Black Sabbath

August 28, 2013
Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Irvine , CA

Review by Shawn Perry

I never thought I’d see Black Sabbath together again in the 21st century. Yeah, I realize it’s not so much of a stretch because they’ve been around, off and on, since their 1999 reunion, which is when I last saw them. Before that, it was seven times in the 70s with the original lineup, then a few more in the 80s with Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan and Glenn Hughes in the lead vocal slot. For me, however, Black Sabbath is and will always be Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. Tonight in Irvine, for the first stop in the southland of their 2013 North American tour, one of the four wasn’t there. But even without Bill Ward in the fold, it was a true Black Sabbath show in every other conceivable way.

Osbourne may be the star, but it’s really Iommi and Butler who put the heavy metal in Black Sabbath. As if Ward’s sudden departure from the reunion announced in 2011 wasn’t enough to contend with, Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma. Miraculously, his treatments were successful and Sabbath recorded 13, their first album of original material with Osbourne on vocals in 35 years. The Rick Rubin-produced record with Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk in Ward’s spot went on to become Black Sabbath’s first Number One on the Billboard album chart.

I heard 13 at a listening party a couple months prior to its release and had mixed feelings. It certainly had all the trademarks and the sound was heavy and visceral, topped with a shiny gloss to belie its time. It could have used a little more of a Ward-like swing in the percussion area, but overall it was everything you would expect and rightly accept from a Black Sabbath reunion album. A tour was announced shortly after, and as much as I was still on the fence about 13 and Sabbath without Bill Ward, I knew had to see them. It was rumored to be their last tour. They brought Tommy Clufetos, who’d played with Osbourne and Sabbath before, in on drums and here they were, winding up the North American leg in California.

The 16,000 body capacity Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre was tipping the meter, save for a few empty patches of space on the upper lawn. I took my seat a few rows behind the soundboard and attempted to figure out the appeal behind Andrew WK, who was playing DJ. The whole shooting T-shirts into the crowd and spinning metal mixes didn’t do much for me, and by the looks of it, hardly anyone else either. He must have been hired to make Sabbath look better.

The Black Sabbath Halloween Horror Nights spots on the video screen during intermission fell equally flat, but when the clock struck 8:30 and the lights came down, the distractions were forgotten, sirens blared and it was time for “War Pigs.” Osbourne, perhaps in an effort to save his voice, traded the politically-charged verses with the audience, who seemingly knew every word (so apt in this day and age). “Let me see those fuckin’ hands,” Osborne bellowed before he drenched the front row with the first of many buckets of water. This was the Ozzy everyone came to see. Actually, the Ozzy I wanted to see used to flash peace signs, but that Ozzy left the building a long time ago.

The sound was full and wide-ranging, beautifully mixed. Iommi’s chunky riffs pierced the night sky as a sea of cell phones attempted to capture every hi-def moment. Butler’s bass rumbled throughout the amphitheater and Clufetos was everything Bill Ward could be and likely more. “How ya’ doin’!” Osbourne called out. “It’s been a long time…” and onto “Into The Void,” “Under The Sun” and “Snowblind,” thunderous treasure from Masters Of Reality and Volume 4.

Osbourne’s constant “cuckoos” got a little old, but there were three new songs to share and they easily blended into the setlist. “Age Of Reason” and the single “God Is Dead” plodded along respectfully, scarcely stirring an audience there for the older stuff. “End Of The Beginning” the doom-laden opening opus on 13, is easily the best new song, especially when it thickens up and Iommi plucks out a super riff reminiscent of the 70s. It’s likely some folks tonight could have mistook it for something off the first album, which was well represented by the triple-header of “Black Sabbath,” “Behind The Wall Of Sleep” and “N.I.B.”

Clufetos’ drum solo silenced the skeptics, including me, and I began to understand why he got the job. His shirt off, sporting a headband, there was a vague resemblance to Ward from a distance. More importantly, he pounds with an easy finesse and Ward-like attack that adds color to the weight and density of the songs. Meanwhile, Osbourne’s voice started to sputter out toward the end (he reportedly sang better in Los Angeles), but the constant pacing, one-man wave and buckets of water came and went. Indeed, Ozzy, all in black, drenched and glistening in the lights, has slowed down, but he looked happy and more fulfilled than ever.

“Children Of The Grave” was the climatic ending to the main set. For the encore, Iommi started in on the first few bars of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” and some of the diehards (me included) about lost our cookies. The riff quickly evaporated into the predictable “Paranoid,” a requirement at any Sabbath show. A full run through of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” or anything off the album from which it is named after would have been a lovely touch. It’s always that much more special when artists with classic catalogs like Sabbath throw in surprises now and then from the past. Five days later, “Dirty Women,” a quirky tune from 1976’s much-maligned Technical Ecstasy, was pulled out at the LA Sports Arena, so there's always hope. Perhaps another tour through these parts would net more of those Black Sabbath nuggets hidden in the grooves.

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