Vinyl Lair reflects on how music makes us feel. I saw Black Sabbath’s legendary The End tour Friday night (9/9/16) in Albuquerque, NM, at the Isleta Amphitheater. I may never stop feeling.
Incidentally, Albuquerque was my first hometown. I visited the neighborhood where my earliest memories were formed. I even took a walk in the park I remembered going to-the one with a mountain in the background-before the show.
So I had nostalgia before I even got to the venue. I’ve got plenty of feels to share. I will also offer some analysis and some philosophy. It’s how I go about feeling my feelings.
First, some premises. One, I’m reviewing the show I saw Friday night. My purpose is to demonstrate how what I saw in this show reflects what Black Sabbath means to me and perhaps to heavy music generally. I will not offer a song-by-song write-up. The entire show was consistently well done. Unless I specifically mention a song, the reader may assume that the songs were slightly slower and heavier versions of the studio recordings with some improvised guitar work and audience participation. Finally, I took all of the photographs used in this review. I confirmed setlist information on setlist.fm. Two, I’m not going to engage in any setlist “what ifs.” Much discussion has surrounded their setlist (which I will provide later in the review). I’m not going there. They’ve chosen the songs they’ve chosen. The setlist has settled into its current form, and it will become a world-wide shared experience. So, I will discuss what I find there. It’s Black Sabbath, after all, and I will celebrate the value of what they offer rather than lament the fact that their setlist wasn’t somehow a catalog of my personal favorites (although many favorites are surely included). I’m going to put embracing the blessing above second guessing. I like how most of it comes from the first three albums and how the first five songs represent the first four albums in order (both the third and fourth songs are off Master of Reality). The End goes back to the beginning. Three, I will not discuss Bill Ward’s absence. It’s beside the point for this review. Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, and Ozzy Osbourne are enough for me. Tommy Clufetos played with great energy and fidelity to the original recordings. His drum solo was impressive and well received by the audience. Four, I will mention Adam Wakeman’s presence. The band acknowledged his “behind the curtain” performances on keyboards and guitar, and I thought it was altogether fitting and proper to do so. Five, I saw Black Sabbath’s Dio-fronted Mob Rules tour in 1982 and Ozzy’s Bark at the Moon tour in 1984. I’m not going to compare The End to these other shows.
A Review of The End-Opening Act Rival Sons
The opening band, Rival Sons, took the stage with great enthusiasm, treating us to a retro, blues-rock sound reminiscent of the era we would inhabit for the evening. After the first song, vocalist Jay Buchanan said “We’re the Rival Sons, and we play rock and roll music.” And so they did, the they being Buchanan; Scott Holiday, lead guitar; Dave Beste, bass; Mike Miley, drums; and touring musician Todd Ögren-Brooks, keyboards.
I’d heard some of their music, and was curious how they’d fit the bill. I found that they recalled the 70s era and literally set the stage for Black Sabbath. Later, Buchanan dedicated their song “Fade Out” to a friend of his who’d passed away, and his gentle charisma made the audience feel the way you feel when a friend has lost a friend. We were all in after that.
This review would be incomplete without saying that Jay Buchanan has a voice and a half-a touch of Paul Rogers here, a touch of Robert Plant there, and touch of Glenn Hughes everywhere. I wonder if this touch of Glenn Hughes played a role in Rival Sons getting the nod. Maybe Tony and Jay will work together after The End. Anyway, they played a great set with some stylistic range and warmed up an already warm night with this setlist:
- Electric Man
- Pressure and Time
- Hollow Bones Pt. 1
- Fade Out
- Open My Eyes
- Keep On Swinging
A Review of The End-Headliner Black Sabbath
Call me predictable. Call me a fan boy who has never quite gotten over the stirring compositions and menacing riffs unleashed onto his consciousness by the first hearing of his first Black Sabbath album. My main reason for going to was see Tony Iommi play. Watching Tony play live again had been my deepest wish for many, many years, and in more recent times I have been formulating a hypothesis which posits that Tony Iommi is as much a composer-in the classical sense-as he is a musician. When I was ushered to my seat and saw that it was stage right, about 6 rows back, I actually went weak in the knees. It was perfect. Maybe I would gather the crucial data to upgrade my hypothesis to a theory.
After all, with a seat like this, I would see every chord, every bend, every trill, every “shake.” “The Shake,” as I call it, is when he puts vibrato on a power chord. It’s a hallmark of his playing and an important element of the Sabbath sound.
Data Collection-The Show Begins
The show began, as it apparently does for this tour, with a video of evil beings ending the world as the rain and bell sound effect from “Black Sabbath” played.
Then the guys took the stage and the real thunder began. There may never again be anything like the tri-tone of “Black Sabbath.”
The guys all looked terrific, and you may not imagine that when you realize that the original three members are all past traditional retirement age. They entered in the order they stand-Geezer first, then Ozzy, then Tony. When Tony came out, I felt like I was under a spell. More on that later.
