Black Sabbath + Rival Sons – Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin – 30/04/16

So I’m finally going to the Forsyth Barr stadium to see a concert. The giant fucking rugby stadium that we didn’t need. The white elephant that Dunedin ratepayers didn’t even want. I whinged and moaned about it at the start, but I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that it’s here to stay, so I might as well use the fucking thing.

I’ve been there half a dozen times before (Rugby World Cup, Football World Cup qualifying tournaments, Wellington Phoenix, Beer Festivals etc) and it’s all very nice and everything, but I’ve never been there for a gig. I’ve never been that tempted by the music on offer to stump up the $150+ necessary to see it. What have we had over the 4 years since it was opened? Elton John, Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon & Tom Jones. Not my all time list of must-see artists (although I have actually seen all of them except Fleetwood Mac before, but that’s irrelevant). But I’ll go and see Sabbath. Even at $170 I’ll go and see Sabbath. Even though the sound at Forsyth Barr is legendarily poor (to the point where it’s been said that it sounds better from Logan Park than in the actual stadium). Even though I have gone on record as saying that these days I’m only going to fork out big bucks on bands I’ve never seen before. Even though this is going to be probably the most expensive gig I’ve ever seen. Yup, I’m going.

I bought the ticket 4 months ago. It’s been pinned up on my noticeboard, glaring at me and shouting “$170? You could have bought your kids a couple of pair of shoes each for that” or “$170? That’s 17 high-end craft beers from New World” or “$170? That’s four times as much as the total face value of tickets from all previous times you’ve seen Black Sabbath”. I think only Madonna in 2004 (£100 !?) was actually more expensive than this, but that was back in the days of being unshackled by mortgage and children.

So, money concerns aside, the day is finally here, and tonight I’M GOING TO SEE BLACK SABBATH!! The greatest metal band of all time, if the ads for the concert are to be believed. They’ve certainly been a fairly big part of my life since 1987 or so. Legends, in fact. It’s just Ozzy, Geezer and Tony these days, but to be honest I think the position of drummer  (and no disrespect to Bill Ward here) is the easiest to swap out for some random session dude. It’s not like replacing Neil Peart in Rush, for instance. It’s going to be good, for sure.

The atmosphere in and around Forsyth Barr is electric. Hordes of black clad fans of all ages are milling around, and the crowd is not nearly as male dominated as you would expect of a metal gig. Like at the Buzzcocks a few weeks ago, there are a lot of strange hairy characters here that you just don’t see round and about town normally. Where do they hide? Quite an encouraging number of younger people too. I mean, Sabbath’s best records were made before I was born. Slightly disappointed by the turnout though – only half the stadium is being used – there is temporary seating on the halfway line and quite a lot of space at the back of the pitch but most of the seats look occupied. At a rough guess maybe 8-10 thousand? C’mon Dunedin, you should do better than this

rivalsonsRival Sons is the support act, not someone I’d ever heard of, but a prior bit of research on Spotify revealed them to be a pretty decent blues rock outfit from Long Beach, with only a couple of albums under their belts. They are very good in person, sort of dirty Black Crowes end of the blues rock spectrum, with more than a passing resemblance to Zeppelin. The most striking thing about them (and unfortunately my Nokia Lumia’s camera can’t do justice to this) is the beard on the tambourine/keyboard/pedal steel player. It’s a chinmuff of ZZ Top proportions, this guy could easily pass off as an Amish. I even recognise two of their songs from my brief Spotify session earlier in the day. Or maybe I recognise them from Houses Of The Holy. Difficult to tell…

