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Black Sabbath, The United Center, Chicago, IL. 1-22-16

In the late 1960’s Black Sabbath (Ozzy Osbourne – vocals, Tony Iommi – guitar, Geezer Butler – bass and Bill Ward – drums) used their brooding, intense music to escape the bleak dead end world they knew in their hometown of Birmingham, England. Fusing blues and psychedelia, along with a bit of jazz and progressive rock, Black Sabbath almost single handedly created what would become heavy metal. Some 45 years on, Iommi’s crushing, down tuned guitar riffs, Butler’s nihilistic lyrics and Osbourne’s plaintive wail are still emulated and stand as the bedrock on which the genre is built.

Necessitated by Iommi’s understandable desire to step back from the rigors of the road after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2013,  Sabbath, now consisting of Osbourne, Iommi, Butler and touring drummer Tommy Clufetos are billing this tour as “The End”. The 20,000 fans gathered in Chicago’s United Center were beyond excited to see their heroes off one final time.

Except for “Dirty Women” (Technical Ecstasy – 1976) and “God Is Dead?” (13 – 2013) the roughly two hour performance pulled exclusively from the band’s first four landmark releases, “Black Sabbath” (1970), “Paranoid” (1970) , “Master Of Reality” (1971)  and “Vol 4” (1972), with “Paranoid receiving the majority of attention. In addition to live staples “War Pigs”, “Black Sabbath” “Iron Man” and “Paranoid”, the band dug deep into their iconic catalog, pleasing die hard fans with “After Forever”, Waiting For The Sun / Everyday Comes and Goes”, “Behind The Wall Of Sleep”, “Into The Void” and “Hand Of Doom”.

Now in his late 60’s Osbourne’s voice does show some of the effects of four decades of use and abuse and there were a few moments at the United Center where his voice did noticeably wander off key. That being said, in the heat of the moment, watching the band in all it’s menacing, gloomy glory, live and in person, the occasional glitch doesn’t really register. It’s only later on, when scrolling through the abundant, poorly recoded fan clips on youtube that you’re apt to notice a few bum notes.
Though he doesn’t stray to far from his teleprompter at center stage Ozzy is still the band’s affable master of ceremonies, incessantly inciting the crowd to “Go Fucking Crazy” & “Get Your Hands In The Air”.

As Osbourne whips the crowd to a lather Butler & Iommi are content to hang back at stage right and left respectively, focusing on their instruments. Butler’s finger still deftly dance across his four stings adding melody to Iommi’s pulverizing riffs or rhythm under the blister solos. The usually stoic Iommi  was in good spirits as he smiled and waived to the fans up front in between delivering some of the most iconic riffs in metal. While it’s impossible to replace the power and swing that Bill Ward brought to the Sabbath material, Clufetos does an admirable job filling in for the fan favorite, playing with ferocity and enthusiasm.

If this is indeed THE END of Black Sabbath I’m glad I got to see it one last time.


Setlist:
1. Black Sabbath
2. Fairies Wear Boots
3. After Forever
4. Into The Void
5. Snowblind
6. War Pigs
7. Behind The Wall Of Sleep
8. N.I.B.
9. Hand Of Doom
10. Rat Salad
11. Iron Man
12. God Is Dead?
13. Under The Sun / Every Day Comes and Goes
14. Dirty Women
15. Paranoid
Encore:
16. Children Of The Grave