Better than: Seeing a legacy group perform with backing tracks
Last night, the reunited, and mostly original, Black Sabbath triumphantly returned to South Florida. It was a balmy summer night, and Palm Beach's Cruzan Amphiteatre was dense with darkly-clothed denizens of metal, all of whom had answered the call to worship at the altar of the original lords of heavy-metal.
The band has been riding the high of its first ever number one album in the United States, simply titled 13, and the energy that clogged the air prior to the legendary band's set was beyond electric.
Helping to stir the already excitable crowd into a proper frenzy was musician/personality Andrew W.K.
W.K. mounted a raised DJ tower that was set mid-stage to a roar of applause from the crowd, and then proceeded to kick Pantera's "A New Level" through the PA at full tilt as purple lighting blared up at him from below. Let's be clear when we say that we were not excited about seeing Andrew W.K. hit the play button on an iPod in lieu of an opening band: It was a serious cop out on the part of the powers that be. But, the dude played a Pantera track at really high volumes -- one of life's only remaining true joys, so we're going to kind of let it slide.
W.K.'s DJ set had no flow to speak of -- it simply relied on playing a few old favorites and a bit of air drumming -- but the highlight of his "set" came during a "spin" through Metallica's "Master of Puppets," when a heavyset, tattooed, shirtless, breathing archetype took it upon himself to further solicit a reaction from the crowd in the seats behind his row. The shirtless man stood proudly singing the lyrics to the old Metallica favorite into an imaginary microphone, gesturing for folks to rise up and get stoked with him. Eventually, another man joined him, and together they sang a duet into imaginary mics while leaning in closely to one another. The large man that instigated the glorious moment in metal karaoke walked back to his seat after some applause, violently shaking a hotdog overhead before taking a big bite. Epic.
Ozzy's familiar laugh broke through the music at one point, followed by the request: "Let me hear you!" The crowd broke into cheers and grunts and all manners of excited expression. However, it was a false alarm, and everyone quickly returned to the interest of their astronomically priced beers. Shortly after, the house music was broken yet again by the unmistakable sirens that signal the start of "War Pigs," and behind a curtain was the Prince of Darkness, his arms outstretched to greet the crowd of fans.
The first bombastic volleys of Toni Iommi's guitar literally sent chills up this writer's spine. The notes that Iommi sent caterwauling across the grounds contained within them all of the heft, brawn, and devastating power that changed the course of rock music. Geezer Butler's thumping bass brought with it even more devastation, and Ozzy looked elated to be back to perform for his constituents, surrounded by his old mates yet again.
What came next was a taste of the unfortunate reality of aging: Osbourne sang the entire song at least a half step flat. Then, the PA cutout entirely for but a second -- but between Ozzy's struggle and the technical failure, the magic of the moment had been muted. "Into the Void" followed and the song's meandering riff plodded over the audience like a pissed off giant.
Ozzy, despite all of his efforts and energy, remained out of key for the duration of the number. The solo section of "...Void" revealed a spry, in-control Toni Iommi, as the guitarist seared through the iconic solo, apparently stronger than ever following his recent cancer treatment. A scan of the audience during the solo was met by some bobbing heads, a few raised fists, but overall, an awkwardly somber crowd that used the moment to calculate the fact that the Prince of Darkness was no longer quite up to the job.
The band continued on through classic selections like "Snowblind," which featured video clips of Al Pacino as Tony Montana and was introduced by Osbourne as being "about a substance we used to get a lot of around here," "Black Sabbath," which brought the house to hysterics before the first humungous chord had even resolved, "Behind the Wall of Sleep" and "Fairies Wear Boots." The band was unbelievably strong sounding, with the aforementioned Iommi slaying and ripping through solo after solo and hitting every iconic riff with absolute precision the entire night.
Geezer Butler did everything in his might to coerce a bone-shaking bit of metal mastery from the strings of his bass during his wah-wah drenched feature midway through "...Wall of Sleep," and drummer, Tommy Clufetos, was fantastic as well, delivering a massive solo before "Iron Man" that was met by a wall of cheers and hollers. However, we expected those sort of skills from Clufetos, a well-known hired gun, and despite his prowess behind the kit, it was hard not to feel slighted by the fact that Bill Ward was not there instead -- something we believe to be a bit of a tragedy considering the band's current station in life.
On the classic tracks, Ozzy's vocals were -- for the most part -- lackluster. Beyond the fact that we expected the performance to be, well... That of a near 65-year-old man with a long history of drug addiction and abuse, it was just off enough to be a distraction -- especially with Sabbath's other members playing with such control. That said, the new songs -- those written with Ozzy's current range in mind -- sounded phenomenal. "End of the Beginning" and "God is Dead?" delivered what we expected from the album, and despite any transgressions Osbourne may have committed against the classics last night, the man's exuberance went a long way towards making up for it.
Personal Bias: Serious Sabbath fan. Staunch defender of legacy acts.
From the Stage: "It's not getting any hotter than here! Sweaty nuts, man!" - Ozzy Osbourne
Random Detail: Ozzy would make random owl "hoo hoo" sounds between songs.
"Into the Void"
"Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes"
"Age of Reason"
"Behind the Wall of Sleep"
"End of the Beginning"
"Fairies Wear Boots"
"God is Dead?"
"Children of the Grave"
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