Black Sabbath. 02.15.16. Pepsi Center
“Let’s have a fucking wild time tonight!” The Prince of Darkness leaned forward and gripped the mic stand with his painted black fingers while six brilliant flames shot several feet into the air behind him. “You ain’t fucking loud enough! I can’t hear you!” It wouldn’t be surprising if Ozzy Osbourne actually is deaf at 67 years old, but the whole thing was just an unnecessary ruse to get the audience amped up for what would likely be Black Sabbath’s last show in the Mile High City. The crowd was happy to oblige though. In fact, the 18,000+ people were already on their feet and screaming before the band even appeared. A giant animated Satan stalked the screen that ran the length of the stage before Osbourne, Iommi, and Butler were joined by Tommy Clufetos to split the night open with the eponymous title track from their debut album. The introductory sounds of thunder, rain, church bells, and dread were familiar to any self-respecting connoisseur of heavy music, but that didn’t stop chills from rattling spines as Ozzy conjured the figure in black once again. Kids seeing Sabbath for the first time were chaperoned by parents who had been seeing them for half a century, but any feelings of safety and security were immediately smothered under a blanket of doom as the Godfathers of Metal presided over their own funeral.
It is impossible to overstate Black Sabbath’s influence on heavy metal music, so after almost 50 years as a band it would be understandable if they decided to cash-in on one last tour without putting much effort into it. Lesser bands have done just that. The End is anything but a cash grab though. Founding members Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Ozzy Osbourne are putting everything into their performances each night. For someone who played a blithering invalid on television, Osbourne seems to have replaced the drugs and booze with an actual elixir of life. His vocal style has always been one of the most unique in metal, so it was great to hear it ring true as he led the masses through so many classic tracks. Even his sparse banter came through clear. I saw the madman during his Retirement Sucks Tour (not long after he had promised No More Tours) back in ’96, and while that concert was a memorable one, his voice was stronger this time around. And even if it hadn’t been, Iommi and Butler were worth the price of admission alone. Each one kept to their own side of the stage as they lay waste to those unfortunate souls who dared get in the way of their unstoppable riffs.
“Fairies Wear Boots” brought out the false innocence in the master of ceremonies, causing him to clap and dance around like a little kid. Then reality became blurred as “After Forever” spiraled down “Into the Void”. Filters were applied to the live footage being piped to the big screen, so it actually felt like we had slipped back in time. Ozzy encouraged those who were smoking in the front row, while at the same time admitting that he doesn’t “do that shit anymore.” Snowblind was introduced as “a song about cocaine” before the whole crowd was coaxed into a wave, as if dancing with the snowflakes that used to blow inside the junkie’s head. Band intros followed. There was no avoiding the absence of Bill Ward, but for a band who should be long past their prime, I think I speak for everyone when I say ‘three outta four ain’t bad.’ Carnage filled the background as “War Pigs” kicked off a long Paranoid run that included “Hand of Doom”, “Rat Salad” (which included a pretty incredible drum solo, despite Clufeto still being considered a fill-in), and of course, “Iron Man”. Even after hearing that song thousands of times, it still hasn’t lost any of its power. The return of the flames didn’t hurt either.
“This is the end and I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Without you, we would be nothing.” Not exactly the kind of words you would expect to hear from a guy who was once famous for biting the head off a bat, but they were still appreciated. “Dirty Women” was supposed to close things out, but at Ozzy’s insistence we all went crazy for one more. “Children of the Grave” wrapped up the main set and the lyrics couldn’t have been more appropriate today than they were in 1971. Atomic warfare has been replaced with something arguably more dangerous, but the future is still the fate of children.
So you children of the world, listen to what I say
If you want a better place to live in, spread the word today
Show the world that love is still alive, you must be brave
Or you children of today are children of the grave
In the meantime, I think the world is a better place because Black Sabbath exists. If this tour really means retirement, then the world is still a better place because they existed. As purple confetti fell from the rafters during the encore, thousands of people were screaming “Can you help me occupy my brain?!”, and the world outside was just a memory. The last sound over the PA was that of Ozzy laughing; the last image was that of THE END. And oh what a fitting end it was.
On a personal note, the entire setlist was made up of songs that were released before I was born. As I’ve probably made obvious, Ozzy has had more of a direct impact on my life than any other member of the band. I grew up on Ozzy. I didn’t grow up on Black Sabbath. In fact, the only reason I got into Sabbath was because I sucked at video games. There was an arcade near my house where we used to hang out. My quarters were always gone first, so I’d sit around and listen to cassette tapes on my Walkman while my friends would finish their games. One day I happened to pop in a tape an older friend had copied for me. It was Paranoid. I was already an Ozzy fan, but that was the first time I’d listened to anything outside of his solo albums. I immediately recognized the psychedelic rock from my dad’s record collection, but I also heard the foundation on which metal had been built. I was instantly hooked on that album, but it wasn’t until years later when I really got into Sabbath. By that point, “Bark at the Moon”, “Diary of a Madman”, “Tribute”, and “Blizzard of Ozz” were already seared into my head. I know most of those solo albums don’t compare to the first few Sabbath releases, but there is a part of me that will always be partial to them. The reason I’m sharing this is because it was so good to see Ozzy healthy and sounding strong on this tour. I realize (and I actually hope) Black Sabbath are calling it quits, but there is a part of me that hopes Ozzy might go another round. No new album, or new music, or huge festival tour…just one more chance to hear the Prince of Darkness tell me that I’m not fucking loud enough!
Fairies Wear Boots
Into the Void
Behind the Wall of Sleep
Hand of Doom
Rat Salad / Drum Solo
Children of the Grave