Early on in Black Sabbath’s tight two-hour set in front of about 19,000 black-clad congregants at the Cruzan Amphitheatre Wednesday night, venerable frontman Ozzy Osbourne introduced the band’s seminal 1970 anthem “Black Sabbath” with a request: “Get out your f---ing cell phones and light this place up!”
Bathed in red stage lights, Osbourne waited for the chime of the song’s signature church bell, a call to the faithful, as a blanket of lights spread out before him, the celestial reproduced by a new form of communication, one with its own complicated rules of devotion.
This moment of melding the sacred and the secular, the ecclesiastical and the digital, was pure showmanship, but as the Prince of Darkness held off the beginning of the song for a few extra beats, it was clear that even 40 years on Black Sabbath has lost none of its ability to conjure up a commanding evening of rock ‘n’ roll sorcery.
Black Sabbath arrived onstage to a standing ovation about 10 minutes before promoters had predicted and brought a palpable sense of urgency to their opening salvo, the fan-favorite “War Pigs.” Osbourne, in black pants and long-sleeve shirt, with the eyeliner extra thick, was in fine vocal form (his demonic cackle on “Black Sabbath” was pitch-perfect), working up a hair-matting sweat before the second song, “Into the Void,” was done.
If he did not attempt the cross-stage sprints of his youth, Osbourne was nevertheless spry (a word you use for someone who turns 65 in December) and moved around enough to demand respect. And if he was sneaking a peek at a monitor for help with 40-year-old lyrics, as sometimes appeared to be the case, who’ll hold it against him?
While sprinkling the night with lusty f-bombs, Osbourne was also an engaging emcee, repeatedly asking the crowd how they were and telling them how glad he was to see them. For some, the solicitousness made them wish for more f-bombs.
The 18-song set list was a balance of old and new, the former including early-‘70s trailblazers “Snow Blind,” “N.I.B.,” “Fairies Wear Boots” (backed by a video of stylish erotica) and “Children of the Grave,” as well as the iconic hits “Iron Man” and “Paranoid” (the encore). The night also had a strong representation from the new Rick Rubin-produced album, “13,” the band’s first No. 1 album ever and its first new studio release in 35 years. New cuts included “Age of Reason,” “Methademic,” “End of the Beginning” and “God is Dead?”
The latter two were particularly well received, especially “God is Dead?,” which produced a crowd singalong (surprising for such a new song) and seems destined for enshrinement among the most popular in the Black Sabbath repertoire.
Guitarist Tony Iommi, who endured chemotherapy during the recording of “13” last year, was a nimble pacesetter, with fiery fretwork distinguishing such songs as “War Pigs,” “Into the Void,” “Children of the Grave” and the saucy “Dirty Women” (which Osbourne observed was recorded at Miami’s Criteria Studios in 1976).
Another original member of Black Sabbath, Geezer Butler, was a pile-driving force on bass, abetted by young drummer Tommy Clufetos, sitting in for the estranged Bill Ward. The shirtless and bearded Clufetos, looking like some kind of metal messiah, was remarkable, and his drum solo leading into “Iron Man” drew a long standing ovation.
The majority of the audience ranged from their 20s to 50s, some approaching Osbourne’s age, most in T-shirts defining their bona fides among musical tribes: Led Zeppelin, Black Flag, Slayer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flogging Molly, Diablo Dimes and Manu Chao. An unscientific poll revealed most fans thought Black Sabbath killed it.
Speaking for the assembled was Tom Buckley, 43, who works in a laboratory near Daytona Beach, and drove down for the show. Shortly after Iommi delivered the final licks of the concert-closing “Paranoid,” Buckley, who admitted he’d had a few, offered his succinct review: “Tell Ozzy that was the best f---ing s--t ever!”