Review by Dean Pedley
As homecoming shows go it really doesn’t get much bigger than the original Black Sabbath in Birmingham and tickets for the 3000 capacity Academy were always going to be scarcer than unicorn droppings. The poorly handled sales process caused joy for a handful and distress for many and unsurprisingly the secondary ticket market was flooded with sellers looking to make upwards of a 300% mark-up. Even for genuine ticket holders gaining entrance to the venue was something of an ordeal, although thankfully stopped just short of rectal probing.
Since the reunion announcement back on 11th November 2011 we have had the sad news about Tony Iommi’s health problems and the Bill Ward soap opera. Fans hoping that Bill would turn up on the night for old times’ sake were left disappointed with his recent statement effectively signalling the end of the road for anyone hoping to get all four members back on stage together one last time. So joining Ozzy, Tony and Geezer is Tommy Clufetos from Ozzy’s solo band with (presumably) Adam Wakeman hidden from sight side of stage. At 8.30 the intro starts up, a pre recorded medley of Sabbath’s greatest riffs, and the excitement factor rises to a level that can only be compared with a 10 year old who has just discovered One Direction living in her bedroom closet.
‘Into The Void’ kicks in and the Academy erupts in a frenzied mass of bodies, Sabbath fans old and new united in their appreciation of the metal pioneers. Ozzy plays his role to perfection, equal parts court jester and menacing grim reaper, the voice sounding in pretty good shape. Geezer, as always, is a mask of studious concentration, head bowed and fingers blurred. And what of Tony Iommi? Looking both relaxed and dignified the solos are frenetic and articulated and the riffs remain enormous, evil and glorious. The between song chant is simply “Tony! Tony! Tony!”, as Ozzy embraces his long-time friend and foe in a touching moment of solidarity.
The song selection draws almost exclusively from the first four albums, ‘Snowblind’, ‘Electric Funeral’ and for the very first time ‘Wheels of Confusion’. The songs that simply have to be played are spread evenly throughout the 110 minute set, ‘War Pigs’ is unleashed early and succeeds in raising the intensity even higher. And when Ozzy cackles his way through the sinister opening of ‘Black Sabbath’ they move through side one of the debut album in sequence with ‘The Wizard’, ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’ and ‘N.I.B.’, arguably the most important twenty-odd minutes in the history of metal. ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ is a joyous romp and after a brief drum solo Ozzy gestures towards Tony and declares “HE is Iron Man”, sheer mania welcoming the classic anthem. ‘Dirty Women’ and ‘Children of the Grave’ close out the main set before Tony offers just a teasing intro of ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ that gives way to the mayhem that is ‘Paranoid’.
A few miles from where it all began in the shadow of Villa Park, four decades of celebration and myth came alive at the O2 Academy. Should this prove to have been their final farewell to the Home of Metal, it simply couldn’t have been any better.
Set List: Into The Void, Under The Sun, Snowblind, War Pigs, Wheels Of Confusion, Electric Funeral, Black Sabbath, The Wizard, Beyond The Wall Of Sleep, N.I.B., Fairies Wear Boots, Tomorrow’s Dream, Sweet Leaf, Symptom Of The Universe (intro), Drum Solo, Iron Man, Dirty Women, Children Of The Grave, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (intro), Paranoid