A true spectacle of rock history descended upon Perth Arena on Friday night as part of Black Sabbath‘s farewell tour. Supported by Californian young guns Rival Sons and hailed to be “their most mesmerizing production ever”, it appeared to be a show not to be missed. So, as a devoted fan of the band, I ventured into the sea of bald heads and beer guts to witness the end of an era.
As the only opening act, Rival Sons was a good choice for the nostalgic Sabbath audience, bringing with them the authentic swagger of an international 70’s rock band. Entering 2016 with a vastly improved look and a promising, more innovative record to be released in June, Rival Sons seemed to have unlocked an element in their band that is set to take them to the next level, a lot of which has to do with their barefooted vocalist Jay Buchanan. Swinging and sliding, and shimmering his way over to the microphone, all eyes were quickly fixed on the full bellied, roaring blues voice, and electrifying stage persona, distinctly portraying all the free spirited, primitive unpredictability of a young Jim Morrison.
As the band powered through number after number of fuzz drenched, grooving, arena friendly rock much in the vein of Led Zep, Humble Pie and Free, Buchanan threw shapes across the lukewarm arena crowd as if possessed by the music. Songs like “Open My Eyes” and “Pressure and Time” quickly spun the quarter full arena crowd into action, all drawn to his transfixing vagabond figure, centre stage in a vintage leather jacket. Guitarist and band founder Scott Holiday also delivered a commendable performance, wielding the thick tones from the wall of amplifiers behind him with surprising originality. Unfortunately, drummer Michael Miley was punchy and intentional, ultimately failing to capture the immense, vibrant drum sounds that have become a trademark of the band’s better songs. All in all, Rival Sons was a well-polished and sexy outfit, proving themselves worthy as openers for the Rock Royalty.
The roar of the crowd shook the rafters of the arena when the lights went out for Black Sabbath. The big screens showed an animated Satan bursting from a volcanic egg, destroying a city in plumes of fire and brimstone as three figures dressed in black entered the stage. The lights went up as Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Ozzy Osbourne launched into the sickly, brooding grooves of “Black Sabbath”, the song that shot the band to fame. When a mascara laden Osbourne leaned into the microphone, droning the immortal line “what is this, that stands before me?”, it sent shockwaves through the now rabid audience. The delay-laden opening chords of “Fairies Wear Boots” ushered in another classic – this one a B-side off their most celebrated record, Paranoid. Much to the delight of the audience, a generous portion of the set list were from this album, the better part of the 1968 release, recited between anthems from later works like “Snowblind” and “N.I.B.” and a smattering of unexpected oddities like “Dirty Women” from their 1976 release Technical Ecstasy.
Despite the band’s brilliance, there was a reason Black Sabbath has decided to end its live career. Osbourne was truly on his last legs as a performer – he lost his voice about 4 songs in and had to unskillfully yell his way through the rest of the set. To see a man I have immortalized since I was 15 waddling around popping prescription meds on stage to stay on his feet, was jarring to say the least. Equally out of practice as a frontman, Osbourne reverted to overly rehearsed stage tricks to get the crowd going. He punctuated the end of each song with “I can’t hear you!” like there was something wrong with the poor bastard’s hearing aid.
Iommi sounded great despite his recent health battles. Undoubtedly Black Sabbath’s real leader, the man has never been anything but a hard working, dedicated, and talented musician. Both Butler and Iommi were a rock solid unit on stage. When they performed their solos, it was a truly invigorating partnership to witness firsthand.
The 90 minute set was punctuated halfway by a marathon drum solo from the wickedly talented Tommy Clufetos. Only a legendary player would be able to stun an entire arena single-handedly for over 10 minutes. Without even stopping to change a broken cymbal, the hypnotic, pulsating kick drum of “Iron Man” echoed into the smoky room and was met with the deafening roar of the crowd just as the original lineup return to the stage.
“Children Of the Grave” was another powerful highlight of the evening, with even the most veteran of Sabbath fans charging into the pit to worship that unforgettable riff. When Osbourne informed the crowd that this was the band’s final song, every serious supporter present knew there was still one more song they have to perform before leaving. The incendiary opening riff of “Paranoid”, accompanied by the desperate screams of the crowd as they welcomed the band back onstage with their encore act, was the only song that could rightfully mark the end of the Black Sabbath concert.
It was a simple and sudden end to a memorable performance, but it had potential to be a lot more with minimal effort from the band. A single moment of sincerity was all that was needed to make the experience special for our little city. I wanted, “This has been a wonderful journey, thank you to everyone who has been a part of it, it means the world to us” but in the end, we only got, “Thank you Perth, great stuff”. I left the arena with a bittersweet taste, but I’m also an over-sentimental fan who wanted a high five from the band at the end of the day. Those three men will always be legends, just as Black Sabbath‘s albums will always be sacred, even if Osbourne didn’t bite the head off a bat for us.