Black mass

Seattle thrills to the reunited Ozzy and co.

Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne performed his trademark cat-like leap on the KeyArena stage no fewer than 10 times during the band's opening song, an amazingly energetic rendition of "War Pigs." Given that this reunion tour marks the group's 30th anniversary, you had to wonder if it could last.

Black Sabbath

KeyArena, January 12

Well, it couldn't. Both Osbourne and guitarist Tony Iommi were fighting a flu bug (the tour's next two dates had to be rescheduled) and after fluffing several high notes on the second song, "N.I.B.," Ozzy's vocals declined dramatically in volume. But the band—Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward—aided its ailing singer with a flawlessly played set, drawing largely from Sabbath's first three albums.

Despite Osbourne's vocal struggles, the classics went over well with the crowd, a fascinating mix of teenagers through forty-somethings. The staging also drew major appreciation: flashpots at the start, fireworks and tons of confetti for the finale, and an awesome smoke 'n' torches backdrop for the song "Black Sabbath." Three video screens helped convey Ozzy's extensive repertoire of demonic expressions. (Before the show, a handful of Christian demonstrators greeted concertgoers with admonitions to "Trust Jesus" and "Obey your parents.")

In other words, it was just like old times for Sabbath, the pioneering '70s metal band that successfully combined heavy, midtempo guitar rock and occult-themed lyrics, much to the dismay of radio programmers, music critics, and parents everywhere. The band unraveled quickly after Osbourne's 1978 departure—Iommi kept the name, staffing the group with a revolving-door list of sidemen. Osbourne, Iommi, and Butler reunited for the 1997 Ozzfest tour, with Ward completing the foursome for the recent Reunion album and this tour.

At 12 songs total and a top ticket price of $55, some fans probably felt a bit short-changed. Unless you factor in the opening bands . . . and why would you? Pantera delighted its many young fans with a thundering set of sound-alike speed-metal tunes, although singer Philip Anselmo's posturing quickly grew tiresome. SoCal fusion group Incubus hit all the hip buttons (it even had an onstage DJ scratching along), but faced a crowd primed for metal bombast, not musical experimentation. In the end, despite its early exit, the reunited Sabbath proved that nothing beats the original.

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