Black Sabbath Live in California

Black Sabbath
Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mt. View, CA

August 26, 2013

By Dan Wall

War Pigs, Into the Void, Under the Sun, Snowblind, Age of Reason, Black Sabbath, Behind the Wall of Sleep, NIB, End of the Beginning, Fairies Wear Boots, Rat Salad plus drum solo, Iron Man, God is Dead, Dirty Women, Children of the Grave. Encore: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (intro)/Paranoid. 2 hours.

On August 31, 1975, I saw Black Sabbath for the first time. On August 26th of this year, I saw the band for what will probably be the last time.

How did the two gigs compare? Well, it’s still hard to explain to someone who wasn’t there in the 70’s what Sabbath meant to a 15 year-old seeing one of his favorite bands for the first time at San Francisco’s legendary Winterland. The menacing image, loud over-the-top musical prowess and sheer volume of the demonic, scary beast known as Black Sabbath was just overwhelming that evening. Seeing Sabbath that night is one of the reasons I still attend rock shows to this day. It was phenomenal.

The show this year was also phenomenal, but in a different way. Still an amazing live act, this was more of a celebration of the band’s lengthy career, not just another tour stop in San Francisco. To have this band still together after all of the backstage drama, near-death experiences, illness and just plain crazy behavior is enough to welcome the quartet back with open arms. That the boys can still perform as if the past 37 years never happened is, quite frankly, a miracle.

There was nothing particularly special about the show’s visual presentation. Aside from a huge video screen, a spectacular blinking and colorful light show, and crystal-clear, pristine sound, it was just four guys up there, dressed in black, in front of a wall of amps. Pretty much like it was back in the 70’s.

On this night, however, one declaration can be made-Tony Iommi is the greatest heavy metal guitarist of all-time. It doesn’t matter whether he is the fastest player, because all of those incredible riffs and Sabbath solos were performed with such precision and feeling that note-speed just doesn’t matter. Even more amazing is that Tony is battling cancer out on the road. It almost brought a tear to my eye that this could be the last time I see this amazing musician play live. I’ll keep the good thought that it’s not, but if it was, then Iommi put on one helluva performance on this night.

Bassist Geezer Butler is another Hall of Famer who has influenced just about every bass player in metal, and his playing was rock solid and tasty all night long. Drummer Tommy Clufetos, the young but experienced sticksman who has played with Ted Nugent, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, and Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band, was a revelation on drums. No, he is not Bill Ward in his prime, but he sure as hell banged the shit out of his drums and played everything as if Ward was still around. He actually played some of the stuff a bit fast, which we will put down to his youthful exuberance (even though Tommy is 33 years old). It would have been nice to see Ward one last time, because not only is he a legend but a sweetheart of a man as well. Bill has struggled in the live setting over the past few years to keep up with faster tempos, and for $100-200 a ticket, the drums need to be played with the same precision that they were when the band’s classic records were made.

So what about Ozzy, the clown prince of heavy metal? Mr. Osbourne was actually in fine voice, sounding better than he has in years, and despite the fact that he can’t move like he used to, he can still inspire a large crowd to clap, wave and shout like their lives depend on it.

The highlights were plentiful, but three songs stand out-“Snowblind” was the best of the bunch, with the power of the songs tempo shifts and Iommi’s riffs and solos pushing the audience into a frenzy; “Fairies Wear Boots,” which is not my favorite Sabbath song, but sounded amazing, especially the guitar parts; and the new “God is Dead” which rocked like a monster and proved that the old “geezers” still have it-whatever that is.

As a matter of fact, the real miracle about this reunion is the fact that these guys finally got together with producer Rick Rubin and put out a new record, “13,” which stands tall alongside the band’s 70’s output. All three songs played, “God is Dead,” “End of the Beginning” and “Age of Reason” were well received, and no one was screaming for “Paranoid” while these songs were played.

They did yell for the classic “Paranoid” during the encore, and that was the last song of the set, possibly the last ever to be performed by this legendary band in the San Francisco Bay Area. If it was, then the band went out on a high note. This is one musical act that has gone through a messy divorce, only to re-discover the magic that brought the band together in the first place, and returned in 2013 just as good as the group ever was. We will thank God (and quite possibly the other guy) for that.