Black Sabbath at Lollapalooza, 8/3/12

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Photo by Erik Hess
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Black Sabbath
Lollapalooza at Grant Park, Chicago
Friday, August 3, 2012

In 2012, being a purist fan of rock (of varying hardness) is getting tougher all the time. Among the thousands of devoted Lollapoles gathered to witness Black Sabbath blister the Grant Park grounds, more than a few of them headbanged during the classic songs, and dropped one-liners ("The pomeranian crapped in the kitchen again") from the Prince of Darkness' family reality show The Osbournes in between. Similarly, we can't unsee Aerosmith's Steven Tyler as an American Idol judge, and David Lee Roth's canny radio schtick isn't why his brief reunion with Van Halen got us all excited.

So, for 100 minutes, Osbourne, lead guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Tommy Clufetos not only fought against age, bodily wear, egos, and hot-as-fuck weather -- but they also fought to keep our minds on the mystique of one of the darkest bands ever to assemble. 


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Photo by Erik Hess
This worked impressively.

Evaluating a 63-year-old rock star's performance shouldn't just be answering the question: Do they still have it? On a half-dozen occasions, he bellowed "I can't fucking hear you." Part of this statement is intended to get the crowd to scream, and part of it could've simply been the truth.

Still, the eccentric, oft-unintelligible Ozzy Osbourne now has something that he never could possess in his youth. Sure, he mastered the deranged eyes a long time ago. But as he sometimes gingerly moved around the stage in an all-black gown adorned with a sparkling cross, he looked and behaved very much like a grizzled, spell-casting madman. His wrinkled hands gripping the mic stand was grand and terrifying. The humanity of old hips that can't jump for too long fused perfectly with immortal evil.

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Photo by Erik Hess
And with three rock stars in their own right -- to hear Clufetos play a drum solo is to keep saying "I can't believe no one else does that" -- filling out this version of Black Sabbath, Osbourne isn't left bearing all the weight. Tony Iommi's capped fingers dancing on frets wrestled many a neck into nerve-splitting nods. And though "War Pigs" wasn't one of the strongest vocal moments of the night, fierce bass precision from Butler meant that it didn't matter.

Ozzy doused himself with water several times, and it kept his long hair in sloppy tendrils around his face. When singing "My name is Lucifer, please take my hand" amidst "N.I.B." he was not some guy who once asked what a Bieber was, nor was he attempting to reclaim the way the song would've been performed 40 years ago. He was his 63-year-old wailing self -- warts, blackness and all. 

Critic's Notebook

The crowd: Fewer Sabbath T-shirts than anticipated, but a lot of people who were drunk on the music and the refreshments. A guy next to me had a mop of hair and treated my face as his floor on several occasions.

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Photo by Erik Hess
Overheard: "He can't talk, but he sure can sing."

Best Ozzy banter: Before "Snowblind," a song that beats the shit out of Eric Clapton's "Cocaine," he said "This is a song about one of our favorite pastimes." 

Setlist:
Black Sabbath
The Wizard
Behind the Wall of Sleep
N.I.B.
Into the Void
Under the Sun
Snowblind
War Pigs
Electric Funeral
Sweet Leaf
Symptom of the Universe > Drum Solo
Iron Man
Fairies Wear Boots
Dirty Women
Children of the Grave

Encore: 
Paranoid


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