Black Sabbath proves they are up to the challenge (and then some) after 43 years

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

August 17, 2013 1:29 pm

by MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times

From Wayne’s World to Tenacious D, there is now an entire wing of comedy dedicated to poking fun at the kind of hard rock Black Sabbath created and continues to define 43 years after their debut album. You know: heavy bottom, speedy top, and ghoulish subject matter made for mass devil horn flashing.

Yet the actual band, partially reunited Friday at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, deftly steered clear of the clichés they spurred and instead showcased how, once upon a time, these were originally strengths. This band — guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and jovial jester Ozzy Osbourne — played complex blues dirges in tricky time signatures that asked profound questions about war, the universe, madness, and God. Like many bands that have returned to play music again, there are inevitable hurdles related to personal history to overcome, yet this band appeared confident and determined. Songs often streamed immediately into the next, leaving the audience with the sense that despite their heritage, the band still wanted to prove they possessed an alchemy that may be grounds for parody, but has a unique power of its own.

The two-hour show was designed — get this— around just the music. A video screen provided close-up shots video collages, but the real action was centered on the interplay between the three original bandmembers and touring drummer Tommy Clufetos. (Original drummer Bill Ward declined the invitation due to a contract dispute.) With the current trend of full-length videos and stage choreography threatening the value of live performance, Black Sabbath showed the power through simplicity.

Some songs demanded full attention. “War Pigs,” that crushing menace of a song, was sung partially by Osbourne and partially by his audience. Others songs, like “Black Sabbath” — the first song from their debut album — “Children of the Grave” and “Fairies Wear Boots” had a dark, psychedelic menace. Those song, among many others, sounded closely bound to the four new songs the band introduced from “13” (Universal), their most recent album, particularly “God is Dead?,” the most melodic of the bunch, and “End of the Beginning,” a dirge that opened into an interlude in double-time. To be sure, there was a formula to these songs, both past and present, but one that was singularly their own.

Early in the night, Obsourne was handed a multi-colored jester’s hat from the audience, which he wore with pride, shuffling up to Butler and Iommi to show off his new find. Despite his title as the Prince of Darkness, in reality, he appeared as someone who was told they had longer to live than once was expected. He sang with stamina, and by the end of the night, was hopping up and down with two feet. There was recognition of how far the band has come — introducing “Snowblind,” he said, “it’s about cocaine — we’re too (expletive) old to do that (expletive).” Instead, that gave the band a chance to screen clips from — what else? — Al Pacino nose down in “Scarface.”

As any good frontman should, Osbourne contrasted Iommi and Butler who stood in solemnity on either side. Iommi fired off flourishes of guitar notes that allowed little room to breathe. Butler similarly remained busy as well, spidering his way up and down his guitar fret, pausing once for a solo. Clufetos also soloed, rotating through six drum patterns over 12 minutes, playing them slowly at first and then gaining speed.

This was another formula the band had witnessed many times before, but with the rest of the band exiting the stage, it was presented as a mid-show rest stop.

Some of the archival video footage in the night showed Black Sabbath protesters from their early days warning the youth of America from a band of supposed occultists. If these morality guardians could only have peeked into the future, they’d stay home and chill out.

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