Going into Black Sabbath’s show Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl, it seemed plausible that the concert might culminate in something special, given the gig’s historical context.
The occasion marked the legendary heavy metal group’s return to the nearly century-old landmark after first appearing there roughly 42 years ago. More weight was heaped on to its second coming by the interesting tidbit that guitarist Tony Iommi had collapsed from exhaustion during that September 1972 show. Assuming everything went smoothly this time, it would be the outfit’s first full performance at the illustrious locale.
The significance wasn’t lost on opening act Reignwolf, stage name for Seattle rocker Jordan Cook, who played the smartest set possible to please Sabbath fans while snatching his slice of the historical pie.
Cook normally kick-starts gigs with one or two solo tunes that reveal his strengths: a nasally yet fierce vocal wail akin to that of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell plus consistently catchy yet crushing riffs that evoke the erratic energy of Jack White. But here his supporting guitarist and drummer joined at the outset, helping lead a charge of heaviness that immediately hooked the crowd of old-school metalheads.
Ozzy Osbourne & Co. didn’t deviate from the same rundown they have followed since just before the release last June of their 19th studio album, the Grammy-yielding 13, so there wasn’t any feeling that they had something to prove here. Yet there was a visible exuberance, particularly during the oldest cuts – a sense that they were taking full advantage of this chance to relive the golden age of their careers.
Gone were once-prevalent signs of Osbourne’s physical and mental decay. With opening blast “War Pigs,” the singer’s maniacal laugh and relatively astounding agility exuded the sort of fearsomely youthful rebelliousness that helped establish his fame. For the following cut, “Into the Void,” he became a prophet of liveliness, rushing to Iommi’s or bassist Geezer Butler’s side to inspire wide grins and add just enough spirit to their already paramount playing.
Granted, after a galvanic chant-along to the band’s sinister namesake piece and an insanely funky bass solo from Butler, the frontman seemed to lose some fire, singing terribly off-key on “N.I.B.” and prompting one brave soul behind me to shout “Dio! Dio!” – a reference to Ronnie James Dio, who briefly replaced Osbourne when he was fired from the band in 1979.
Despite taking a break while touring, drummer Tommy Clufetos summoned an earthquake with an extended solo at the end of “Rat Salad.” Osbourne’s lethargy persisted through the newer cut “God Is Dead?” But that last low point was painful only because Sabbath devotees clearly lacked knowledge of the lyrics. Any other time Osbourne’s vocals waned, a chorus of countless fans would prop him up with the gusto needed to resume his menacing command.
Besides, there was plenty of redemption anytime Iommi’s flawless fretwork came to the forefront. On main-set closers “Dirty Women” and “Children of the Grave,” he nailed volley after volley of intricate riffs, still sonically fresh enough after all these years to make Metallica’s Kirk Hammett (standing in the front row) gush with admiration.
By that time, it was clear that Iommi would surpass the no-collapse mile marker, so the one-punch encore of “Paranoid” became a veritable victory lap. As Osbourne jumped and flailed with all the verve of his early-20s prime, confetti flew, giant black and purple balloons were let loose and a massive fireworks display erupted above the Bowl’s iconic shell, erasing all doubt that this show would be remembered as a priceless moment in rock history.
by DAVID HALL, contributing writer @ ocregister