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Black Sabbath: Witness to The End

April 25, 2016

When I realized I was going to miss my opportunity to see the reunited original line-up of Black Sabbath live by only the slightest of Black Sabbath - 13margins, I was bummed. Their tour on the back of the 13 album, a record I liked unreservedly, was to pass through the Washington D.C. area only a few days before I would finish my three-year assignment in Bolivia. Callous fate had already conspired to rob me of the chance to see the Dio-led version of Sabbath back in 1980 (as described here), and now yet again an indifferent universe casually overlooked me.

Among the many important changes in the 33 years since the earlier Sabbath letdown was one in particular that would greatly ease the pain of this repeat disappointment. I was now a father and therefore endowed by natural law with the dual blessing/curse of experiencing life not solely individually but also vicariously through my offspring. My son and daughter would both return to the D.C. area weeks before me in order to prepare for their respective entries into graduate school and university and could therefore make the pilgrimage to the Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater in Bristow, Virginia, to see theSabbath at Jiffy Lube Live show. I purchased two tickets for the 2 August 2013 concert and presented them to the kids as well-received high school and university graduation gifts.

In the days leading up to the concert, I relentlessly bothered the kids by phone from my lair in La Paz. I demanded details of the vehicle and route they would take to the venue, suggested pre-concert playlists, and double-checked for sufficient funds to buy souvenir T-shirts to memorialize the event. I made one final call during the Andrew W.K. opening slot to confirm they were in their seats and of correct mind, and then settled down with headphones to listen to 13 while imagining myself alongside them.

The morning after, I was thrilled to receive separate rave reviews and detailed descriptions of the “amazing” show from both daughter and son. It was clear that they had not only enjoyed the concert itself but also experiencing it together just the two of them, something that had become naturally less routine as they grew toward adulthood and began to forge their own paths. I was a tad sad at having personally missed the show, but the disappointment was significantly lightened by the knowledge that I had successfully bequeathed the elusive riches to my children rather than having lost them outright.

====================

Fast forward two and a half years and the previously uncaring cosmos seemed to have actively arrayed themselves for the sole purpose of bringing me joy. Call it karma or coincidence at your whim, but I fantasize a supernatural hand in the mundane turn of events that fortuitously conveyed me from Egypt to New York City just in time to witness Black Sabbath’s 27 February 2016 show at Madison Square Garden in the first days of their announced final tour, denominated “The End.” I had all but given up on the idea that I would ever partake in the live Sabbath sacrament, but some unseen master of reality appeared to have lorded over this world in my favor.

 

The Beginning of the End

 

My first Sabbath concert and my first visit to the renowned Garden, how much better could it get? From my pie-eyed perspective, everything was perfect. Following a good opening set by Rival Sons – an energetic, young band I had previously enjoyed in a small Baltimore club less than a year before – the legendary patriarchs of a gazillion metal genres strode onstage to massive cheers before assaulting us with the relentless barrage of doom that is “Black Sabbath,” the first song from their first album. Any concerns about their playing ability in the wake of Tony Iommi’s cancer scare, the status of Ozzy’s voice, or the impact of the absence of original drummer Bill Ward were forgotten immediately. This was truly the mighty Black Sabbath, with full power and glory intact.

 

Sabbath at MSG

 

The set list was never going to fully satisfy; there is simply too much greatness in the catalog. I was pleased however at the inclusion of personal favorites “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Hand of Doom” alongside stalwarts “Paranoid” and “Children of the Grave.” Geezer Butler’s bass awed throughout, with the “Bassically” intro to “N.I.B.” an obvious standout moment. Why “Dirty Women” from the Technical Ecstasy album and nothing at all from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Sabotage, or 13? It mattered only in hindsight for it all made perfect sense in the moment. I felt in no way cheated when the show ended; one of my loftiest musical bucket list entries had been checked off and I was ecstatic.

