Live at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL
August 16, 2013
It’s fitting that the images chosen for Black Sabbath’s 2013 reunion tour are the same ones used for the band’s last studio album with Ozzy Osbourne as the iconic frontman. The album was
the disastrous Never Say Die!, and the musical content
of that mistake from ’78 is wisely absent from the set list the band is working
from now. (edited to reflect that I just re-listened to Never Say Die! and....kind of like it :)
The cover art is from the minds at the legendary art design group, Hipgnosis, and the title, of course, continues to apply to these elderly Englishmen, one of whom is conspicuously absent from the proceedings.
More on that later, but if the core creative trio from this Birmingham quartet are in place, then you have a reunion tour that doesn’t necessarily need to have an asterisk by the logo, particularly when it already has a © by it already, thanks to Ozzy’s wife.
If Sharon Osbourne’s tactics at presenting drummer Bill Ward with an offer that the 65 year-old percussionist could not live with are an indication of her strong negotiating skills, then consider who she has given the illustrious opening slot for this potentially final tour of these metal titans:
He doesn’t perform. He plays metal songs. Presumably from a turntable and providing no real historical relevance to the event or any remixes for the audience that had gathered. He does not he display any actual talents as a DJ. He just stands there, plays a song, and says “Get ready for the greatest heavy metal band in history” when his set time has expired.
Then, they remove his dj pedestal and play music for another 15 minutes until Sabbath finally comes on stage.
What. Is. The. Point.
The point is, Sharon Osbourne doesn’t have the passion of music inside of her, so she cannot squeeze the pocketbook open a little bit more to allow Bill Ward a spot behind the drum throne or to splurge for a legitimate opening band, preferably one with obvious ties to Sabbath’s influence.
I happen to think Soundgarden would be ideal for this gig.
Instead, she taps Andrew WK to go out, play a few records-like we wouldn’t have been doing already in the parking lot, if it weren’t for First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre’s security staff, who spend every moment before showtime herding up the stragglers trying to cop a buzz before getting reamed for $12 beers inside the venue.
If you’re keeping track, that price is up $3 from last summer.
This isn’t all about revenue. This is the potential to deliver to the most loyal fans in music a show that would resonate for generations. Instead, we get a fellow fan-essentially a lucky bastard with a fleeting recording career-with the enviable gig of getting to on stage and play records before a Black Sabbath show. There is no interaction between Andrew WK and the crowd. There is only music leading up to more pre-recorded music and a huge taste of disappointment to anyone who understands how epic this show could have been.
Leave it to the three Black Sabbath members who were present to try and valiantly destroy the earthen mound off of First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre’s facilities. Perhaps the band wanted to give the large crowd a chance to remember nothing more than the destructive sludge of Sabbath’s might, which would suggest that the evening’s proceedings may have been the last opportunity Chicago would have to see this closet-thing-to-the-original-line-up-as-you’re going to see.
Ozzy has hinted that he’d like to do it all over again, this time with Bill coming, but that silly Prince of Darkness should know better than to speak without Sharon’s approval.
“Hello?” asked a familiar voice from the behind speakers and black curtain, hinting that the show was about to start. Ozzy blurted out a few more “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” gags. Suddenly, red lights began flashing and air sirens announced the arrival of “War Pigs,” as massive as any anti-war song Bob Dylan penned, with half as many verses.
For the next two hours, Black Sabbath delivered a set that was as heavy as anything walking the planet at the moment, and as uplifting as any arena show should be. The band pulled three tracks from their latest 13, which is down from the 4 songs they began the tour with and still probably 1 song too many. If it were me, I would leave the opener “End Of The Beginning” on the merits of its title and subject matter, and “God Is Dead” since it seemed to keep the fan’s interest.
You always begin to consider what songs they would have left on the list if it wasn’t taken up by a new track, and I don’t quite understand why “Sweet Leaf” was excluded, particularly since the band included a “Sweet Leaf” t-shirt at the merch table ($45).
