|Venue:||Birmingham O2 Academy|
|Website:||Help For Heroes|
It's an understatement to say that the build-up to this one-off hometown charity gig/ Download warm-up was somewhat overshadowed by the events surrounding the absence of founding drummer Bill Ward. I'm not going to pipette another viewpoint into that ocean of speculation and anger, but yes, it can't be the complete homecoming that would have happened if all corners of the Sabbath square were joined; there will always that sour note attached. It's doubly sad given Tony Iommi's great fortitude in committing to these gigs while undergoing lymphoma treatment.
The show goes on though, and we've been lucky enough to get hold of tickets for the unreserved balcony of Birmingham's compact Academy. I might be carrying a bout of the gastric shits, but I'm not missing out on a pilgrimage to metal Mecca; I've never felt such keen excitement in seeing the concrete tower blocks of Aston loom into view under slate-grey skies...these songs might never be played in such a cosy setting again. Tonight, it feels like the centre of the universe. This is still a golden ticket.
'Into the Void' launches into the fast part and it's all a bit difficult to take in...I'm having one of those awe-stricken rock moments I'd assumed were well behind me. Ozzy stalks the stage, wide-eyed and maniacal, Iommi languidly radiating the heaviest vibe on earth. The floor is surging and seething like a 70's football terrace. It's all within spitting distance, and the band seem to be buzzing off the compact intensity of the experience as much as I am.
There are no projections or pyrotechnics; these fucking songs capture all your senses without props: 'Snowblind' a slowly dying star, 'The Wizard' sticky, green and pungent enough to make me squint, with Ozzy's harmonica work as impressive as his commanding vocal delivery. And 'Black Sabbath' cements its place as the first and last proper metal song, the devil's tone refined to the bare essentials, before that galloping bass note cuts through to usher in a downerdelic wargasm.
A daunting task for replacement drummer Tommy Clufetos tonight, then; It's not that he hasn't played Black Sabbath songs before, but like anyone coming in, he's learned these songs rather than played an active part in their gestation. His style seems more blunt and forceful than Bill's innovative groove, but overall he does a magnificent job dovetailing with Geezer's Panzer attack and heathen embellishments. The drum solo, however, is one of those occasions when I don't know where to look; it can't be begrudged, as it's an opportunity for the rest of the band to towel off in preparation for the big finale, but it's an awkward moment given the circumstances.
We're all DOOOOOMED; 'JG-J-JGA-J-JG-J-JGA-J': the sound of a bottom string slackened off to C#, chugging out the bowel-quaking riff to 'Children of the Grave'. Bedlam ensues. There have been harsher bands than Sabbath, more extreme bands; but none as heavy. See, for me heaviness is about how all the elements work together to communicate a feeling that locks you in. The trippy, thrashy, doomy or even poppy elements speak to you rather than just shout at you. Or to put it another way, great songs that break all the rules, carry supreme destructive power, but remain great songs. During 'Electric Funeral', when I'm not flexing my neck like a slow-motion Beavis , I look down at the band. Rather than contorting and grimacing in soil-yourself melodrama, the faces are full of innocent glee, as if to say: 'Yeah. Have some of this.'
The whole band get raucous ovations, but special acclaim is reserved for Tony Iommi. Tonight, he channels the shitstorm of negativity and fear around him into the genius of his cabinet-blowing riffs. It's a proper gig: loud, raw, full of intent; not the cabaret pension top-up you'd see from so many reformed acts. And Sabbath sound hungry, right through to the familiar clatter that ends 'Paranoid'. I hope they can pull off an album that stands up alongside their fearsome canon. Most of all, I hope the original line-up can find a way of communicating with each other face-to-face rather than through legal representatives, to put all this unsavoury bickering behind them. But then, the inner workings of Sabbath have rarely been all sweetness and light. It could never be perfect without Bill, but I think I still got to see and hear the best band ever, unimpeded by flags or the smell of dodgy burger joints, undiluted by vast open space.
Posted: Sun 20 May 2012