Published Aug 15, 2013While metalheads filtered into the Air Canada Centre for the reunited Black Sabbath's Toronto performance, party rocker Andrew WK greeted them not with live music but with a headbangers' party soundtrack. Sabbath brought him along to DJ; perched on a platform (with a massive 3D image of his own bloody face at his feet), Andrew WK rolled out 45 minutes of metal classics from the obvious (Judas Priest, Slayer, Pantera, Mötley Crüe) to the more obscure. People seemed to enjoy the familiar tunes and mood lighting but it was really just a fancy way of killing time.
An air raid siren introduced Black Sabbath's eventual presence, and we heard them before we saw them — first Ozzy Osbourne calling, "Let me fucking hear you," then the opening chords of "War Pigs" before the curtain lifted. Sabbath's live dynamic was established in those initial moments and varied little: Ozzy travelled the stage like a hyperactive little boy/confused old man, Tony Iommi was intensely chill (and didn't need to be anything else), and Geezer Butler fell somewhere in between. Iommi and Butler stuck to their sides of the stage all night, but Ozzy directed his love (and he expressed a lot of it) in every direction.
Unsurprisingly, the set list mixed very old ("back to '69, one of the first songs we ever wrote") and very new (a few selections from this year's 13 — a number one seller, as Ozzy noted and thanked us for a couple of times).
The newer tracks were performed well and made aesthetic sense but tended to act as breathers between the excitement of vintage Sabbath. In a sense, the nostalgia climaxed with "Black Sabbath," a journey from the deliciously creepy to the explosively powerful. After a few songs more "Fairies Wear Boots" offered a kind of minor resolution leading to a short instrumental interlude and an impressive but excessively long drum solo from Tommy Clufetos while his elders took an extended break. Finally, after a jubilant "Children of the Grave," the band promised one more song if the crowd went "fucking wild" then delivered "Paranoid" as a fond goodnight, making it a solid two hours of music.
Iommi nailed every solo and riff with effortless authority, and Butler's performance, including a fuzzed-up bass solo, shone as well. But the business of charming was up to Ozzy and charm he did. Even mistakes like announcing the wrong song (for which he apologized) or clapping off beat were endearing. And though he lost some steam midway, he opened and closed the show with remarkable energy, running in place or bouncing and frequently dousing himself (and the crowd) from buckets of water. And aside from a slurring that increased as the night wore on, his voice was in excellent form.
When Iommi, Osbourne and Butler excluded Bill Ward from their latest album and tour it was a controversial move, but not enough to keep people away — they had the Air Canada Centre packed tight and loud. Their collective performance in Toronto proved they have earned that appreciation: Black Sabbath were and remain the forefathers of heavy metal, without a doubt.