Black Sabbath at Allphones Arena

In the continuing theme of “seeing musical legends before they die” a few mates and I got ourselves out to Olympic Park last night to see the first Black Sabbath tour of Australia since 1973.

1973.

The opening act was some NZ ’90s hard rock outfit called Shihad. We only caught their last song. Meh.

Then, because my mate Vince is charming as hell, he got all our nosebleed rooftop seats swapped for way-down lower-bowl right-beside-the-stage seats. Well done, Vince! A prompt start by Sabbath meant we missed the first few riffs of “War Pigs” as we moved, but we soon settled in.

Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne, and Tony Iommi.

What followed next was legendary metal with a bit of awkward farce thrown in.

I was really impressed by the band. Tony and Geezer still have it, completely. The guitar riffs were dark and epic. The bass was fuzzy and menacing. Original drummer Bill Ward declined to take part but Tommy Clufetos did the metal drummer thing to perfection, including a 7-minute strobe-powered solo.

Ozzy’s voice was better than I expected, mostly. He can still hit the notes, and he’s largely intelligible, and his tone fits the unsettling music just right, as it did on the albums all those decades ago.

I remind myself several times during the night that these guys invented this stuff. Countless generations of black T-shirt wearing metal bands and fans owe a massive debt to those arpeggio riffs, to those minor-keyed laments of alienation, to all those tempo changes. Black Sabbath came out 43 years ago. It was awesome to hear it played live by the guys who dreamt it up, and to hear them still being able to lay it down.

“Children of the Grave”, “N.I.B.”, Black Sabbath”, “Fairies Wear Boots”, and encore “Paranoid” were thrilling highlights to hear.

Downsides: Ozzy gets a little annoying. It’s fascinating to watch his shambolic shuffling about and fun to watch him throw buckets of water on the audience. He’s as energetic as any other mid-60s frontman out there (except Iggy) especially considering that he’s spent so many decades in a chemical fog. But it’s still tiring to hear him ask us to “Show me your fucking hands!” or “Go fucking crazy!” over and over and over again. His crowd banter is pretty limited and repetitive.

Also, he wasn’t on top form for “Electric Funeral” or, sadly, “Iron Man”. And the new songs, plus iffy mid-career tracks like “Dirty Women”, weren’t great. The show slumped in a few of these songs.

But overall the good was much bigger than the bad. I got to see musical legends do what they did, and what they still do, live. The show was fun and good-natured (metal shows I’ve attended are always the most friendly) and epic. We thrashed and sang and shook and fist-pumped and yelled. Dark, brooding riffery has been part of the musical landscape as long as I’ve been alive; I’m glad its creators got to show me how it’s done.

You can see a couple of videos from the crowd in the embedded YouTubes below. Rock on.