by Alissa Ordabai
Staff Writer —
May 19, 2012 at O2 Academy in Birmingham, UK
Black Sabbath’s hugely anticipated homecoming reunion gig was somewhat marred by Bill Ward’s absence and the internet palaver which preceded it, but in the end the show didn’t turn into a riot, a rally in support of Ward (as predicted by some) or a nasty stance against the substitute drummer Tommy Clufetos.
“If you go extra fucking crazy for this one, we’ll carry on,” Ozzy said to the audience before the band launched into “Children of the Grave”, the next-to-last song of the set. And, apparently, was pleased enough with Birmingham’s response, rewarding the crowd with “Paranoid” which followed straight after – the last number of the show.
Not that the crowd was welcoming “Children of the Grave” with more enthusiasm than it gave to other old-time anthems such as “War Pigs”, “Electric Funeral” or “Iron Man”. From the very start Birmingham’s response to the set comprised exclusively of the band’s early-days hits was that of singing along, moshing, crowd surfing and generally going nuts for the home-grown idols who have for eternity defined their home town as the birth place of metal.
There are many – some would say way too may – notes from those early Sabbath songs that Ozzy can’t hit these days, but whatever was lacking in terms of vocal delivery was partially made up by his warm, affable stage presence. It takes a small venue like the 4000-capacity Birmingham O2 to fully appreciate Ozzy’s charisma and sincerity – the way he talks to the audience and genuinely cares about everyone having a good time, his body language, and the tone of his banter. Or maybe it takes a homecoming show to touch those strings in the soul of the King of Darkness, who often talks – as he did tonight – about being proud of being a Brummie.
The substitute drummer Clufetos not once was introduced to the audience, but was given a solo slot (in fact, longer than the one given to Geezer Butler) which drew a mixed reaction from the crowd given the details of Bill Ward’s non-participation which appeared on his web site a few days before the show. Given that Clufetos plays in Ozzy’s band, it’s easy to imagine that substituting Ward was an offer he could not refuse, and to their credit of the crowd treated him with respect.
By contrast – and understandably – Ozzy asked for attention and applause to be given to Tony Iommi many times, at one point falling on his knees before Iron Man during his lead on “Dirty Women”. This solo indeed one of high points of the show, the flight of Iommi’s eloquent, intelligent impro as compelling as the best of his studio work.
And when Ozzy sang in unison with Iommi’s guitar as on “Electric Funeral”, the sound was pure magic, the whopping immediacy of the song still giving you goosebumps, no matter if you were a seasoned fan or a fresh recruit. And speaking of fresh recruits, there were plenty of those in the crowd – children and grandchildren of die-hard fans sat next to their fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers. The 10- or 15-year-olds may not know what extraordinary conviction and inspiration it took to write those tunes 45 years ago at the time when flower power and mystical East-meets-West excursions were de rigueur on the music scene, but they surely appreciated what they were hearing – first-hand and unobscured by the nostalgic glasses of history.
And at the end of the day this is what tonight’s show was all about that – the songs that have not only stood the test of time but have become the indelible part of the Western culture. It was also about the tenacity and dedication of the guitar player, the drive and the erudition of the bass player, and the candor of the singer. The three men on stage weren’t the same men who wrote the songs they played this evening, but there are times when bands grow so big the old adage “the show must go on” becomes less of a choice and more of an imperative.
1. Into the Void
2. Under the Sun
4. War Pigs
5. Wheels of Confusion
6. Electric Funeral
7. Black Sabbath
8. The Wizard
9. Behind the Wall of Sleep
11. Fairies Wear Boots
12. Tomorrow’s Dream
13. Sweet Leaf
14. Symptom of the Universe (instrumental)
15. Drum solo
16. Iron Man
17. Dirty Women
18. Children of the Grave
19. Paranoid (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath intro)