Saturday, February 4, 2017

Black Sabbath @ Genting Arena, Birmingham, UK - February 4th, 2017

Both Ozzy and Black Sabbath have already done farewell tours before so I think I can be forgiven for thinking this was no big deal when they first announced The End. I got to see the tour in Connecticut six months ago and I was happy leaving it at that. But as the fateful date loomed closer it started bugging me. As Dylan sang, oh Mama, can this really be The End? Very soon we'd all be living in a world without a Black Sabbath. That hasn't happened in half a century. Throughout line-up changes, passing trends, addictions, illness and deaths Tony Iommi had always managed to carry the torch.
So I decided to attend the pilgrimage and pay one last tribute to the Heavy Metal originators, the ones without which the whole cultural landscape would look very different. On the morning of February 4th I took a plane to Birmingham to attend the (presumably?) last concert of the legendary Black Sabbath.

I'd seen the band in this incarnation twice before and they always crushed it, despite Ozzy's vocal limitations and a predictable setlist. I knew exactly what to expect. Sure, in the back of my mind I was hoping for a happy resolution to the whole Bill Ward fiasco but that was always unrealistic.

The aircraft was filled only with metal heads and BHX Airport looked like Wacken. In fact the whole town was submerged by people with long hair and denim jackets with band patches on them. It was fucking glorious.

I made my way to Genting Arena in the early evening, entered the venue, had a couple of beers and then enjoyed openers Rival Sons' set. They were really fucking good and their performance went over very well with the crowd, especially considering the circumstances.

The half hour between the support band and the main act seemed like an eternity but eventually the lights came down. A cheesy intro video was played and then the curtain dropped right as the gothic opening chords of Black Sabbath chimed all through the arena.

The place erupted and for the next 100 minutes the audience's fervour never let down. Fists pumping, heads banging, throats screaming... This was no ordinary concert, this was mass. A black mass. The last chance to hear these classics performed by (mostly) the people who wrote them.

The whole show was absolutely insane. Ozzy did mess up the timing on Black Sabbath (as usual, dare I say...) and kind of butchered Hand of Doom. His voice was mostly fine but not always in tune. Tommy Clufetos is a very heavy handed drummer, far from the jazzy feel of the person he's replacing.

None of this mattered. This was Black fucking Sabbath laying down the Laws of Metal for the last time and they rose to the occasion.

Iommi of course is the Supreme Riff Lord, master of evil intervals. Unfortunately this overshadows what a superb lead player he is. Geezer is the secret weapon in this band. What their countless followers have failed to understand is the pulse of a bass that doesn't always follow exactly the rhythm guitar but goes on its own demonic journey.

They didn't make a big deal over the fact that this was it. There was no cheap sentimentality. Just the guys playing a solid set.

They ended with Paranoid of course, with the whole arena going mental. Ballons dropped from the ceiling, confetti was thrown... They took their curtain calls (and picture by Ross Halfin) and then disappeared into the sunset.

Some audience members were left in tears. Others were just stunned. All of them were hoarse. As for me I felt like I had been touched by some dark mythical creature. Turns out I had been brushed by the wing of History.

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