Published on April 21st, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant2
Concert Review: Black Sabbath – Saskatoon
Black Sabbath rolled across the Canadian prairie last week — was it a crummy cash in nostalgia tour or something you’ll tell your kids about?
Since Black Sabbath are in their 60s, I bought tickets to this concert with certain skeptical questions in my head. Would this be a tired nostalgia show with a bunch of old ass has-beens trying to cash in? Or would it be one of the last great late era gigs before the inevitability of time starts to pick off the original members? Would I be able to look back on this show in 20 years, after a couple of beers, a glassy faraway look in my eyes and tell my kid, “Yeah, I saw Sabbath, man. It was everything you’d imagine.” As the tour started rolling across the expanse of Canada towards the West, I heard mixed reviews — or rather, I heard complaints about 2013 shows, but really promising early reviews of Halifax and Montreal on this current tour. I hoped that this meant they were on their game these days, having worked out any rust that dogged them last year.
Before we talk about the show itself, I have to mention the ticket buying system. This has little to do with the band, and more to do with Ticketmaster, but if we’re talking about the concert experience that bands want you to have, then it’s worth mentioning. I didn’t get a press pass for this show, but I did get an early pre-order password, so I bought tickets before they went on sale to the general public. I bought three tickets at mid-range price (so, not the priciest seats, but also not the cheapest), choosing ‘best available.’ When we got to the show and found our seats, they were inexplicably in nosebleed country, literally the stadium ceiling top row behind the catwalk. Now, I knew that at the mid-range price, they weren’t going to be amazing seats, but in what world are pre-sale ‘best available’ seats at the worst spot in the arena? I could see having a harder time finding ten seats together, but three? Where would the cheaper tickets have put us? In the parking lot? Suffice to say that less and less people will pay to see concerts like this if the experience stops measuring up.
Looking on the bright side, though we couldn’t see the entire screen behind the band very well (so we only caught a piece of the fight scene from Superfly and other visuals up there), it was actually a cool bird’s eye view of a rock concert world. We had a terrific panoramic shot of an epic rock concert laser show, a stoked crowd throwing up the irons and cheering, and a few unruly customers getting dragged out by security. Sabbath have enjoyed a resurgence in the last few years, so there were a wide swath of music fans, from young skids coming to pay homage to the masters, to old burner dudes, reliving their glory days.
I was blown away by Tony and Geezer. Guitarist Tony Iommi shredded with the skill and confidence of his younger self, and arthritis hasn’t set in for the nimble hands of bassist Geezer Butler. He was doing some crazy, jazz-inspired heavy bass runs, fingers like little birds, pecking up and down the neck. The set list itself focused mostly on their best period, the early days, with a few forays into material from the latest album.
The drunkest guy in town, planted next to me, kept assuring me, “that’s fucking Ozzy, man!” Ozzy himself was pretty on his game; sure, his hands were visibly shaking on the big screen and he was off key here and there, but for the most part he did a great job of sustaining his vocal duties, as well as wrangling the crowd. It was a bit comical to watch him shuffle around stage like your grandpa in slippers, especially in a moment where he needed to switch mics and hurried to one end of the stage. He also had a strange sunflower dance where he’d throw his arms in the air and sway from side to side or shamble towards the crowd, arms outstretched awkwardly in a zombie grandpa hug. There was a landing strip of theatre walkway lighting on the perimeter of the stage, presumably so no one would walk too far forward with bad eyesight and fall off.
I point this out not to make fun of them, but simply because it was part of the show. To the real naysayers that can’t stop talking shit about how old these guys are — give them a break. They’re in their 60s. Let’s see you command an arena audience and rock like a 23-year-old when you’re pushing 70. I almost had a heart attack climbing the stairs to the cheap seats and I’m half Ozzy’s age.
Speaking of naysayers, I’d also mention the wringer drummer, Tommy Clufetos (he’s Ozzy’s solo band drummer too), who shirtless, long-haired, and bearded, looked a bit like Conan the Destroyer. No, it’s not original drummer Bill Ward as some are complaining about, and yes, Ozzy wouldn’t let Ward come on the tour because he was too fat (though Ward denies that his weight has affected his drumming). Clufetos played all the original parts well, even if the whole drum solo was a smoke screen for the older dudes to go get a blast of oxygen and for Ozzy to change into another bedazzled Dolly Parton shirt.
The best thing I heard said about the show afterwards was that it looked like the band was having fun. This didn’t feel like a cash-raking chore to be done to cover some tax problems or buy new swimming pools. Ozzy, Tony, and Geezer looked like they were having a blast, which translated to the audience having a good time. Even from the cheap seats, Black Sabbath was not a cheap nostalgia show — it was one of the best heavy bands of all time throwing down like the did when they were kids.