Black Sabbath’s Vancouver show ruled by monster riffs

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photo by rebecca blissett

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, AUG. 23, 2013

By Steve Newton

Talk about a study in contrasts.

Strolling past Science World on the way to see Black Sabbath last night, we happened upon quite an unusual sight. Hundreds of well-to-do-looking folk dressed all in white were converging on an area beside the big silver golf ball, many hauling along tables, chairs, and white tablecloths. It was one of those exclusive Le Dîner en Blanc events, where the beautiful people show up at a certain outdoor location at the last minute with everything they need for a big fancy feast.

Not many of them appeared to be Sabbath fans.

A minute or so later, though, we did enter the Land of Oz, where hundreds of not so well-to-do-looking folk dressed all in black were converging on Rogers Arena to see the originators of metal play their first Vancouver show since 1999. It wasn’t exactly Heavy Metal Parking Lot, but there was definitely a little more wildness in the air than over at the hoity-toity affair.

And from the looks of things Le Dîner en Noir was only offering up two courses: Budweiser ‘n’ weed.

That was only outside the rink, of course. Inside you could buy all kinds of beer, as long as you were okay with dropping $8.75 for a cup of their cheapest swill. I tell ya, if Rogers Arena ever gets up the nerve to charge ten bucks for a lousy beer, I bet I’ll complain about that too.

Speaking of complaints, at this stage of the game I’ve decided there’s not much point in whining about Ozzy Osbourne‘s famously lacking vocals. Lord knows I’ve done enough of that the last few times I’ve reviewed his shows–and even the first time, back in 1982. This time around I told myself I’d stick by the FATS principle—Forget About the Singing—and just try to focus on the great old Sabbath tunes and Tony Iommi‘s spellbinding riffs.

That said, when Sabbath first hit the stage, Osbourne’s vocals were-shockingly-not bad! As the band pounded through “War Pigs” and “Into the Void”, there was a semblance of power in his voice. It wasn’t until he got to the night’s fourth selection, the cocaine-inspired “Snowblind”, that he started to lose it big time.

To his credit, though, Osbourne can still holler “Let’s see some fucking hands!” with the best of them.  And his rabid followers still faithfully obey.

The other three guys in the band were killer. Though 65 and battling cancer, Iommi has never sounded better, blasting out fierce, 40-year-old guitar licks that somehow still sound fresh. And bassist Geezer Butler, a year younger, is as rock-solid a bottom end as you’ll find.

There has been a lot of chatter recently from naysayers who feel that, without fourth original member Bill Ward in the lineup, it’s not really Black Sabbath. They might have a point. But the group really did get the next best thing with 33-year-old drummer Tommy Clufetos, who Ozzy had stolen from Rob Zombie’s band back in 2010. He sounded particularly impressive on the 1970 instrumental “Rat Salad”, which sequed into an extended drum solo that left you thinking Neil Peart had better watch his back.

The high point of the show came when Iommi cranked out the deathless opening riff to “Iron Man”, which was followed by “God is Dead?”, the first single off the band’s new, Rick Rubin-produced album, 13. Up until that point the setlist had been identical to that used during the band’s last few gigs, but for one reason or another Sabbath skipped two songs it had been playing after “God is Dead?”—”Dirty Women” and “Children of the Grave”—and went straight to “Paranoid”, via an intro riff from “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”.

And that was it. Sabbath left the stage and didn’t return. At that point maybe it was sticking by the Sharon Osbourne-instilled OBOE principle: Ozzy’s Bedtime Overrules Encore.

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