Black Sabbath, O2 Academy, Birmingham 19/05/12 | Counteract | National News with a Local Edge | Counteract is a Birmingham based music magazine covering the latest and best news, reviews and interviews.
Photo by Ross Halfin Let’s be honest, you can rarely go to a gig in Birmingham without the band mentioning Black Sabbath. From the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Slipknot, every band I have ever seen have always praised Birmingham for being the ‘home of metal’. And rightly so. Few things make me proud to be Brummie, but our musical heritage is one of them. So when Black Sabbath, who pretty much invented the genre in 1969 with their self-titled debut album, decided that they were going to return to Birmingham to play a single show in the 3000 capacity o2 Academy, you knew music history was going to be made. Calling it a ‘warm-up’ show before their spot as headliners at Download festival, one got the feeling that they were ‘testing the waters’ for guitarist Tony Iommi, who recently fought a battle against lymphoma. With no support act, an early opening time, tightened security and a ridiculous ticket collection method, it almost became a chore getting into the gig, and only the thought of Sabbath (and the £50 forked out on tickets) kept fans from turning back from queuing in the bitter cold; some from as early as 12. But as soon as the lights and Ozzy’s voice crowed from back stage, every single hour seemed worthwhile. Coming on to a pre-recorded medley, (leaving those who bet what song they’d come on to scratching their heads), they soon settled for ‘Into The Void’ and immediately, you knew they meant business. Ozzy was on top form, leaving behind the embarrassing performances of the 90s, and Tommy Clufetos replacing Bill Ward injected a spark of youth into the set. As sad as it is to say, Clufetos managed to play a set that packed a punch in the absence of Ward, regardless of whether the reasons behind his absence were monetary or skill related. Moving from ‘Snowblind’ to ‘War Pigs’, ‘Iron Man’ to ‘Dirty Women’, the setlist they chose had the perfect mix of light and heavy, giving the audience time to recuperate from the hits, and giving die-hard fans treats such as playing ‘Wheels of Confusion’ live for the first time. (Well, according to Ozzy.) Photo by Ross Halfin Each member fulfilled their duties perfectly; Although ‘Symptom of the Universe’ and ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ were played without vocals, Ozzy’s perfect rendition of ‘Sweet Leaf’ more than made up for it, and Iommi’s mind-blowingly filthy rendition of the ‘Electric Funeral’ riff vibrated the bowels of everyone in the room. However, there still felt like there was something missing. There was no mention of Bill Ward’s absence, nor was anything said about Tony Iommi’s illness. Ozzy still bantered with the crowd as well as anyone with 45 years experience in the industry does, demanding that the people half his age “go fucking mental”, but the rest seemed to shy away from the spotlight. While neither Geezer Butler or Tony Iommi were ones for prancing around on stage, neither gave more than a smile and a wave to adoring fans chanting their names. But be that as it may, they all seemed to enjoy themselves a tremendous amount. The simply joy of playing to a room full of people that adore your music was evidently nigh-on overwhelming for the band, and an equal amount of admiration was shown by Ozzy towards both the crowd and his bandmates. Truly, it seemed like it was an unforgettable night for them just as much as it was for me.