This time they are billing it as ‘The End’ – the final time Black Sabbath (or at least 75% of the original band) will tour. For contractual reasons as we all know, drummer Bill Ward is not involved; his drum stool is taken by Tommy Clufetos. Original members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are present and correct, accompanied by touring keyboardist Adam Wakeman for this final run of dates before the group retire from the road. Having scored a number one hit album (’13’) only a couple of years ago, it does seem odd that they are to bring the curtain down but with guitarist Iommi having battled lymphoma in recent years (as of 2016 he is in remission) and the other guys not exactly in their first flush of youth themselves, it’s likely this really will be ‘The End’.
I found myself in Budapest to see the first show of this leg, as a friend had asked me along back when the show was announced late last year. The band’s only scheduled UK date was headlining the Saturday night at Download, and as I like to think my festival-going days are behind me now, the idea of seeing them in a more ‘regular’ indoor arena appealed more, plus it afforded the opportunity of visiting a city I’d never been to before.
When we arrived at the arena, we found ourselves at the side of the stage on Iommi’s side in the last two seats in the row. So it was an almost 90-degree view of the stage, but reasonably close. Upon entering the support Rival Sons were already on, and we only caught the last few numbers of their set. When I saw these guys in Liverpool last year I thought they played well enough but was disappointed by the lack of interaction with the crowd, especially from vocalist Jay Buchanan. Although I didn’t see their whole set here, it was apparent to me that he’d been working on that aspect since then. He doesn’t need to make Springsteen-esque speeches, just a few salutations between songs will do the trick. He was actually looking at the audience more, and as a result what I saw of their performance came across a lot better in this big arena than the last time I saw them in a 1200-capacity venue.
The lights went down at 9pm on the dot as a projected show appeared on the curtain covering the main stage. This was difficult to view clearly from our spot but that hardly mattered once that curtain dropped and Black Sabbath were stood there on the stage. They chose to open with ‘Black Sabbath’ before playing a set loaded with classic tracks, mostly taken from their first three albums.
Surprisingly, there was nothing played from ’13’ and some of the selections (for example ‘Hand of Doom’, ‘Behind The Wall of Sleep’, even ‘N.I.B.’) could probably have been swapped with more fondly-remembered classics such as ‘Symptom Of The Universe’ and ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’. I did note the irony of ‘N.I.B.’ being played, since the title is reportedly inspired by original drummer Bill Ward’s ‘nib-shaped beard’ which he sported at the time of recording. Only ‘Dirty Women’ (from ‘Technical Ecstasy’) and ‘Snowblind’ (from ‘Vol. 4’) came from any of the albums after ‘Master of Reality’, so it seemed a little strange that they’d choose so much early material for their final tour rather than a selection covering their whole recorded career.
Regardless of the material selected for the set, it was all delivered very well. Ozzy can be a bit hit and miss live as we all know, but this was one of his better nights, he wandered off key now and again but his vocal this night was much stronger than on some occcasions when I’ve seen him before. Iommi was of course imperious, serving up classic riff after classic riff while bassist Geezer Butler is always a treat to watch, not only providing the platform for Iommi but giving us many tasty little fills of his own. While I was certainly one of those who was disappointed at the failure to include Bill Ward in this latest Sabbath reunion, there’s no denying Tommy Clufetos does a fine job in his stead. His is a completely different style, being of the ‘hit ’em and they stay hit’ school of drumming, so the groove of the original band is lessened a little in favour of a more Metal delivery. I’ve seen the original Sabbath (complete with Ward) twice before, and this was definitely a heavier performance than on either of those occasions which I put down to the change of sticksman.
Another thing which struck me was how energetic Ozzy was, stomping the stage and repeatedly headbanging (when not chucking his buckets of water over the audience, and on himself!) – for a man of 67 with well-documented health problems of his own, that was quite a revelation. If this is the end of Sabbath, I’d bet it isn’t the end of Ozzy as a solo act just yet. Early on in the set, he made a point of namechecking all the players – including unseen keyboardist Adam Wakeman – and ensuring they all got a cheer from the crowd. The fact he chose to acknowledge Wakeman’s contribution did suggest he didn’t agree with the decision to put the keyboard player behind a curtain, but that’s probably something he should discuss with his manager 😉
Small quibbles aside, this was a very good show, ideally suited for the arena setting. We are coming to the end of an era with 70s rock bands such as Sabbath finally calling it a day as they near their own 70s, and when all the greats from those days have brought the curtain down for the last time we will know whether or not the later generation of bands who all cited the liked of Black Sabbath as influences, can both fill huge venues and hold on to their appeal as long as Sabbath have. Whether they can or not, Sabbath and other bands of that period will be very much missed in the years to come.
Black Sabbath have since announced a ‘final, final’ UK tour to take place in early 2017. The dates were leaked by a fan who had been handed a flyer at Download, advertising the tour with confirmation coming through on the Monday after their headline appearance on the Saturday.
The UK tour dates are as follows:
- 22 January 2017 – Manchester Arena
- 24 January 2017 – SSE Hydro, Glasgow
- 26 January 2017 – First Direct Arena, Leeds
- 29 January 2017 – o2 Arena, London
- 31 January 2017 – o2 Arena, London
- 2 February 2017 – Genting Arena (NEC), Birmingham
- 4 February 2017 – Genting Arena (NEC), Birmingham
Tickets are on sale from Friday, 17th June although o2 Priority holders can access a pre-sale from Wednesday 15th June.