Black Sabbath Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion July 25, 2013
What can even be said about a Black Sabbath show in 2013? You know what you're in for: good times with one of the all-time greatest rock and roll bands. The experience is one that defies a simple explanation. It's becoming a part of a unique phenomenon; entering into a hallowed stature of "those who have seen Black Sabbath perform." Isn't that why any of us go to see classic rock bands: for another notch on our belts?
Of course, there is the off chance someone was at Cynthia Woods last night to see Black Sabbath because they happened to pick up their latest album, 13, in stores, having somehow been oblivious to the band for the past 40 years, liked what they heard, and decided to see them live.
Hey, stranger things have happened, and it at least seems to be what Black Sabbath would like to believe themselves.
Let's face it: this band does not consist of spring chickens. These guys have been around the mulberry bush. That makes it all the stranger that their approach seems to be designed to prove a point about their relevance.
For those who remember, the last time "Sabbath" came through was under the Heaven and Hell guise with the dear, departed Ronnie James Dio as their front man. Though they did put out a record with Dio during the brief reunion before his passing, they seemed to look at it through a lens of honesty. Perhaps Dio's earthbound personality grounded them, but the whole thing played as a nostalgia tour.
Black Sabbath in 2013 will be having none of that. Sure, they opened with "War Pigs," they closed with "Paranoid," and somewhere in the middle they played "Iron Man," with a seemingly winking acknowledgment of the songs' incredible popularity, but this is a band that seems almost restrained by their past more than proud of it. Running through "War Pigs" at the beginning felt like a chore. When they got to delve into "Into the Void" and "Under the Sun" after it, they came to life.
They wouldn't be the only ones bored with the classics, but then if we were taking account of the audience's boredom, it would spike any time the band decided to play something off of 13. It's hardly surprising that people would be less than enthused to hear a classic-rock band's new material, except for two things: people bought the hell out of the record and put it at No. 1 on the charts, and Sabbath seemed to be at their most vital and alive when they were playing the new songs.
One shouldn't exactly be surprised that guitarist Tony Iommi, a blues player at his heart, would dance his way through the solos to old songs, ignoring the original note patterns in favor of simply playing around in the same key and throwing in what he remembered of the one he laid down 40 years ago. But it paints a picture that Iommi ran through a few scales on autopilot for the solo to close out "Iron Man," then jammed out the ending of 13's "End of the Beginning" in earnest, exploring whole new worlds of guitar playing.
Yet despite Iommi's clear excitement to be playing around with a new toy, the audience still took to their seats the moment a new song would start up. They seemed more thrilled by touring drummer Tommy Clufetos' drum solo, if that helps illustrate my point.
I don't think Black Sabbath gave a shit about all that regardless though.
There's two main things I took away from seeing Sabbath in the flesh last night; my first time seeing them with the Ozzman. The first is that they have no interest in being a nostalgia band, hammered home by how much time they spent on underplayed songs from their early career or lengthy jams on new songs. The second is that in rediscovering their passion and their roots in their reunion and the making of 13, they aren't in this for money, fame, or appreciation. They're in it for joy.
Maybe the one-two punch of losing Dio to cancer and Iommi contracting cancer himself in only a matter of years has given the band a rude awakening to start enjoying themselves more, but that's only speculation on my part. All I can say is that these guys really do look like they love what they're doing with each other, and it seems like they'd be just as happy to be doing it at Walter's or Mango's.
It was the smiles all around; Ozzy pointing at Iommi twice and declaring "he is Iron Man;" it was Ozzy just messing with Iommi during the solo of "Dirty Women" and the two sharing a laugh about it, even while Iommi was blowing everyone's minds in the building with what he was playing. The Birmingham boys never lost their souls or their roots, and they look glad just to be able to jam out some tunes on stage together after all these years, especially now that they've finally been lucky enough to create with each other once more.
It was those moments that I'll take away from the show, more than the performance itself even. After all, nobody goes to a Black Sabbath show in 2013 for their technical prowess. It helps that the band is still incredibly tight, taking on the more complex parts of a song like "Dirty Women," which verges on prog, and playing them with exceptional precision.
It means a lot that Ozzy actually seemed to try his best, God bless him, despite his limitations as a singer. It helps make a tremendous memory that Ozzy actually belted out "Black Sabbath" pretty damn well for his age and the fact that he has no instrumentation to cover up his flaws for the majority of that song.
But these are bonuses. The point is almost more to see Black Sabbath as a novelty. We'd all love them even if they sucked these days. That they don't suck, and that they make a decent case for themselves as a relevant band rather than a nostalgia act, is startling and downright fantastic. That they live for this, pour so much of themselves into this, and have so much love for doing this is priceless.
Personal Bias: Rabid fan for practically my entire life. I've sat through all the Tony Martin records, including the one produced by Body Count. Yeah, it's like that.
The Crowd: Old rockers, teenage metalheads, and one very Woodlands foursome who showed up in a limo dressed for a game of golf to go to a Black Sabbath concert.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I feel like I'm in a time machine right now!" Wrong Sabbath era, buddy.
Random Notebook Dump: "Andrew WK playing a DJ set is the most disappointing way to start a party of all time," and "Iommi just trolled the hell out of us by playing the 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' riff."
War Pigs Into the Void Under the Sun / Everyday Comes and Goes Snowblind Age of Reason Black Sabbath Beyond the Wall of Sleep Bassically/N.I.B. End of the Beginning Fairies Wear Boots Methademic Rat Salad/Tommy Clufetos drum solo Iron Man God is Dead? Dirty Women Children of the Grave
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Tease of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath Paranoid