“Are you having fun?!” Ozzy Osbourne bellowed into his mic after he and his Black Sabbath bandmates played “War Pigs” at last night’s hometown gig in Birmingham, U.K. Then he smiled widely. “I nearly said, ‘Should we come back and do it again?’ [Pregnant pause] We’re not.”
The concert marked the last show of Black Sabbath’s farewell tour, “The End,” before a sold-out audience at Birmingham’s 16,000-seat Genting Arena. It was a nearly two-hour spectacle of primal hard rock and heavy metal by the genre’s most prominent pioneers. The group, which also includes guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler, had been plundering its way around the world since last January, including two lengthy U.S. tour legs, but it was fate that they would end things, 49 years after forming in the city’s Aston neighborhood, at a venue roughly half an hour from the pub where they cut their teeth as heavy-minded blues heads.
Accordingly, the set was made up mostly of songs from the group’s earliest days – “Black Sabbath,” “N.I.B.,” “War Pigs” – a time when the band members thought the bottom could fall out of their music career and then, as Osbourne told Rolling Stone, it would be “back to [work in] the fucking factory.” But as the deafening crowd proved, they had created a sound, a genre, a feeling that could transcend decades.
Beginning with their crushing mission statement, “Black Sabbath” – a number intended to scare the bejesus out of listeners the same way Boris Karloff spooked moviegoers – the group kicked off a night of stunning, foundation-shaking classics. There was no pageantry, no vainglory, no emotional displays – it was simply a perfectly performed symphony of weighty riffs, highlighted with walls of fire and flames on the backline, a bunch of black-and-purple balloons and tons of confetti.
There were also no special guests. Although fans had speculated that there may be an appearance by original drummer Bill Ward, who exited the group over a contract dispute just after the group’s 2011 reunion was announced, he did not show. Instead, the group’s drummer for the entire tour, Tommy Clufetos, who looks a bit like Ward did in the Seventies with his headband, dutifully played Ward’s parts as well as a marvelous drum solo.
The set list included hits like “Iron Man” and “Paranoid,” as well as a selection of deep cuts. And even though the group, which reunited with Osbourne in 1997 after a succession of singers like Ronnie James Dio and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, had recorded the chart-topping comeback album 13 in 2013, they focused their material on their first decade. Other than an instrumental medley of sections from the group’s mid-Seventies releases – Vol. 4’s “Supernaut,” Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’s title tune and Sabotage’s “Megalomania” – the group stuck mostly to tunes from their first four albums, especially their 1970 breakthrough LP Paranoid.
Osbourne’s voice was strong throughout, and the musicians, which also included off-stage guitarist and keyboardist Adam Wakeman, played the set with verve – Iommi even embellished his solos a little and gave his all, his bethimbled fingers dancing up and down his guitar’s neck, to the outro to Technical Ecstasy‘s “Dirty Women.” It was nearly the same collection of songs the group had been playing for the last year and a half, but it was all performed so brilliantly that the audience would have been hard pressed to complain.
On the contrary, the crowd was a mix of excited Birmingham natives (“Brummies”) and travelers from around the world. Some raucous concertgoers were blowing whistles and shouting “heavy metal!!” in the hall before openers Rival Sons (who played with Sabbath on every date of the tour and whose singer called the gig “un-fucking-believable” onstage) even started. Other concertgoers waved inflatable pigs with “War Pigs” written on them throughout the entire concert.
The group’s fans were also central to the farewell speech given by Osbourne. “So it’s the final show,” he said. “And I’ve got to tell you something, what a journey we’ve all had. It’s fucking amazing. We started this in 1968 and now it’s 2017 – I don’t fucking believe that shit, man. But you know what? We would not survive if it wasn’t for the fan base. So if you’re a veteran fan, great. If you’re new, welcome. But I can’t tell you enough how grateful we are for your support.”
And while the crowd cheered loudly after each song and pounded their feet on the stadium floor during Osbourne’s bandmate introductions, it seemed like the people who were enjoying the gig the most were Black Sabbath themselves. Each of the three had broad smiles on for most of the show, and Osbourne and Iommi (who wore a Birmingham T-shirt under his blazer) would often make funny faces at one another. Butler, who has always maintained a mostly stoic persona onstage, even grinned and beamed with pride during his stage introduction. And when it was done, following a bombastic “Paranoid” outro full of bluesy pentatonic guitar lines and rumbling drums, they bowed and posed triumphantly for photos. The show was a fitting end, and it was filmed for posterity, though nothing has been revealed about if or when it would be released.
Whether it’s the group’s last-ever concert, though, remains to be seen. Osbourne called it the “final show” onstage, but Iommi and Butler have said in interviews they would consider making another album or doing a one-off gig. But they have all assured fans, it is the end of touring for Black Sabbath. Either way, they made it home.
“Fairies Wear Boots”
“Under the Sun”/”Every Day Comes and Goes”
“Into the Void”
“Behind the Wall of Sleep”
“Hand of Doom”
Riff medley: “Supernaut”/”Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”/”Megalomania”
“Children of the Grave”