sabAnd so to business. After a quick trip to the bar it’s time for the main course. Lights down, volume up and here we go. The crowd noise is fantastic as the video screen shows some flashy animation of dragons and fire and other metal clichés. The (almost) septuagenarian metal gods wander out of the shadows to the sound of a lone church bell, and this means only one thing. Black Sabbath. They’re opening with their eponymous signature tune, the heaviest, most evil, sinister riff ever written. It’s so simple, just three notes, not even chords, and it’s basically the riff that gave birth to heavy metal, nearly half a century ago. It’s probably my favourite Sabbath tune and they smash it out of the park. My fears of poor acoustics are entirely unfounded, and I don’t even need my ear plugs – it’s just about as good a sound as you could wish for in a stadium. A procession of the greatest of greatest hits then streams forth – Snowblind, After Forever, Faeries Wear Boots, Behind The Wall Of Sleep, War Pigs, Children of the Grave, Iron Man etc etc. I’m sure they’re very proud of their latest album but they don’t go anywhere near it. In fact, I don’t think they venture much later than about 1972, which is fine by me. More than fine. I know every note of every song they play and it is all FUCKING BRILLIANT. All of it. Even Tommy Clufeto’s monster drum solo (he’s way way more of a showman than Bill Ward). I’m not normally one for big solos but I am exhausted just watching this guy, the sheer effort he is putting into hitting ALL of his drums as LOUD and as FAST as he can deserves applause, which it duly gets, and lots.ozzy

And then the highpoint of the evening, as Ozzy yells at us ‘WE LOVE YOU AUCKLAND!’ If it were anyone else, I think I’d be more than a little offended, but as it’s Ozzy, and it’s such a, well, Ozzy thing to do, we’ll let it pass with a wry smile. What the fuck must he have been like at the height of his excesses though?

Then it’s good night Dunedin, you’ve been amazing, see you later. And off they trudge so we can play the encore game. You know you’re coming back on. We know you’re coming back on. You know we know you’re coming back on. And they come back on and surprise surprise, it’s for a single encore, Paranoid. It’s a great song, and a great way to round off an all too short night.

theendI wonder if it really is the end? It’s certainly not their first farewell tour, and if the bank balances run dry again, I wouldn’t bet against seeing them coming out of retirement. Sad to see them go, but it’s probably for the best. Either way, they have done immense things in music. They almost single handedly invented an entire genre of music for fuck’s sake, you can’t get more immense than that.





Black Sabbath + Breed 77 – 05/12/99 – Astoria, London

Black Sabbath ticket Dec 1999I remember absolutely nothing about the support act whatsoever, but Wikipedia says “Breed 77 is a band whose music is a fusion of alternative metal and flamenco.” Thank Christ I was in the bar when they were on then.

This was the original lineup of Sabbath though, and fuck, what a great venue to see them in. It was a ‘back to the early days’ sort of a tour, and they only played stuff off ‘Black Sabbath’ and ‘Paranoid’. The band that pretty much invented heavy metal, playing the songs that paved the way for the rest. Magic. Ozzy was just mental – seems to get better as the years go by and the brain atrophies. He leapt about the stage like a man half his age, with the sort of energy that seemed implausible for someone that has abused his body to the extent that he has. He still had a great voice, lost a shit load of blubber, and I think as he’d cleaned up his act (since the days of ‘Decline Of Western Civilization…’), he can mumble at least semi-coherently when bantering with the crowd between songs.

Tony Iommi, by stark contrast, stood motionless and expressionless, the black tassels on his leather jacket swaying gently as he cranked out the heaviest, dirtiest darkest riffs. A guitar hero, in the true sense of the word, as he is probably more influential than any other still alive, but no screaming solos on bended knee, no histrionics and no posturing. Geezer, as with most bassists, got kinda overshadowed by the larger personalities throughout his career, but his performance that night was one I will remember. The things he did with that Fender Jazz, man. The obvious highlight for bass nerds such as myself was the bass solo off ‘Black Sabbath’. Bill Ward, the only one on stage I hadn’t seen before, was pretty good – not over the top, no solo (yay!) just immensely solid. ‘He’ll be dead quite soon’, Ozzy squawked at the end, and I wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that. A quick Google reveals that he is indeed, still alive. Which is nice.

