Black Sabbath’s Abu Dhabi concert a musical education

The trailblazing British veterans' Abu Dhabi debut was part event, part musical education.
Fans rejoiced at the Du Arena on Yas Island as Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath rocked out with the residents of the UAE. Lee Hoagland / The National
Fans rejoiced at the Du Arena on Yas Island as Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath rocked out with the residents of the UAE. Lee Hoagland / The National

Heavy metal as we know it today would look very different without the trailblazing British veterans Black Sabbath, which made the Birmingham-born band’s Abu Dhabi debut at du Arena on Thursday night part event, part musical education.

Their showmanship was very much in evidence, however, as a curtain rolled up to reveal the quartet — Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass), the touring drummer Tommy Clufetos and the loon-eyed vocalist Ozzy Osbourne himself.

Hopes that Sabbath’s influential first five albums would be generously mined were sated by the opening peel of War Pigs, from the 1970 album Paranoid, replete with video footage from historic conflicts. The black-clad Osbourne initially appeared a trifle confused — something of a trademark look nowadays — and let the crowd fill in a clutch of lyrical blanks. But that was the only real moment where his performance teetered nearer to his doddering reality-television persona than his status as one of rock’s finest frontmen.

Osbourne threw off his long overcoat after a crushing rendition of Into the Void, from Sabbath’s third LP, Master of Reality. And as he introduced Under the Sun, he made the understatement of a sweaty night when he joked: “It gets hot around here”. Despite the heat, though, Iommi proved one cool customer, effortlessly coaxing forth fiery riff after riff.

Any nerves about being back onstage after a short spell on the live-circuit sidelines were well and truly banished by this point. The confidence was such that even Age of Reason, a cut from the 2013 comeback album 13, didn’t feel like an intrusion on the nostalgia.

Though Osbourne’s voice wobbled a few times, he sounded stronger than ever on the classics. The most pertinent case in point arrived after he announced that Sabbath were about to “Take you back … ” – right to the very beginning, to the title track of the debut album Black Sabbath, heralded by a cascade of haunting church bells and a riff heavier than an overladen 16-wheeler lorry.

Clufetos did a tub-thumping job of filling in for the band’s longtime sticksman Bill Ward, who isn’t involved with the reincarnated Sabbath. He even snuck in a full drum solo, a heavy-metal tradition that pleased many an old-timer rocker in attendance.

Iron Man was afforded one of the evening’s most rapturous receptions, but that was nothing compared to the concluding mayhem. “This is a song called Paranoid,” Osbourne hollered. “Go … crazy!” And the crowd were only too happy to follow his command.

Published: May 31, 2014 04:00 AM


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