It’s obvious that Ozzy no longer has the ability to hit the notes necessary to make tracks like “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” a contender for consideration, but what they did include was an impressive mixture of deep album tracks for fans (“Into The Void,” “Under The Sun/Everything Comes And Goes,” “Behind The Wall Of Sleep”) and selections that confirm the band’s undeniable catalog of Metal 101 (“Black Sabbath,” “Iron Man,” “Fairies Wear Boots”).
|It says, "Repeat chorus two times."|
It’s also obvious that Ozzy has been reduced to a caricature of his former self, mindlessly yelling things like “Make some fucking noise, you fuckers!” and “I can’t fucking hear you!” over and over, at least with twice the frequency that he’s done in year’s past.
He also continues to do battle with his monitors, occasionally giving stern looks off stage when trouble arises while seeming to be oblivious to his own issues of being able to hit the correct notes during “Dirty Women.” Never mind the fact that he also requires the use of a teleprompter to recall the same lyrics he’s been singing for four decades now.
Touring drummer Tommy Clufetos is no Bill Ward, but then again, I’m confident that Ward could not match the power of Clufetos’ performance on Friday night. This isn’t to suggest that Clufetos is a better drummer than Ward (especially when Bill was in his prime), but he is definitely a drummer who recognizes that he only needs to give Iommi exclamation points and not layer his fills over an already perfect riff.
I did not see the band this man hit his kit with anything less than a shoulder-high down stroke for the entire set. With every crack of his drums he played like he was personally nailing shut Bill Ward’s doors and windows so he wouldn’t be able to come back to the band, even he wanted to. His solo stuck out like an obvious relief moment for the rest of the band, as they quickly exited the stage after a quick “Rat Salad” to freshen up, hydrate, and probably in the case of Osbourne, receive oxygen.
|Raise your fist and yell!...Oops, wrong tour.|
It was an impressive solo, if not about 8 minutes too long. The band may have needed that extra few minutes, but the drum solo rule of “No more than 10 minutes in length if you’re not named Neil Peart or performing for a drum clinic” needed to be followed, even if Clufetos performed at a level higher than most rock drummers could achieve.
Leave it to bassist Geezer Butler and the Grandfather of all metal riffs, Tony Iommi, to deliver enough girth to the proceedings to qualify the tour as a must-see event. Iommi looks great, and more importantly, played with impeccable precision. Smiles came often from his side of the stage, and the band has clearly given him free reign to embellish on his solos, pushing the length of each song to an average of six or seven minutes in length. There are no complaints about this either as nearly everyone in attendance found themselves nodding their heads in unison with Iommi’s massive rhythms.
|Smile! We've gone 36 months without suing each other!|
Butler, the man responsible for much of the words scrolling across Osbourne’s monitors, also contributed to an endless array of finger-plucking that safely secured the band’s low end. Geezer has all but admitted that the real “geezer” is the fact that he may not be able to play like this for much longer, while his work on Friday evening suggests that he continues to deliver a relentless growl. He is an underappreciated bassist that only seems to be recognized as an other-worldly player because of his encroaching age. The reality is that Geezer has been a master for quite some time now, it’s just taken a few decades for that fact to sink in among the uninitiated.
With everything that could go with this tour and for as much unnecessary drama the backstory provides, Black Sabbath appears to be providing a legitimate glimpse into why this band is so vital to our musical landscape. Except for the temp-status skinsman Clufetos (kudos to him for attempting to channel the “caveman” era Bill Ward look), the median age for these veterans is sixty-five fucking years old. There is no way a band that old can still sound this heavy.
They were so good that Ozzy could have come out on stage and nodded off to a Xanax and Merlo-induced coma and this still would have been a wonder of awesomeness.
The fact that Ozzy delivered a show with merely a modicum of professionalism means that Black Sabbath’s performance at the F.D.I.C. insured venue on Friday night was a required rite-of-passage for anyone claiming loyalty to rock and roll music.