This is the end, my friend...
LET’S GO FUCKING CRAZY!!
Can that be the last time we’ll be exhorted to do just that by heavy metal’s clown prince of darkness, Ozzy Osbourne? Can it really?
Probably not, because he’s saying it mid way through Black Sabbath’s opening song on this, the last night of the last tour of the ‘classic’ iteration of da Sabs. I’m sure he’ll say it at least 30 times during the rest of the night, but it really is a night for dwelling on those sort of statements. Is it really the end?
Well, surely there’ll be a reformation of the Tony Martin version of the band, even if Cozy Powell is no longer here (lets hope so – Headless Cross-loving Ed.), but for tonight we are here to lay down our souls – the ones we sold to rock n’roll – for one last time. And Ozzy’s here too, revving up the old battle cry as the warhorse behind him rumbles into action one final time. Black Sabbath makes for an eerie opener, malevolent, sure, but almost timid, too, almost as if the band too don’t want this to be the final time, not yet… but it is, and once the band is really into its stride – about half way through second offering Fairies Wear Boots, there’s no turning, or looking, back.
Tony Iommi is here too, cranking out the riffs that birthed a genre, hell, generation after generation of genres, actually, with all the seemingly careless panache of the truly blessed. ‘He keeps coming up with riffs’ says Ozzy of the great man later when he introduces the band after Snowblind and I doubt if a truer word ever came out of his Ozzness’ brummie word hole. Geezer Butler’s here too, of course, the king of rock solid four string composition, the master lyricist who loads the cannons for Ozzy to fire. And up the back, well, it’s the much maligned Tommy Clufetos…
I don’t think there’s a single person in Birmingham’s Genting Arena tonight who doesn’t wish it was Bill Ward up on that riser at the back of the stage, but for whatever reason – or probable raft of the buggers – he ain’t, so why don’t we just let Tommy get on and play? He’s a good drummer – not as good as Vinnie Appice maybe, certainly not as good as Mike Bordin or a whole host of others who might have done the job – but he’s Ozzy n’ Sharon’s man, so he’s in and on After Forever he’s doing a grand job, beating the proverbial out of his way in as unobtrusive a manner as it’s possible for a drummer to muster.
Likewise Adam Wakeman, who is offstage providing keyboard colour in the Geoff Nicholls role; Nicholls sadly passed into the void less than a week before this show after acting as a loyal sideman and foil to Iommi for many, many years, and though it would have been nice to see him up there with his old buddy one more time Wakeman does a fine job.
Did I mention Into the Void? Ozzy has us all counting the song in at the tops of our lungs repeating the command 1-2-3!! like a hyperactive toddler revelling in the realisation that grown ups are doing what he tells them to… Into the Void is delivered in sledgehammer fashion tonight, and when the song speeds up midway through the first concerted bout of mass headbanging breaks out around me. We’ve been bottling it up for twenty minutes –so let’s go fucking crazy!
After that things get even crazier – Snowblind is, frankly, fucking immense, possibly thanks to Wakeman’s keys actually breaking into the mix and fleshing out the sound a bit more fully, and the audiences’ reciprocation of this upping of the ante results in instigating Ozzy’s first admittance of the night that he ‘loves us all’, a statement greeted with an absolute tsunami of love in return.
Intros dispensed with, War Pigs is up next, the sirens announcing another apocalyptic Iommi masterclass. Geezer adds some nice licks – the man seriously is as important to four string history as Iommi is to six – and we then do Ozzy’s job for him by singing those famous first verse lyrics one more time. And clapping. We do a lot of clapping at the man’s bidding during this song too.
The atmosphere is getting a little looser now, it’s a party rather than a wake, and the band, well rehearsed – rehearsed to within an inch of their lives probably – do seem to feed off of this with an upping of onstage performance.
‘OH YEAH!!’ … We’re singing oh yeah! Loudly, which can only mean we’re helping Ozzy out with N.I.B., and loving every minute of it. If his name is indeed Lucifer, then I’ve never met a more avuncular satanic representation as Ozzy; by now he’s involved us all in the show, seriously defying his advancing years and rickety limbs with an entirely loveable ring leading performance. His voice sounds surprisingly strong, too, after 80-odd shows on this tour, but to be honest we’d forgive the great man anything tonight. If he’s croaked his shopping list through a megaphone I and everyone around me would have sung along, so the fact his voice appears to be in fine fettle is just another thing to celebrate on this night of nights.
Ozzy disappears after a squalling Hand of Doom and the rest of the band rip through Supernaut, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Megalomania unvocalled. It’s a shame for me that Sabbath Bloody Sabbath doesn’t get the full band treatment as it’s my fave Sabs song but it’s great to hear that monstrous riff a couple of times more.
Rat Salad is followed by Clufetos’ opportunity to showcase himself – and another chance for Ozzy to suck in some big ones – and then we’re into the home straight. Or should that be the retirement home straight? Sorry. Iron Man rumbles and thunders just as you’d expect it – Iommi wrings out a truly marvellous solo at the end, Ozzy still jogging about like the red fizzy drink is still coursing through him – and then it’s Dirty Women. A strange choice if you ask me, as it calms the crowd down a bit but then again, that’s exactly what it does and it probably stops a fair few thousand from hyperventilating before getting the chance to see Children of the Grave draw the set proper to a rapturously-received close.
And low and behold, that’s just the reception it got, that galumphing, elephantine gallop inspiring us on for one more headbang/clapping bout/bad dancing outbreak/expensive beer spillage in the name of Satan. Paranoid of course, ends things, the big black n’purple beach ball/balloon things bouncing around the arena and slightly demeaning everything but what the hey, this is a celebration after all.
The song finishes, our weary heroes, arms around each others’ stooped shoulders, tread the lip of the stage accepting our adoration for one final time.
And that’s it. They’re done, we’re done, an immense, century-spanning chapter of heavy metal history closes. It’s over.