Good­bye, for good, to Black Sab­bath

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - CHRISTO­PHER D. SHEA

BIRM­ING­HAM, ENG­LAND — On Satur­day night at the Gent­ing Arena here, a bil­low­ing white cur­tain whipped up and into the ceil­ing to re­veal singer Ozzy Os­bourne, who, for per­haps the last time as the front­man of Black Sab­bath, plunged into the 1970 song that gave the band its name.

The track kicked off the fi­nal con­cert on a tour called “The End,” which the heavy-metal band has billed as its last per­for­mances. Af­ter 49 years, the group — which formed here in 1968 and has had dra­matic ups and downs and a ro­tat­ing ros­ter of mem­bers — fi­nally threw in the towel with a home­town con­cert.

“Let’s go crazy,” Os­bourne yelled to the crowd, adding an ex­ple­tive early in the con­cert, be­fore turn­ing in thrash­ing ren­di­tions of the band’s well-known songs, in­clud­ing “War Pigs,” “Into the Void” and “Iron Man,” and deeper cuts like the in­stru­men­tal “Rat Salad.”

Fans and mem­bers of the news me­dia were buzzing be­fore the con­cert with rumours of pos­si­ble an­tics and sur­prises — per­haps even an ap­pear­ance by the orig­i­nal drum­mer, Bill Ward, es­tranged from the group since 2012. But Black Sab­bath played it straight, turn­ing in al­most two hours of its ear­li­est 1960s and ‘70s songs, pretty much unadul­ter­ated (but, of course, quite loud). Flanked by the orig­i­nal band mem­bers Tony Iommi (on gui­tar) and Geezer But­ler (on bass) and backed by Tommy Clufe­tos, a younger drum­mer who re­joined them for the tour, Os­bourne stood cen­tre stage and clutched the mi­cro­phone, un­du­lat­ing back and forth as he sang.

There were py­rotech­nics for the big num­bers, con­fetti at the end, and at one point a sur­prise vol­ley of fire­works on­stage. Gi­ant black and pur­ple bal­loons spilled from the ceil­ing in the penul­ti­mate song, and bounced around the arena for the rest of the night.

Nearly a half-cen­tury ago, Black Sab­bath be­gan as a blues band. It quickly mor­phed into its own genre. In the band’s early years, its slow-build­ing an­thems and vague over­tures to­ward Satanism in its lyrics earned them ridicule from main­stream crit­ics and au­di­ences while mo­bi­liz­ing a grow­ing un­der­ground fan base. Os­bourne gained a rep­u­ta­tion as a for­bid­ding fig­ure who em­braced hard liv­ing, and gained no­to­ri­ety for bit­ing off the head of a real bat dur­ing a 1982 con­cert.

But Os­bourne’s fame un­der­went a sur­pris­ing shift when he be­gan star­ring in the 2002 MTV re­al­ity TV show “The Os­bournes,” which por­trayed him as a lov­able, mur­mur­ing goof­ball and fam­ily man.

On Satur­day, the crowd was dot­ted with diehard fans decked out in head-to-foot Black Sab­bath re­galia. But most con­cert­go­ers wore their fan­dom more lightly: One man in a Black Sab­bath shirt who de­clined to give his name said he worked in fi­nan­cial ser­vices in Lon­don and read an is­sue of The Econ­o­mist in the mo­ments be­fore the lights went down. By the time Os­bourne hit the cli­max of “Black Sab­bath,” the magazine was tucked away and the man was on his feet with his hands raised in the shape of devil’s horns, singing glee­fully along to the lyrics: “Satan’s sit­ting there, he’s smil­ing/ Watches those flames get higher and higher.”

The band has al­ways iden­ti­fied as rough and tum­ble, al­ter­na­tive, work­ing class and dis­tinctly Birm­ing­hamian, so the home­town con­cert had spe­cial res­o­nance for some in the au­di­ence on Satur­day.

“Black Sab­bath are part of the cul­tural iden­tity of be­ing in Birm­ing­ham,” said Pamela Pin­ski, 31, who lives and works in the area. Com­ing to the con­cert, she added, felt “kind of pa­tri­otic to the city,” and like a chance to cel­e­brate “lo­cal boys that done good.”


Ozzy Os­bourne per­formed for per­haps the last time as the front­man of Black Sab­bath Satur­day in Birm­ing­ham, Eng­land.

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