Live Music Review: Black Sabbath in Los Angeles

I’m so out of the loop. I didn’t know that Ozzy was back in Black Sabbath, I didn’t know he sang on a new Black Sabbath album for the first time since the 70s, and I didn’t know they were on tour to support the album. I was surprised but thrilled when my friend John asked me if I wanted to see them live on Tuesday night, September 3rd at the LA Sports Arena.

Opening for Black Sabbath was an Andrew WK DJ set, which we missed due to traffic and an accident in the parking lot of the arena. Neither of us were disappointed to miss it, however. I can’t speak for John, but I find Andrew WK’s lyrics and attitude to be very juvenile, and I don’t care for his music, either. It seems to me a strange choice for an opening act; the record label may have something to do with it.

We made it into the stadium about 10 seconds into the opening song, War Pigs. (Our seats happened to be right by the West Entrance, so we found spots immediately.) This is my favorite anti-war song of all time. At the time, it was written as a response to the Vietnam War, but it’s just as relevant today. The imagery created by the lyrics is brilliant; politicians and generals become satanic warlocks, and the soldiers and victims become Chess pieces. The music is very catchy, too. You know this song, even if you don’t like Black Sabbath. Quite a few bands have covered it. (A notable cover comes from Faith No More.)

Sabbath 2013

I was pleased that the majority of the playlist were songs from their first three albums, as this is the material I know and love. The band has been around for forty-five years now, but I think most fans would agree with me that the best Ozzy-era stuff comes from the first three albums. (You could make a case to include Black Sabbath, Vol.4 in this list as well. I don’t really know any of the Dio-era Sabbath songs, or any of the Tony Martin or Glenn Hughes stuff, so I don’t have an opinion on it, positive or negative.) Highlights, for me anyway, were Black Sabbath, N.I.B., Fairies Wear Boots, and Iron Man. I was hoping to hear Paranoid and The Wizard, and I got half my wish for the encore when they played Paranoid. Funny enough, there was a guy playing The Wizard on his harmonica in the parking lot, so I guess I kind of got to hear it.

The stage decor was very macabre. The lighting was mostly red and violet. There were three large video screens behind the drum kit, enclosed in a huge cave-textured frame. The largest screen, in the middle, showed close-ups of the various band members. The screens on either side played videos that related to the content of the songs. For example, during War Pigs, the screens played images of religious leaders, politicians, and military strikes. Dirty Women featured topless dancing women and the cartoon wolf from the old Tex Avery cartoons. Snowblind had drug imagery, and so on.

Sabbath ticket

I would have been a little concerned about the energy level of the band if I hadn’t seen Blondie and Devo perform last Fall. Devo bounced around like they were in their 30s, not their 60s. Sabbath brought the energy as well, and the only time you could really tell that Ozzy was getting long in the tooth was when he was shuffling from side to side on the stage. His voice was top notch, and Tony and Geezer played their guitars with passion and intensity. The drummer was the only non-original member; Tommy Clufetos. Tommy is in his 30s and he’s been in Ozzy’s namesake band for awhile. His drum solo was amazing but a bit too long. I found myself wanting the rest of the band to come out and join him. I’m more of a guitar guy than a drum guy. (Sorry drummer friends!)

A friend asked me if Ozzy was incoherent due to his years of drug abuse. Not really. When he was in the middle of a song, he was committed and sharp. Maybe it’s the reptilian part of his brain that kicks in and just nails it every time due to repetition. Sometimes I couldn’t really understand what he was saying between songs, but he did like to yell, “I cahn’t fookin’ hea’you,” and “Cuckoo!” He mentioned that the new Black Sabbath album is the first number one album in the US, and it only took forty-five years. Better late than never.

All in all, it was a highly energetic and enjoyable concert, and I urge anyone who hasn’t seen them to do so while you still can. These guys are legends, and for a good reason.

Sabbath 2013

I love you sweet leaf.

Setlist (Click link to purchase the album/MP3): War Pigs | Into the Void | Under the Sun/Everything Comes and Goes | Snowblind | Age of Reason | Black Sabbath | Behind the Wall of Sleep | Bassically/N.I.B. | End of the Beginning | Fairies Wear Boots | Rat Salad | Tommy Clufetos drum solo | Iron Man | God Is Dead? | Dirty Women | Children of the Grave

Encore: Paranoid | Zeitgeist

Black Sabbath: ★★★★½ out of 5.

*BONUS: For more Sabbath fun, check out this blog that makes the argument that every heavy metal genre started as a Black Sabbath song. Click here.

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