The sound was magnificent-loud but clear-with perfect tone and perfect separation. Most songs were just a little slower and heavier than the studio versions, creating a darkness within the darkness of the clear summer night we were all blessed with, a hand of doom pulling us into the void that exists after forever and behind the wall of sleep that all children of the grave inevitably face.
The setlist only left the first three albums three times, and one of those was the studio version of “Zeitgeist” off 13 played as exit music. The setlist included:
- Black Sabbath
- Fairies Wear Boots
- After Forever
- Into the Void
- War Pigs
- Behind the Wall of Sleep (with ‘Wasp’ intro)
- N.I.B. (with ‘Bassically’ intro)
- Hand of Doom
- Rat Salad (with Tommy Clufetos drum solo)
- Iron Man
- Dirty Women
- Children of the Grave (with ‘Embryo’ intro)
- Zeitgeist (recoding, exit music)
Geezer Butler entered first. Geezer was all business. His playing was spot on, and he was a staid anchor throughout the show, belying the unsettling and penetrating images his lyrics evoked throughout the show and in the minds of fans for decades.
Ozzy Osbourne was next. Ozzy was Ozzy, but a mature and clear Ozzy. His energy never faltered, but his voice did here and there as the show wore on-never to the point of distraction and certainly not as much as one might expect from someone who has strained at the top of his range for fifty years.
He stomped his feet to the riffs and he was all smiles, constantly telling us all that they loved us. He encouraged us to sing verses and riffs in all the old familiar places and to chant “Hey” here and there. He managed the show well, introducing the songs and the other band members with very little banter. It seemed a bit scripted, perhaps for legacy purposes.
Toni Iommi-The Man, The Master, The Legend
And then Tony Iommi appeared-a figure in black. I could feel his presence from my seat. Time stood still. I could hardly breathe. I just could not believe I was finally realizing my dream of seeing him perform his compositions.
Tony had us in mind in the opening song, “Black Sabbath.” He extended the solo to three times its normal duration, knowing that we would certainly want an extra dose of his playing right away.
As I watched, I started to note his odd way of fingering, which deepened his distinctiveness. As I said earlier, it was like being under a spell. It goes without saying that his playing was spot on and his moments of improvisation worked every time. But the playing was only part of the picture. From the moment he took the stage, I felt as if I was in the presence of someone with a greater understanding of music and emotion and eternity: a composer in the classical sense. Would witnessing him play his creations round out my hypothesis? He walked around some, never crossing past the drummer’s stand. Most of the time, he focused on his playing with an almost Zen-like calmness. He played the heaviest, most unsettling riffs, ripped solos that covered the fretboard (sometimes sliding up a string very fast), and shook power chords with such force that the rest of the world seemed to vibrate, and yet he himself maintained a measured demeanor.
A Surprise Confirms a Hypothesis
And then-AND THEN-he would do something that I could never have anticipated. I’ve always considered Tony Iommi an extraordinarily serious man with an unparalleled intellect and an intuition that gives him a special gift for understanding the uneasiness in people and making music that draws it out and lets us see it.
As I watched him playing a riff or a solo or an improvisation-anything that would constitute an identifiable segment of a song- I noticed that he would approach the edge of the stage, look at someone in the audience with an aura of goodwill radiating from his features, finish that part of the song…and smile and nod at the person he’d chosen. He did it again and again.
I wondered: What was he trying to say? He had such a friendly expression on his face. It was a little like he meant to say “There you are; I like that part too,” knowing that we were familiar with his work and waiting for each part and that he somehow understood the gift it was to us. It was a little like he meant to say “I wrote that, isn’t it something,” not in a boastful way but like he was sharing something so interesting to him that he hoped we were interested in it too. It was a little like he meant to say “I’m so glad to be here playing this music for you, and this smile and nod is my way of saying ‘thanks for the opportunity.’”
I was not prepared for the openness and joy he expressed. Somehow, I missed it. Somehow, I missed the fact that his intuition must also work for the other emotions, and that he divined the exuberant emotions of the audience at a live show and shared them back with that smile and nod.
This is what rounds out my hypothesis. This smile and nod were not random acts. They punctuated identifiable segments of his songs. It is the approach a composer would take. He knew what parts of his compositions people would respond to and acknowledged that understanding. The archetypal darkness and pain that his riffs bring forth when we listen privately transmogrified into an archetypal joy at the show, the joy we all experience when we share a deep feeling with another person. Surely, Tony could not help but feel it, and he was sharing it with thousands of us. Surely, that aura of goodwill came from it.
As the last tones faded and the band took their curtain call, the light struck them as I took this picture, capturing them with a ghostly glistening that the audience reached out toward. They move on to retirement after The End, and for most intents and purposes, they will exist for us as ghosts-haunting our hearts with a heavy happiness that only spirits can sufficiently sustain: Spirits born of music and made ethereal and eternal in our very being through recurring electric resurrection until The End comes for each of us.
Written by Dr. Metal (aka Martin Jacobsen, Ph.D.)