“You’re all special, man, I love you all!”
“I’ll give you a round of applause!”
“Good to see you f***ers, it really is!”
Two of those three statements sound like they could have come from Mister Rogers addressing his adoring audience. The third: not so much! But, in fact, all three are from the mouth of Ozzy Osbourne and were directed at the thousands of metal faithful who came to see Black Sabbath during their New Jersey stop this past Sunday (Aug. 4).
Sabbath may never be a PBS-approved band (even if Ozzy has appeared on Sesame Street), but Ozzy’s stage banter touches on part of the reason that 60-somethings playing music that is mostly four decades old can sell out a huge venue like New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center.
Heavy metal – the music invented by Sabbath 43 years ago on their 1970 self-titled debut – may be a bit more mainstream than it used to be. But it still is music for outsiders and rebels. And when they come together for a show like this, it’s like a gathering of misfits. And quite a gathering it was: the venue was packed to capacity, with legions of ticketless fans outside trying to find someone selling a spare.
A few questions beg to be asked, though, regarding a Black Sabbath concert in 2013. For starters, how does Tony Iommi look? And how is his playing?
Well, he looked great. The Dark Lord of the Riff even allowed himself a couple of grins and a few outright smiles. And his playing was stellar. He attacked every riff, and every solo, as if it might be the last time he played it. And there’s a good reason for that: Having survived lymphoma (he still returns to England for chemo treatments), he literally stared down death and walked away. Of course, this is a guy who didn’t stop playing guitar, even after two of his fingertips were chopped off in a factory accident.
But Bill Ward wasn’t there, and his drums are such an essential part of the early Sabbath sound. Does it feel like Black Sabbath without him?
To be sure, it’s a disappointment that Sabbath’s founding drummer hasn’t been involved with the 13 album or tour. Rumors have circulated that, when this reunion was in its early phases, his drumming wasn’t up to par. He denies this. But whatever the case may be, Tommy Clufetos, from Ozzy’s solo band, does an incredible job. The hard truth is, while Bill’s drumming may have a bit more nuance, he probably couldn’t have matched Clufetos’ powerful performance.
If you had to make a comparison, try this one. When you see The Who in concert, they’re great in part because they have a great drummer in Zak Starkey. Is he Keith Moon? No. But he is an incredible drummer who powers the engine that lets Townshend and Daltrey to shine on stage. Same deal with Clufetos.
OK, so how were the new songs from 13?