Ozzfest feat. Black Sabbath + Ozzy Osbourne + Foo Fighters + Therapy? + Pantera + Soulfly + Slayer + Fear Factory + Coal Chamber + Life Of Agony + (hed)pe + Entombed + Human Waste Project + Pitchshifter – 20/06/98 – Milton Keynes Bowl

Ozzfest ticket Jun 1998My first and last visit to MK Bowl. What an awful venue. It was a grey wet windy day in Buckinghamshire, which didn’t help matters, but even on a glorious sunny day I’m sure I would have thought the same. There was a lot of metal to get through that day, so we set off from London early.

Either got lost or got stuck in traffic, can’t really remember, but somehow contrived to miss Slayer. Fucksticks. All the bands on the Kerrang! stage were dreadful nu-metal crap, and the crowd of whiney 17yr olds was really beginning to wind me up. Pantera are a massive band, and are fairly influential in their own way, but I couldn’t stand them. Phil Anselmo was a cock of the highest order. I knew nothing of Therapy? – they were a last minute replacement for Korn who had pulled out due to hairdressing issues (or something), but they were actually pretty good, all things considered. I was really looking forward to the Foo Fighters, but I was also a bit worried that they wouldn’t go down too well with the nu-metal kiddies (who seemed to outnumber the older Sabbath fans by a factor of quite a lot). My fears were not unfounded. I was surprised that the Foos were this high up the bill, having just 2 albums to their name at this stage, and they could barely scrape together enough ‘heavy’ tracks to make a forty minute set. They weren’t booed, but the ubiquitous Mexican wave / litter fight started after half a song and they were roundly ignored by 80% of the crowd for the rest of their set, which was a shame, because they were great. Definitely a strange act for this bill though. So to Ozzy. Watched half of his set, got really pissed off with the nu-metal scrots and the drizzle, decided to fuck off home back to that London. Missed Sabbath. Doesn’t go down as a great day, all in all.

Ozzfest flyer Jun 1998

Black Sabbath + Axxis – 09/09/89 – Hammersmith Odeon

A few months after having seen Ozzy, it was the turn of Tony Iommi to trawl through the Sabbath back catalogue. I nearly didn’t make it to this gig, because someone jumped off the platform at Weybridge Station and made a Rorschach blotter pattern on the front of the Southampton Express. They were  just collecting bits of body off  the track as I arrived – a nice way to start the evening.

I remember nothing whatsoever about Axxis, I may well have been in the bar. Wikipedia says they are a German power metal band, who am I to argue?

Black Sabbath ticket Sep 1989

Sabbath’s stage set was not bad, this was the Headless Cross tour, so there were a lot of large polystyrene tombstones and dry ice – very Spinal Tap (with nary a hint of irony, I’m sure). Like Ozzy, Tony Iommi had surrounded himself with a collection of A-list rock musicians. Neil Murray on bass, Geoff Nichols on Speak and Spell and the legendary (and sadly dead these days) Cozy Powell on drums. Singster Tony Martin let the side down a bit though, on account of he wasn’t famous, he was nowhere near as good as Ozzy, and he reputedly wore a wig. Not Tony Martin the farmer that went down for shooting the teenaged pikey-do-as-you-likey burgler, a different Tony Martin. Headless Cross, like most of the stuff they’d put out in the 80s was pretty dire, so again, I was there just to hear the older stuff. War Pigs was actually better than Ozzy’s rendition, but the stand-out track for me, ironically though was the Dio-era Die Young. Even though it really needs two guitars to do it justice, it was still kickass. Tony Iommi is responsible for some of the darkest and heaviest riffs ever created, and the intro to the track Black Sabbath is the epitome – just a shame that Ozzy wasn’t there too. On the whole I think I preferred Ozzy to Sabbath, as he is just such a massive personality but seeing Tony Iommi crunching out the original heavy metal riffs was definitely one to tick off the list.