Black Sabbath has always been more about heaviness than speed, more about inertia than velocity. And volume above all else. Not for them the shading of Led Zeppelin or the prowess of Cream. What Sabbath found was a sound — hard, dark, metallic — that they pursued with nearly obsessive focus. And as the curtain rose slowly in perfect counterpoint to the weighty groan at the start of “War Pigs” Monday night at the Comcast Center, that sound was in full force.
It helped that eight songs, nearly half the set, came from the band’s blueprint-establishing first two albums, as compared to their new album “13” (the band’s first No. 1 in the United States) providing only three numbers. But Sabbath’s formula has been so unchanging, in ways both laudable and not, that even the new songs were nearly indistinguishable from material 40 years older, down to the epic length and shifting complexity of “Age Of Reason.”
As the only nonoriginal member on stage, drummer Tommy Clufetos played with the animated enthusiasm of someone jazzed to be performing with his idols. Geezer Butler, meanwhile, made playing bass appear to be an intensely physical activity, even if that physicality was limited to just his fingers.
But there were two colossi onstage. Tony Iommi coaxed low, guttural noises out of his guitar with clarity and vision, although he couldn’t help but repeat himself occasionally. (That’s another downside to the formula.) During “Into The Void,” he took slow, deliberate steps across the stage as he hacked at his strings, giving him the air of someone striding with purpose.
Ozzy Osbourne, on the other hand, was uncomfortable to watch as he shuffled across the stage, clapped awkwardly, and gesticulated wildly.
Worse, he was notably off-key in a great many songs, including “Iron Man,” where he struggled to find his pitch from the start.
It was especially obvious during “Black Sabbath,” where the spare backing (substantially just three notes played ad nauseum) gave him nowhere to hide. But when Sabbath came together, as on the closing “Paranoid,” its sound had the weight of a thousand suns.
Despite being billed as the opener, Andrew W.K. simply acted as a preshow DJ. Even so, he tossed in tiny little head cocks and lip synching and air drums, not big enough to be obviously part of any act, just enough to be his limbic response to the Judas Priest, Metallica, and Misfits songs he blasted.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.