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Gig Review: Black Sabbath + Rival Sons, Melbourne, 19 April 2016

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Black Sabbath + Rival Sons
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
19 April 2016
Review by Rod Whitfield

Black Sabbath. The very name evokes a dark, magnificent prestige, an aura of illustriousness, something truly seminal. If you look at most genres of music, it is exceedingly difficult to pinpoint an actual moment when it came into being, when it truly broke away from its influences and became an entity unto itself. Not so with heavy metal. Heavy metal began the day Black Sabbath formed, way back in 1968. There may be a few, extremely rare stragglers out there who could put up an argument against this, but essentially this is indisputable.

So the fact that these were the band’s last ever shows in Australia on their last ever tour (the Tour is even called The End) before they retire gave this show, almost half a century after their formation, an even greater esteem.

First things first however, the band brought a support act along with them on this tour. It’s a touch disappointing that an Aussie band wasn’t given a crack at this support. An act like Closure in Moscow would have fulfilled this role as well as Californians Rival Sons did.

That aside, Rival Sons did a fabulous job of what would have been quite a daunting and nerve wracking, although ridiculously exciting, job to take on, opening for such a long running and deeply loved band in massive, cavernous arenas on their last ever tour. But if they were nervous, they barely showed it.

They came on to the strains of the classic theme of spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and laced into a rollickingly good set of their kick-arse blues based hard rock.

The key feature of this band is the masterful pipes of frontman Jay Buchanan. He is quite magnificent, with a massive range and a full-bodied delivery, and the band locks in beautifully behind him and lets him do his thing. Their songs are anthemic, boogie-laden slices of old school rock ‘n’ roll, which get kinda jammy on occasion. They provided some nice dynamics with a sweet ballady, almost gospelly track late in their set.

This is the kind of band that are gritty and flashy at the same time. Check out Rival Sons if you dig Zeppelin, The Answer and yes, Closure in Moscow.

A crazy, animated horror movie featuring the birth of a massive demon-like creature on the massive rear screen heralded the arrival of the legend that is Black Sabbath, and they slammed into their title track, ever-menacing and black as pitch. This final celebration of this band’s mighty career had begun.

The sound is overwhelmingly huge, raw and clear all at once. Ozzy’s voice and physical presence have certainly seen better days (come on, the guy is pushing 70 and has consumed more drugs and alcohol than most people could in a hundred lifetimes), but on this night it simply did not matter one iota.

Tony and Geezer are in ripping form of course, and whilst I initially had my regrets that original skin-basher Bill Ward wouldn’t be playing on this tour, these were dispelled completely within a song or two by the slamming exuberance of replacement Tommy Clufetos. He absolutely nails it, and his eight-minute drum solo was an explosive percussive tour de force.

A word on Tony Iommi. The man who invented a sound that spawned a million bands is now a classy elder statesman of rock. He still plays like a God and conducts himself with an understated dignity rare in rock ‘n’ roll stars.

The light show is blindingly amazing and the set list has pretty much everything you could ever want. All the great classics, War Pigs, Iron Man, Children of the Grave, NIB and a single encore, the all-time classic Paranoid. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sweet Leaf may have been nice, but that’s probably being greedy.

This was one hour and forty minutes that I wish I could have bottled. It was one of those ‘moment in time’ gigs that you will remember for ever, and the fact that it was the last time we will ever see this magnificent unit playing together lent it even greater poignancy.

Thank you, Black Sabbath. Thank you for being Black Sabbath.

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