Minutes before the Ronnie James Dio-fronted iteration of Black Sabbath hit the stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Friday, an announcement came over the PA. "Tickets are on sale now for Dora The Explorer and Thomas The Tank Engine," the friendly female voice boomed. It went on to say something about Harry Connick, Jr. but the crowd of aging metal-heads wasn't having it -- particularly the guy in front of me wearing the "It Isn't Going To Suck Itself" t-shirt. "SAAAABAAAAATH!" came the pained yells. One forty-something fan held his cane high in the air, as if asking for Dio to heal him. His other hand was clenched into the Dio-patented devil sign: "DIIIIIOOOOO!" When the band finally burst onto the stage -- which was decorated to look like an abandoned grave yard -- and burst into the 1992 obscurity "After All (the Dead)," it was as if Ozzy-era Sabbath had never happened.
Let's get one thing out of the way: Black Sabbath made better albums with Ozzy Osbourne. They'll never touch Master of Reality or Paranoid. That said, the Dio era is vastly underappreciated. Heaven and Hell was better than anything Sabbath had done since the early 1970s and Dio was an amazing front man who brought a completely different kind of energy to the band. Furthermore, as even Tony Iommi admitted on VH1 the other day, the Ozzy-era songs have been "played to death" since the group reformed ten years ago. How many times can you do the same eleven songs? This was a reunion whose time had come and (dare I say it?) was a better show than the last time I saw Sabbath with Ozzy.
The set list was drawn entirely from the three Dio-helmed albums, plus a couple new songs from the forthcoming Dio Years compilation. The guy behind me was pissed they didn't play "N.I.B. and shit," but nobody else seemed to mind. Highlight included a frenzied "Die Young," a show closing "Neon Knights" and an extra long version of their epic masterpiece "Heaven and Hell," perhaps the greatest Sabbath song of any era.
At sixty-four, Dio looks something like what I imagine the Crypt Keeper to have looked like shortly before he died, but his voice is still extraordinarily strong. Tony Iommi, on the other hand, is absolutely ageless. The only current bandmember who's been in every incarnation of Sabbath, Iommi -- clad in his standard immaculate black suit with a gigantic cross around his neck -- spent the night stalking the right-hand side of the stage, looking and playing like he just stepped out of 1974.
After the final encore, the crowd spilled onto the street, still loudly singing the refrain of "Heaven and Hell" as they walked down 6th Avenue. I've never seen anything like it -- and neither had the late-night businessmen who looked on in utter disbelief as if we were an invading hoard bent on taking over the city.
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