DOUG’S DIATRIBES: BLACK SABBATH STARTS TOUR IN HOUSTON
Fair Warning: this is a blog entry, to which I have a few points to make about seeing Black Sabbath start their North American tour in my hometown. Some of it is cynical, some of it is legit. Take it with a grain of salt.
So on this Thursday night, June 25th, I’m thoroughly excited to see the mighty Black Sabbath, one of my all-time favorite bands since I first heard “Iron Man” at the age of 11, some 20 years ago. They are starting their tour in MY HOMETOWN! WOO HOO!! We get the first crack at the show before the rest of North America gets it.
How cool is that? Well, not really cool in all reality. It’s like buying the hottest new piece of technology. Sure you’re excited, but once it is in your hands and you see the bugs and glitches, you start to feel cheated.
Starting off, the show was at the single worst venue in the Houston area, The Woodlands Pavilion just north of Houston. I’m not a fan of huge shows at major venues for lots of reasons (mostly the money), and this place is no exception. Still, The Woodlands never ceases to amaze me. No traffic control to keep the flow going, meaning the end result is that you are WAY late for the show. Due to this, we missed the opening act, Andrew WK. So in this instance, the inept planning on part of the The Woodlands was a mark in our favor, seeing as I didn’t have to listen to continuous songs about partying until I vomit. The downside of the inept planning is that a concert venue with a capacity of 16,500 people has parking that is best suited to a busy restaurant on a Saturday night, meaning you won’t get a spot. EVERY lot leading up to the venue was full, which I have never seen at this venue for all of the concerts I’ve seen there. Case in point, Iron Maiden plays this same venue, and I’m always able to find parking that is reasonable. But not for Sabbath. I had to park illegally, along with dozens of others. So we park, I get out of my car, walk about ten feet and suddenly I hear an air-raid siren, signalling the start of “War Pigs,” Sabbath’s opener. That’s right, traffic and parking issues means I will miss the first song.
Finally getting to our seats during the last two minutes of “War Pigs,” I’m already agitated and worried that my car is going to get towed. But hey, it’s Black Sabbath! They’ll kick ass, play a killer set and all will be cool even if I have to hitch-hike home. Right?
Following the cluster-fuck that had me miss the first song, Sabbath solidered on with “Into the Void,” “Under the Sun,” and “Snowblind” with a semi-decent performance of each. The instrumental part of the show was good, but something was missing. Something that adds to the overall vibe of live music. That missing link was Ozzy. While his mobility was decent, his singing really wasn’t. He had trouble getting on key, and even screwed up words, despite his teleprompter being right in front of him.
My only previous Sabbath experience was in 2004, when the all original Black Sabbath was the Ozzfest headliner. For this show, they were flawless, dead-on, and in fine form. The nine year gap was evident however as the band almost struggled to get on the same page from time to time, and it was like seeing a totally different band. Fill-in drummer Tommy Clufetos obviously did his homework and was purely excited to be the drumming component of Sabbath, seeing as his part of the show was solid and damn near perfect. The three remainders however needed to get going a bit more to be in the zone, so to speak, and they almost didn’t really get there.
Granted it was indeed the first night of a tour, and I’m sure they had some rust to blow out of their systems, so I hope that whomever is seeing this show a week or so from now has a better experience than I did. And hopefully the between song gaps will start to dwindle and further crowds won’t be subjected to two-minutes of silence, with Ozzy struggling to come up with more conversation topics than “How are you Houston?” Once they got going, they plowed away at the usual Sabbath gems, with “Age of Reason,” “Methademic,” and God is Dead?” from their latest release, with some enthusiasm. Wiping the dust from the “Paranoid” album, out comes “Rat Salad” with a somewhat lengthy drum solo, so the older three can go take some shots of Ensure and pop vitamins, both of which they so desperately needed.
Finally rounding out the main set was “Children of the Grave,” a true masterpiece from “Master of Reality.” But did they play the “Embryo” intro you ask?? Well maybe. There was about three seconds of notes similar to that riff, before Iommi packed in it for the meat of “Children…” Following the usual encore pause, which saw Ozzy prompting the crowd to start chanting for more (instead of the crowd doing it on their own), the band returns to the stage to play the beginning of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” which would have been a much better choice than the tired old “Paranoid” that was pretty lackluster.
The main irony of the night is that Sabbath had hinted that one of the reasons for Bill Ward’s absence from the tour was his inability to live up to the Sabbath standard and perform his duties adequately. All I can say to Ozzy, Geezer, and Iommi – “Karma is a bitch.”
So is it sour grapes, or me being overly critical? Maybe. But in the end, all I have to say is that I feel I did not get my $150 worth. But I guess I learned a lesson about big mainstream concerts, at least until the next one rolls around and I get suckered again. And at least my car didn’t get towed.
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