with a blurred Master of Reality-style logo projected on the backdrop’s middle screen. I had to blink at it a few times to see if the beer I ate for dinner was starting to get the best of me. But it didn’t matter, because when the dread of those first notes swirled ominously through the cavernous room, they drew everyone into a doom-laden hypnosis that only broke with the shift into high gear halfway through the song. It was fucking magic.
Which brings me to Ozzy Osbourne. First up, there’s no denying he was fun to watch. Sometimes it was for awkwardly comedic reasons, like his stumbling around the stage to throw buckets of water on the throng at the front, or clapping completely out of time when trying to get the crowd to join in. Over the last week I have also heard people say he forgot some words, although I didn’t notice that, possibly because I was too mesmerised by Iommi. However, what I did notice was how good Ozzy’s voice actually sounded, including where the vocals filled open spaces in the music, as in the first lines of “Black Sabbath”. And on top of that, his looseness created an entertaining counterpoint to Geezer and Tony’s rock solid professionalism on stage.
But there were a few hurdles. It almost goes without saying that when a band has such an incredible legacy and showcases a new song, it’s likely that there will be some hesitation from the audience. And with “End of the Beginning”, one of two new songs Sabbath played, a little momentum was lost - though that probably wasn’t such a bad thing after the frenzy of the first few songs. Still, it sounded pretty good to my ears, and “Fairies Wear Boots” fired things back up again anyway.
“Symptom of the Universe” started next, but was cut short in favour of a drum solo. A very long drum solo. Don’t get me wrong, Tommy Clufetos was excellent, and from the first beat in “War Pigs”, I don’t think anyone was really thinking much about Bill Ward. But during this unnecessarily drawn out indulgence, I could not help thinking there was a point being hammered home about the only missing original member. Then again, maybe it was just a chance for the older blokes to take a breather. Either way, it seemed to knock some of the air out of the performance for the next few songs: “Iron Man”; the second newie, “God is Dead?”; and “Dirty Women”.
However, our heroes violently shook the room back to life when they belted out the percussive, headbanging groove of “Children of the Grave” to close the main set. And finally, after a very short break, they re-emerged to blaze through “Paranoid”, ending the night on an electrifying high.
Black Sabbath’s music is so pervasive and its influence so deeply embedded that it can sometimes be easy to take for granted. But last Saturday's devastating performance showed that they and their music still pack an almighty punch. And I'm glad I was there to receive it.