Forty-five years to the month after making its New England debut, pioneering heavy metal band Black Sabbath took to the stage at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield to bid the road farewell. From the perfect weather to a deep-cut-rich set list, it was a best-case concert scenario that highlighted the massive place in musical culture the band has occupied for the better part of five decades.
The audience ranged in age from fired-up retirees to one particularly enthusiastic preschooler in hot-pink ear protection. Families galore sang along with every word, and more than a few friendships on display predated the Nixon administration. There were off-the-clock executives, tradespeople, and gawky, goofy teenagers acting too cool for their obviously cool parents. This was a microcosm of humanity, a heartwarming display of heavy metal's broad appeal.
When lead singer and former reality TV star Ozzy Osbourne asked the assembled masses, “Is this the end for Black Sabbath?” the audience was hesitant to respond, unwilling to admit their favorite group was finally calling it quits — one exception being a gentleman in a T-shirt from Ozzy’s 1992 “No More Tours” tour, who defiantly screamed, “Probably not!”
You could hear the crowd deflate when Osbourne answered his own question with a brusque “It is.” But that was just a momentary let-down in an otherwise flawless show. Augmented by slick CGI and lysergic video filters that evoked their iconic 1970 performance on the German television show Beat Club, Black Sabbath dug deep into the heavy grooves that made the band a rock-radio staple.
Starting with the plodding, ominous and archly evil “Black Sabbath,” guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Tommy Clufetos provided a master class in making innards shake and heads bang. From the malevolent funk of “Hand of Doom” to the ecstatic crowd-singalong of “War Pigs” and the dystopian sci-fi of “Into the Void,” Black Sabbath reminded the audience why it’s long been the most influential force in heavy music.
At every soul-piercing howl from Osbourne, the crowd responded in kind. Each time Iommi ripped a blazing solo from his fretboard, and whenever Butler dug deep into the pocket for earth-moving low end, the crowd lost its collective mind. It was a moving tribute to the beautiful symbiosis that can occur between a band and their fans, and a fitting send off to one of rock’s most beloved institutions.
At Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Aug. 25