While many veteran rock acts are all too comfortable doing the cash-grab reunion tour circuit, British heavy metal titan Black Sabbath is still ticking off milestones in a decade-spanning career.
The band is currently touring with original members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler — along with drummer Tommy Clufetos — in support of 2013’s massively successful, Rick Rubin-produced 13, an album that, quite unbelievably, became Black Sabbath’s first No. 1 album in the States.
Still, Ozzy and co. knew that the (overwhelmingly male) fans that packed out the MTS Centre on Wednesday night were there for the canonical classics. In fact, the band played just three songs from 13 — ("God Is Dead?", "Age of Reason" and "End of the Beginning"). Indeed, it was a show for Sabbath disciples — from older fans clad in fading T-shirts from tours past to teenagers who discovered Black Sabbath much later via a cool parent or sibling, thrilled by the chance to see an Iommi solo in the flesh. Regardless of actual age, everyone in that arena was living a teenage dream.
And Black Sabbath gave the masses what they came for. From the opening sirens of "War Pigs", the band was received with roars of appreciation. At 65, Osbourne is showing his age; his hands, manicured in black polish, shake when he isn’t holding onto the mic stand, and he shuffles when he runs across the length of the stage. He’s also softer in his old age — around the middle, yes, but also in demeanor; the Prince of Darkness proved to be a big teddy bear, asking the crowd if they were having fun, while handing out plenty of "I love yous" and "God bless yous". Yet, he’s also a commanding presence who still gives all he’s got.
And thankfully, age hasn’t touched his voice much. With Iommi — whose guitar heroics were a highlight of the night — and Geezer by his sides, those genre-defining songs from the early 1970s — "Black Sabbath", "N.I.B", "Fairies Wear Boots", "Iron Man" and a particularly punishing "Children of the Grave" — hung pretty faithful to their recorded counterparts. To watch Iommi effortlessly blaze through those iconic licks and solos was mesmerizing.
Clufetos — who was born nine years after Black Sabbath released its first album — quickly and easily earned the audience’s loyalty with his athleticism and precision. A mammoth, 10-minute drum solo, itself a lesson in stamina, was met with much embarrassing but enthusiastic air drumming from the crowd. Bill Ward wasn’t missed.
The two-hour set culminated with a blistering performance of "Paranoid", delivered in a blizzard of confetti and giant purple balloons. When the band took its final bows, the room was still buzzing with energy.
Saskatoon’s Reignwolf — a.k.a. Jordan Cook — opened the show with a blistering set of blues-inflected hard rock — think a heavier Black Keys meets Badmotorfinger-era Soundgarden. While he’s sometimes joined by a band, Cook is an impressive force solo as he proved on songs such as "Electric Love," wielding an axe and a kick drum with pummeling results.