What is tonight? In an ideal world, it should have been an intimate homecoming/warm-up show ahead of a massive headline set at Download Festival 2012 but instead the headlines only talk about contract disputes and the naysayers talk about the possibility of Black Sabbath being utterly awful tonight due to myriad reasons (Ozzy being Ozzy, Tony Iommi’s battle with cancer). Ultimately, the godfathers of heavy metal are playing to 3000 people in their hometown. Let’s take it at face value for now…
Six things we learnt while watching Black Sabbath play in Birmingham
1) Have no doubts: Black Sabbath will blow you away at Download Festival 2012. If you read only one sentence on this page – possible on the internet – then take that one. Ignore any hearsay and any doubters because Black Sabbath are in fine fettle. They sound great. They look great. They are great. If you weren’t in the Academy tonight and you haven’t got your Download ticket yet, you know what to do.
2) And yes, this is still Black Sabbath. One member does not make a band. Sure, you might argue – many have – that only all four original members make this band, but Tommy Clufetos is a very worthy replacement for Bill Ward. Obviously, it’s not Bill Ward. We’ve been over this so many times in the past few weeks but now it’s time to get over it. Clufetos gets right into the groove with Geezer Butler and certainly hits the drums hard enough most of the time but there are moments where he does get lost amongst the pummelling bass and squealing guitars that we love. Bill Ward will always have a special place in our hearts, but this is what we’ve got and it’s still ruddy brilliant.
3) When a 3000-capacity gig is billed as intimate you know that a band is fucking massive. This is Black Sabbath, after all. Tickets are £45, but it’s Sabbath. Economics don’t really matter when it comes to seeing a band this good and, luckily, they’re good enough and play enough of their stellar back catalogue to actually warrant both the ticket price and the risk of a nosebleed by leaving London.
4) You would never know that Tony Iommi has been battling cancer for the past few months. Iron Man, indeed. Decked out from head to toe in trademark black, he still smiling. It’s good to see that smile again and hearing a roomful of Sabbath fans chanting his name is fucking cool. That guitar sound has been copied but never truly mastered by anyone but this guy. Sabbath without Tony Iommi would be the real tragedy.
5) The band has gone on without Ozzy Osbourne in the past, but this band is best with the crazy eyes, the lanky arms and that howl at the front of the stage. Wearing his trademark black long-sleeved t-shirt with a glittery cross (ooh, fancy), Ozzy not only looks good tonight but he sounds brilliant. He’s the one who the success of the band’s performance hinges on. If he’s shit, there is no way out but there is no fear of that tonight as he directs the band and clowns around.
6) The setlist is straight out of the top drawer tonight. One can only imagine that this two-hour set is pretty much what Sabbath will be performing on Sunday night at Download. Unexpectedly, they begin with ‘Into The Void’ and it goes down a storm. Following it up with ‘Under The Sun’, ‘Snowblind’ and ‘War Pigs’ keeps the momentum going but they just don’t let up. You never really need reminding of how good Black Sabbath are but sets like this really help to reaffirm your faith in just how good British metal can be. They’re not going to be around forever, so make the most of it while you still can.
Black Sabbath @ Birmingham Academy setlist
Into The Void
Under The Sun
Wheels Of Confusion
Behind The Wall Of Sleep
Fairies Wear Boots
Lord Of This World
Symptom Of The Universe
Children Of The Grave