13 seems to represent more than just a number. (20)13 represents the year that Black Sabbath has finally emerged from retirement. 13 is the name of the Black Sabbath’s first studio album with original lead singer Ozzy Osbourne, since 1978’s “Never Say Die!” Indeed, 13 also represent the first time the band has ever topped both the UK Albums Chart and the US Billboard 200, marking the beginning of a successful return . And if you look closely enough, 1-3 represents a separation from a founding member, Bill Ward. Whatever the number 13 means to you, it’s indisputable that Black Sabbath is alive, kicking, and touring!
On August 4th, 2013 I was lucky enough to stumble into a small miracle. At the last minute, a friend of a friend was forced to give up their Black Sabbath tickets due to a last minute conflict. I was graciously bestowed upon with these tickets, thanks to an extremely generous individual that has forever earned a dear place in my heart. This obtainment happened within only four hours of the show starting and honestly was a modern day miracle. soon I would be watching the original Black Sabbath for the second time in two years, 10th row, dead center, at New Jersey’s beloved PNC Bank Arts Center (to make it all the sweeter I will note that about five years ago I saw Ronnie James Dio croon with Heaven and Hell at the very same venue).
The venue was packed to the gills and undoubtedly sold out. Andrew WK was blaring classic metal jams and served as the only type of opener for Sabbath. The crowd ranged from businessmen, dads with sons, cougars, hipsters, beer bellies, and your quintessential metal-heads. People of all sorts came from far and near to catch sight of what could be the first or last time they would see the band live, in person. Due to the exorbitant amount of excitement and drunkenness filling the Arts Centers, I was almost positive that the majority of people forgot that Bill Ward was not going to be playing the drums that night. Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine was manning the percussion, just as he did on the studio-produced “13”. Around 8:30 the lights slowly dimmed and the thousands packing the venue rushed to their seats (or for the majority, the lawn).
The crowd was greeted with War Pigs. In return, Black Sabbath was greeted with the loudest cheering I have ever heard at that particular venue. I was close enough to see every detail from Ozzy’s “Ozzy” knuckles tattoo, to Tommy Clufeto’s abs. Instrumentally, the band played absolutely phenomenal. Tony Iommi played every song while slowly pacing around the stage, smiling calmly at both the crowd and Ozzy’s goofy gestures. Geezer Butler remained more stationary than Iommi, and showed more concentration on perfecting each song, rather than playing to the crowd (which was fine by me). And of course Ozzy fulfilled his duty of captivating the audience though his anticipated antics and crowd engagement.
I did not know how I was supposed to initially judge Tommy Clufetos. I enjoyed his previous work with Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie and recognize his talent and aggressive style as an individual drummer. He truly did nail his part throughout the entire night. At one point Tony, Ozzy, and Geezer took an unexpected break and left the fill-in drummer all alone in front of thousands of die-hard Sabbath fans; a truly daring move. Tommy commanded the crowd’s attention and produced a phenomenal five minute drum solo, leaving everyone wide-eyed and thoroughly impressed. As one veteran Sabbath fan put it, “The last time I saw Sabbath live was 1979. Tonight was their tightest drumming I have ever heard.” In all honestly, I would have rather seen a talented drummer in his prime play with the band, rather than a grumpy, out-of-shape Bill Ward trudge sloppily throughout the night. Clufetos fulfilled his duty and earned the approval from nearly every fan present.
We all knew that Ozzy was not going to be perfect, especially at an outdoor amphitheater during a humid New Jersey summer. Judging from what came out of the speakers (with or without an vocal enhancements), he sounded pretty good. You could easily tell when he was looking down to glimpse at the lyrics taped on the stage; during those moments I chose to close my eyes and pretend it was in 1975. Sometime it sounds like he was reading from book, but for the most part his voice sounded authentic and young. Unfortunately he no longer sings my favorite song, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, simply because no man in his 60’s can sing that high. He certainly doesn’t have the same mobility and fitness, but he displayed unheralded energy that earned the roars and respect of the crowd. It really was truly amazing to see him up there after 40 years of musical wear and tear, thoroughly enjoying himself at age 64. As a dedicated metal fan, hearing the band play classics such as “War Pigs”, “Into The Void”, “N.I.B.”, and “Black Sabbath” was pretty damn emotional.
One tiny, nit-picky, critique I had came during “Snowblind”, when Iommi and Geezer were clearly not on the same page. During the first two choruses the bass and guitar were not matching up at all, producing much dismay in the face of Iommi, the perfectionist that he is. Although the real elephant in the room was made clear by the audience. As expected, every song from “13” the band played, earned significantly less energy and cheers. I felt a sense of discomfort during the few songs played from “13”, but it is understandable for Black Sabbath to promote and show off their new music. Although when “God Is Dead” was played, I found myself robotically spewing out the chorus and entirely enjoyed their newest hit.
10:30 PM rolled around and the band began to wrap it up with “Dirty Women” and “Children Of The Grave”. Directly after the last song Ozzy provoked the fans and generated enough applause to deem it appropriate for an encore. Right around 10:40 the band rightfully ended the show with Paranoid. The famed lead singer blessed and thanked the crowd while the entire venue roared as if the band were never coming back. I left in a daze after spending $100.00 in merchandise, going back over each song in my head during my walk to the car. I still cannot entirely describe my exact feelings about leaving the show that night. Letting it sit for four days allowed my conscious decipher what went through my head the night, and what still continues to plague me: anxiety. Just like all the other fans, I want a guarantee to know that that was not the last time I will ever see Black Sabbath. It might sound pathetic, but just like an ex-girlfriend, I need some closure over here! Within the next six months I better wake up and see the announcement of a 2014 or 2015 world tour. Until then I hope you will continue with me in relentlessly and religiously listening the classic songs of the world’s first heavy metal band.
Venue: PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ
Date: August 4th, 2013
Setlist: War Pigs, Into The Void, Under The Sun/Every Day Comes And Goes, Snowblind, Age Of Reason, Black Sabbath, Behind The Wall Of Sleep, N.I.B., End Of The Beginning, Fairies Wear Boots, Methademic, Rat Salad, Iron Man, God Is Dead, Dirty Women, Children Of The Grave, Paranoid (encore).