Black Sabbath, Leeds Arena, 26/01/217

Ozzy even told us part way through the set that a lot of people don’t believe that this will be Black Sabbath’s final tour. Given that it’s something of a running joke among many of their contemporaries who seem to be in a perpetual state of final touring, I almost shared the same cynicism until I heard Ozzy utter these words, not because he was particularly convincing, but the exhaustion, the weariness, the age, in his voice, to the point where understanding him was something of a strain for everyone in the crowd, indicated this fact powerfully enough. Despite this, what was left of his singing voice held true, his childish demeanour morphed into a goblinoid hunch, his unshakable insistence on getting the crowd involved in the fun, his love-it/hate-it charisma, combined to make a few bum notes more than forgivable as we were treated to a best of from Black Sabbath’s first four releases, framed by the opener ‘Black Sabbath’ and closing with (you guessed it) ‘Paranoid’.

Iommi and Geezer remained unshakable in their precision, expertise, and understated passion in what they do; seamlessly guiding us through the labyrinth of monolithic riffs that is early black Sabbath. Tommy Clufetos’ youthful energy behind the drum-kit may have thrown the age of the original three into sharp relief, but when the music they bring forth is this powerful, with Ozzy as energetic as ever, who cares how much Geezer and Iommi move around on stage? When older fans dismiss such tours as has-beens cashing in on former glory, or for not including the complete line-up, it’s enough to say for kids like me that never had the chance to catch one or all of them in their various projects and tours over the decades, this provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to catch them. We can give musicians in their 70s a longer leash on the performance front, because these musicians have nothing left to prove, other than to bring this music just one last time to the likes of myself and so many others.

Halfway through the set Ozzy mutters into the mic that he will be going for a break, at which point Iomma leaps into the opening riff for ‘Supernaut’, Geezer and Clufetos chime in for a few bars, before promptly switching to the opening riff for ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’. I have already noted by this point that nothing past ‘Volume 4’ has been played, and unless this intro is extended considerably, Ozzy will be having a very short break indeed. Sure enough, they then break into the instrumental ‘Rat Salad’, before Geezer and Iommi take a polite pause, and join Ozzy off stage, at which point Clufetos launches into a 15 minute drum solo. Again, naysayers would point out the double bass drums, another sign of an unauthentic Sabbath experience, or the fact that this is just filler to keep the crowd happy whilst Ozzy and gang have a quick power nap. But so what, Clufetos plays with a precision and passion that cannot be faked, his drum solo is varied, skillful, and plays off the crowd’s reaction, conducting their passion and engagement with it, taking the occasional brief pause to allow the noise of appreciation to ripple through the crowd.

The percussive cacophony eventually descends into a slow bass drum kick as the original trio take to the stage once again, and the anticipation of ‘Iron Man’ reaches fever pitch. The set closes with ‘Children of the Grave’ and ‘Paranoid’ at which point we and everyone around in the seated area are on our feet headbanging along to what for a lot of us was our first full Black Sabbath show, and will now probably be our last. Forget the patchy careers these musicians have had since their early years, forget Sharon the puppet master behind the scenes and the issues Bill Ward had with his contract, forget whether you think this band’s influence on metal has been overstated, forget the contrived hype around final tours, this was a fucking band, playing with a fucking drummer, playing classic after fucking classic to a grateful crowd, probably for the last ever time.

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