Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Thursday, 25 April 2013
There are surprisingly few frills to tonight’s stage production. At the back, a giant video screen is intercut by what might be intended to be spiderwebs. A smaller video screen sits beneath the tall drum riser. There's coloured lights and strobes. No pyrotechnics. Two men perched up in the rafters ensure that twin spotlights remain on the singer at all times. A handful of cameramen track the players for the big screen, alongside occasional file footage of atom bombs exploding and some sort of cheesy-looking undead. There's no shortage of religious iconography: crosses etched into the guitarist’s fretboard, a big gold bastard hanging from his neck. One of his guitar straps bears his surname in bold font. As if everyone in this room doesn't already know it.
To think that an industrial accident nearly robbed us of one of the finest and most original guitarists of all time. Tony Iommi doesn't do much more on stage than eke out riff after evil riff, custom thimbles fitted snugly over the tips of his stumpy middle fingers, occasionally peering over his blue specs and throwing up the horns to his disciples in the front row. I'm seated on his side of the stage, so I've got nearly two hours to watch closely. He gives off an avuncular air of quiet confidence, and wears his smart leather jacket throughout. I've seen a few guitarists in my time, but this man is in a class of his own. The singer occasionally prostrates himself before Black Sabbath’s sole continual member; he refers to him as “the real ‘Iron Man’”, and waves his arms in that classic we-are-not-worthy pose. Indeed.
Ozzy Osbourne is as enthusiastic as any 64 year-old on the planet. The close-up camera shots show him reading from a teleprompter, straining to recall which syllables to place the emphasis on. Who gives a good goddamn shit, though? That he's still living and breathing without the help of machines is commendable, especially since he was back on the sauce and blow as recently as last February. This crowd loves him for the caricature he has long been. How many musicians can throw their lives open to the fickle, vain world of reality television and still command respect like this man? Which other 64-year old singer’s rider includes a bucket of water – regularly used to dunk one’s head into, and/or throw onto the front rows – black nail polish, and waterproof eyeliner?
Geezer Butler is an unassuming bassist if ever there was one, yet he’s stacked every song so full of clever, tricky phrasing that he rarely has time to look up and acknowledge that he’s playing to a full room of 13,000. Tom Larkin – drummer of touring support act Shihad – was spot-on when he described Butler’s dextrous playing as “wrestling his bass like it’s a live eel”. (Worth noting: Shihad were strong earlier, their set a half-hour of power consisting of songs spanning 1993 –'Factory', 'Screwtop' – to 2002’s 'Comfort Me'.)
Behind the kit is not founding stickman Bill Ward but a skinny workhorse named Tommy Clufetos. He's a flashy player, too – arms raised high at every opportunity, emphasising each cymbal crash – probably owing more to the occasion of playing with these three legends than musical necessity. He's smooth, though, no doubt. His drum solo is backed by the most intense multi-colour strobe light display I've ever experienced. Epileptics beware.
The song selection and set structure is immaculate, though the two tracks from their forthcoming album 13 go down like the proverbial zeppelin. Hardcore fans will find it tough to bitch about the breadth of material covered, all performed with verve and precision. If a weak link must be nominated, it’s Osbourne's wavering octaves and drill-sergeant demeanour. Students of their 1998 live album Reunion have already heard every bit of stage banter in his repertoire. (The setlist isn’t dissimilar, either.) I would've thought that there’s only so many times a crowd could be asked to SHOW ME YOUR FUCKIN' HANDS! before the novelty wore off, but this lot are a dedicated and willing bunch. 39 years between Australian tours speaks for itself, I suppose. And if there's one man in metal worth showing your hands to, it's Mr Osbourne.