Black Sabbath @ Rod Laver Arena
20.04.2016

Black Sabbath @ Rod Laver Arena

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Words BY PETER HODGSON
Pic by Ross Halfin

We went along to Black Sabbath’s final-ever Melbourne show and this is what went down.

Rival Sons are the perfect band to support Black Sabbath on their worldwide ‘The End’ tour. Their style is relatable to fans of Sabbath, whether they’re aged 16 or 66. Their songs are direct enough that if you haven’t heard of Rival Sons before you’ll still find yourself singing along by the end of each track, and their style is defined enough that even if you’re not a fan, when you hear them on the radio in six months you’ll say, “Oh hey, this is Rival Sons, that band I saw support Sabbath.” So whoever thought to book them on this tour, hi five.

Black Sabbath. The first and greatest metal band, and if you disagree I’ll fight you and win. And this was our last ever chance to see them: guitarist Tony Iommi is battling lymphoma, and while the treatment is going well, he’s finding it harder and harder to tour. Will there be new Black Sabbath music after this, confined to the studio? The odd festival appearance, perhaps? Who knows? But from the opening chord of ‘Black Sabbath’, the song that started it all, it was apparent that Iommi is still playing metal on his own terms, and still on top of his game.

Sure, Ozzy drifts off key or off beat every now and then, and yeah, drummer Bill Ward chose not to be a part of the reunited Sabbath, but when Ozzy is on he’s still unstoppable, equal parts pissed off and happy, commanding and humble. And drummer Tommy Clufetos may not have Ward’s improvisatory jazz approach but he’s a very solid player who had many in the crowd on their feet (and not to go have a wee) during his solo spot.

As godlike as Iommi is, Geezer Butler is still the bass monster he’s always been. His style is more roving and exploratory than today’s bass gods, and the many close-ups on the big screens showed just how intuitive, and yet complex, his playing is. When he took a solo before ‘N.I.Byou could see every bass player in the place whip out their phones to shoot video of the master at work. And the setlist: all the classics were there (‘War Pigs’, ‘Iron Man’, ‘Faeries Wear Boots’, a crushing ‘Paranoid’ encore) but balanced out with dark, angry cuts like ‘Into The Void’, ‘Behind The Wall Of Sleep’, and ‘After Forever’.

Iommi stretched out with a brilliant solo on ‘Dirty Women’ which he seemed to be his last chance to blow our minds, not just before the end of the concert, but before Black Sabbath is no more. All good things must come to an end though, and Sabbath are leaving this world with a library of riffs, songs, solos, licks and lyrics that will be deciphered and reinterpreted for generations, but none will ever match up to the original.

And despite the advancing years, the health scares, the absent friends, there were a great many moments tonight where Sabbath proved themselves every bit as vital as the first time they struck those ominous chords on their namesake track over 45 years ago.

Loved: Seeing my nine-year-old losing his mind at Sabbath.

Hated: Not hearing ‘End Of The Beginning‘.

Drank: Boags.