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Live Review: Black Sabbath, Sydney 2016

Black Sabbath
Photos by Ross Halfin.

Black Sabbath / Rival Sons
Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney 23/04/2016
Review: David James Young 

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where a new comic book hero is introduced by the name of Every-Man. His super-power is absorbing the super-powers of other heroes by simply touching a comic book with them in it – which, of course, is highly derivative but manages to get the job done. You’re probably sensing where this is headed in relation to our opening act of the evening, Long Beach rock’n’rollers Rival Sons.

Theirs is all leather-jacket cool and settling into a groove laid down well before any of them were born. Their fingers have sifted through countless classic rock records, and it shows. Jay Buchanan screams like Roger Daltrey circa “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and prowls the stage like Jim Morrison circa… well, Jim Morrison. He’s backed by guitars that are as indebted to Jimmy Page as they are Keith Richards. Hell, even the keyboardist has nicked his beard from ZZ Top.

Still, this real life, five-headed Every-Man are quite the entertaining prospect. Their shortcomings in terms of generating original material are easy to overlook when one considers just how many bands out there are reaching for something similar and continue to fail dismally. Ride on, Sons.

It was almost three years ago to the date that Black Sabbath last rode through town. While it was an enthralling experience simply to see the band in the flesh, it wasn’t a show without its faults. Ozzy Osbourne was typically pitchy, drummer Tommy Clufetos (who had been in the Sabbath fold for less than a year at that point) was stiff and the new material from the then-unreleased 13 was more an endurance test than a revelation. This time around, however, we’re in an entirely different context: This is the last time we will ever see Black Sabbath in Sydney. This is a band that is literally playing as if their world is ending. As such, there’s no time to waste.

Even without its distinctive harmonica intro, there’s no mistaking “Black Sabbath”, the band’s titular anthem of doom, which leads them in with typical grandeur. What follows is an evening that allows Ozzy and co. to go out on a spectacular high – and we’re not just talking one assisted by their beloved sweet leaf.

 

“This is the end of the world as we know it for one of the most important bands of all time.”

 

The aforementioned Clufetos has settled quite well into the fold, bringing a mix of thunderous Bill Ward swing with some of the flash and precision that got him hired for Ozzy’s backing band to begin with. His drum solo in beloved Paranoid instrumental “Rat Salad” ends up being one of the highlights of the entire show, the crowd showing a great appreciation for his efforts. The setlist, meanwhile, is wall-to-wall classics: You’ve banged your head to it through your teenage and coming-of-age years, they’re playing it. “NIB”, “Behind The Wall Of Sleep”, “Snowblind” and “War Pigs” were just some of the fist-raisers on offer throughout the evening.

Keeping the whole shebang going on either side of the stage are Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi, like two immovable pillars generating a booming noise that has not only come to shape heavy metal, but has served as some of the most enviable tone known to any self-respecting four or six-string shredder. Both men make the entire room fill up with tri-tonal unholiness and fretboard speed-runs that belie their late-60s age bracket, stopping only briefly to take in this part of the world one final time.

As for Ozzy? Well, he’s Ozzy. It’s never going to be entirely smooth sailing as far as his vocals are concerned. As both Rick James and the band’s own “Snowblind” attest to, cocaine is a hell of a drug – and not even years of going clean can entirely rectify that. Even still, there are key reasons that he betters his last appearance on this stage. For one, he’s clearly having the time of his life on stage, hobbling about and riling up the audience between every verse and grinning like an idiot.

When a bra gets thrown on stage, Tom Jones-style, he decides to don it for the second half of the song to crack up both their stage manager and the stone-faced Iommi; resulting in one of the most memorable moments of the set. For all the serious talk around the legacy of this band, it’s not for nothing that we mention that Sabbath should also be remembered for their funny side, too.

As “Paranoid” ends in an avalanche of cymbal crashes and thrashed guitars, two definitive words end up on the screen behind the band: “THE END.” This is the end of the world as we know it for one of the most important bands of all time. Those in attendance know how lucky we are to have not only had this band as a part of our lives, but to have their legacy recreated and celebrated before our very eyes on this night of nights.

Black Sabbath

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