A word about touring drummer Tommy Clufetos and behind-the-scenes player Adam Wakeman: As anyone knows who has read my previous Sabbath-related post (linked in the first paragraph above), I have my own petulant, but honestly-held personal reasons for caring less about the absence of Bill Ward from the latter-day, reborn Sabbath than many of my fellow fans. Even so, it seemed objectively true, at least to me, that Clufetos is a formidable and worthy replacement skins-man. I felt both the power and the jazz-inflected swing that Ward was famous for in Clufetos’ drumming. Moreover, his lengthy solo during “Rat Salad,” while the elder Sabs likely took a restroom break, was naught less than amazing. As for Rick’s son, Adam, his offstage keyboards and second guitar seemed in no way meant to simply fill holes, but rather to provide a firm backing for the canvas on which Mr. Iommi painted his doom-laden art. A quick acknowledgement by the band and a wave from behind the curtain reinforced Wakeman’s unseen but vital role.

 

MSG Sabbath Tee-CD

 

I dropped nearly US$100 on the limited edition The End CD and two MSG-exclusive concert T-shirts. I give the CD a fervent thumbs-up, finding it pleasingly similar and a worthy companion to the 13 album. As for the shirts, I look forward to a future opportunity, probably involving a long drive, to compel my kids to pull on their own souvenir tees and join me in listening to a dad-crafted playlist in celebration of our “shared” Sabbath experience. (I happily note that the male heir has already purchased his own ticket to see “The End” when it passes back through Virginia this fall.)

 

Goin’ home, late last night
Suddenly I got a fright
Yeah I looked through the window and surprised what I saw
Fairies with boots dancing with a dwarf, 
all right now!

 

Kevin Mazur - Getty Images

Kevin Mazur – Getty Images

LONG LIVE SABBATH!!!

From → Family, Music

16 Comments
  1. Sounds like a whale of a concert and you provide a great account of it. I’ve seen Sabbath twice, well sort of. The second time was actually Black Sabbath Featuring Tony Iommi. The first was with Ian Gillan on the mike but he was superb that night as was the rest of the band.

    • It was indeed, and thanks much. Seeing Gillan front Sabbath must have been fantastic; that’s really cool. Who sang on the “Featuring Tony Iommi” show you saw?

      • It was and although I thought it a bit strange when Sabbath played Smoke on the Water, they pulled it off. On Featuring Tony Iommi, I think the lead singer was Roy Gilan.

  2. Whoa, mighty!! I’m surprised there’s nothing from 13 in the set list though – mind you, they’re never going to please everyone.

    Some impressively great parenting too!

  3. Great concert review, Fairies Wear Boots has always been one of my favorites.

  4. You know, I almost didn’t make it past the ‘Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater in Bristol’ which has to be the best venue identification ever. Rainbow Theatre? Pah! The Greek Theatre? Begone!

    Anyway…

    Enjoyed the double album Sabbath story a lot, especially the anointing of the offspring. The End tour passed through Melbourne recently and got very positive reviews indeed; the one I read highlighted the excellent drumming too but failed to mention Wakeman Jr lurking behind the curtain. Nice to have that ‘prog’ connection noted.

    Sounds like ’13’ is worth a listen? The only later album I have is ‘Cross Purposes’ but I don’t know it at all well.

    • As you know by now, I tend to be a liker, and thus may not be the most discriminating person to ask. That said, I think there’s a pretty broad consensus out there that 13 is a definite worthy addition to the “original” Sabbath canon. Speaking personally though, I think it brilliant and would make no apologies for it at all, i.e. “Yes, you should give it a listen!”

      Wow, Cross Purposes eh? That and its follow-up Forbidden are two Black Sabbath albums that I have absolutely no sense of whatsoever. May I ask how that one ended up being your one latter-day holding?

  5. I do like that T-Shirt! I like the song but never understood how Dirty Women has become a live staple with Sabbath. It’s good but it’s not that good. They must just like playing it I suppose? Glad you enjoyed the show. I saw them back in the 90s in Birmingham when they did the reunion shows with Bill Ward. It was excellent! (The played Dirty Women then too…)

    • I don’t get the “Dirty Women” thing either given the incredible catalog they have to work with. Not complaining though; that slow, circular riff sounded fantastic live and Tony killed the solos. It was also the song where one could most note the presence of Adam Wakeman’s second guitar behind the curtains. Cool that you got to see the “originals” intact.

      • It does sound great live. Totally agree. The solo section makes it for me! Superb. But I am surprised at how long it has endured in their set. Seeing the originals was brilliant, a treasured gig memory!

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