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
Rival 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…
And 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.
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.
I 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.