Black Sabbath at the Hollywood Bowl
A look back at Black Sabbath’s performance at the Hollywood Bowl earlier this year.
On April 26th, Sabbath fans gathered in their masses under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl, just like witches at black masses, for the final night of the band’s North American tour. Despite the disappointment of some fans that have been dismayed by the band’s decision to hit the road without founding member Bill Ward behind the drum kit, the previous performances of this 12-show run that trekked primarily through Canada had received overwhelming positive reviews, and this evening would affirm such glowing praise.
The show could also be considered a success for making up for their ill-fated first appearance at the iconic venue back in 1972, when guitarist Toni Iommi passed out due to exhaustion. The band’s second appearance went over marvelously, resulting in one more joyous occasion at the near-a-century old amphitheater that has hosted events by many of the greatest performing artists of all-time. One of the Beatles’ most celebrated west coast shows took place at the Hollywood Bowl, and now the diehard Fab Four fanatic Ozzy Osbourne can say that his band delivered their own memorable show on the same stage.
The band took to the stage got things started in a glorious fashion; A fire siren called fans to their seats, as Ozzy, at center stage and cloaked in black, shouted “Are you ready?!,” in which he received a deafening response of cheers and screams. The ovation sustained through the sludgy drone intro of “War Pigs” and only grew more intense once the jolting riffage and percussion kicked in. When the front man belted out each verse, all those in attendance heartily sung the anti-war riff-rocker with him, like dedicated disciples with true-believer spirit.
Black Sabbath’s impact on heavy metal is immeasurable, and their setlist was a testament of such widespread influence; it would be fair to say that “Into the Void” helped launch countless stoner-metal bands, whereas the mid-section of “Under the Sun/Everyday Comes and Goes” was certainly an early glimpse of the thrash metal that bands like Motorhead and Metallica expanded upon in the early eighties. Detrimental temptations, depression, destruction, longing, corruption, isolation, hopelessness and more lyrical themes of evil and ache that accompanied the night’s chosen compositions have become typical topical matter in all strands of heavy metal.
Despite the chart-topping and award-winning success of the band’s most recent release, “13”, their first studio album with Ozzy in over thirty-five years, the setlist relied heavily on material from their initial run in the seventies. Only three tracks off the album were played during the two-hour long set; “Age of Reason,” “End of the Beginning” and “God is Dead?” Considering that these select choices (as well as the rest of the tracks) from the Rick Rubin-produced record rely on the tried-and-true sound that catapulted the band into rock and roll history, they sat comfortably amongst the more familiar cuts.
Considering that Ozzy has probably garnered more exposure for his reality TV show and commercial endorsements in recent years, it was fantastic to see him command the stage again as the one and only Prince of Darkness. He paced the stage, throwing up peace signs and holding his arms out wide to the audience, encouraging them to provide Viking chants on “Iron Man,” or to “go fucking crazy!” As for his vocal abilities, his guttural bellows, metallic voice and maniacal laughter have hardly lost their soulful splendor over the past forty-plus years.
On the left side of the stage, bassist Geezer Butler and his fingers were just as animated as the Sabbath frontman, headbanging and providing thunderous bottom at breakneck speed nearly on par with the late John Entwhistle of the Who. Metal guitar god Tony Iommi, adorning his characteristic black coat, glasses and crucifix, was at the right side of the stage, stoically delivering colossal riffs and astonishing solos with his dark wizardry. Tommy Clufetos did a superb job pounding the skins at his elevated perch at center stage. Nearly half the age of the original members that were surrounding him, the drummer brought a youthful fire that blew away attendees, especially during his epic “Rat Salad” drum solo.
Collectively, they were a rock-solid wall of sound that showed that there are many ways to deliver the heavy. “Snowblind” took the audience for a dark psychedelic head spin, while the slow-motion stomp of “Black Sabbath” crushed them with the weight of a 500-foot tall giant. The band’s groove was impeccable, whether they were tackling the wicked skip of “Fairies Wear Boots” or the mindbender wah wah funk of “N.I.B.” The band closed out the set with a belligerent “Children of the Grave,” sonically flooring attendees with a pummeling sound that felt like relentless trampling by a stampede of horses ridden by faceless hooded riders.
For their encore, the band brought the evening to a close with “Paranoid” and a spectacular firework display. It was an ironically euphoric conclusion to amazing night of darkness-and-doom music. Considering the many obstacles that have gotten in band’s way over the past forty years and counting (drugs, booze, illness and inner turmoil amongst band mates), it’s pretty unbelievable that they could shine so brightly this late into their career. Satan was surely laughing and flapping his wings.