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Metal gods Black Sabbath offer joyously loud farewell at Target Center

Black Sabbath in 2013, since the band's management didn't let in our photog :-(

Black Sabbath in 2013, since the band's management didn't let in our photog :-(

After decades of thinking our heroes immortal, that they’ll be around forever, it’s becoming clear that we’re witnessing the end of an era. If the past month has taught us anything about rock ’n’ roll pioneers, it’s that we have to appreciate them while we can.

With Monday night’s show at Target Center, fans of Black Sabbath were able to do just that, as arguably the greatest metal band ever came through Minneapolis for the last time.

Purists will note that the original lineup is not intact on the farewell tour. After a stereotypical rock ’n’ roll bout of he said, he said appeared in yesterday’s Rolling Stone, we’re left to speculate as to the true reason for drummer Bill Ward’s absence. That said — not to alienate any Bill Ward groupies out there — the chief architects were together and in sync last night.

Principal songwriter Geezer Butler slapped the hell out of the bass. Tony Iommi showcased the sound and chops that cemented his status as a guitar god. And of course, self-proclaimed “Prince of Fucking Darkness” Ozzy Osbourne endeared himself to everyone in the Target Center.

Truth be told, Ozzy can’t quite reach higher notes anymore. It’s no surprise given the time he’s spent singing, screaming, smoking, laughing maniacally at the beginning of “Crazy Train,” aging, and doing god knows what else to destroy the ol’ voice box. And yet, in line with Pixar’s first rule of storytelling, we admire the character for trying more than for their successes.

It’s all too easy for millennials to recall Ozzy as the bumbling, babbling old man of reality television's heyday. And so it’s of vital importance we remember not only the power his larynx once possessed, but the sharpness, passion, and good humor with which the man continues to perform. While his body may not allow him the feats it once did, Ozzy’s unwavering effort during last night’s set made his love for the audience transparent.

Black Sabbath in 2010, since the band's management didn't let in our photog :-(

Black Sabbath in 2010, since the band's management didn't let in our photog :-(

However, at the end of the day, this was the Tony Iommi show. Arguably the most important man in the history of heavy metal music, Iommi and his legendary guitar can only be fully experienced when in his presence. The inimitable sound of his Gibson SG not only heard but felt, coming on thick as sludge and rattling the sternum.

While Ozzy has the misfortune of seeing his talents diminished by the ravages of age, Iommi still possesses every bit of prowess he once did. And with a two-hour show, his technical mastery so prevalent in Black Sabbath’s catalog, Iommi was able to make use of his opportunity and do what he does best: melt faces. The Target Center hasn’t been that loud in years.

In the grand tradition of heavy metal exhibition, the band employed some impressive visuals on a massive 3x1 video screen wherein the live footage was manipulated to give the impression that the band was, among other things, burning up, part of a lysergic hallucination, and distorted by noise. Throw some flaming bowls on top of the amps and some strategically timed fireworks, and that there’s a rock ’n’ roll show. While the spectacle was undoubtedly less scrutinized than the music, it certainly heightened the performance and painted the whole show with an unmistakable Sabbath vibe.

The show wasn’t without its downside: As is the case with many legacy acts, Sabbath opted for some more obscure numbers and material from their most recent album. That’s not to suggest a legendary band is beholden to its audience to only play the hits, but the pacing was off, killing the afterglow of a fan favorite like “Iron Man” or sending folks to the bathroom more often than not. Fans were also subjected to an extended drum solo by session musician/not-original drummer Tommy Clufetos, a slot that would’ve been better spent performing, you know, Black Sabbath music for the last time ever.

The band closed the set proper with “Paranoid,” purple confetti raining down and everything, which left the audience to divine what song could possibly top that for the inevitable encore. It turned out to be “Children of the Grave,” a bit of a head-scratcher, not due to lack of reputation, but because both the band and the audience seemed to (sorry for this phrase) blow their load on “Paranoid.” The setlist proved to be a problem, but one wonders if its design owes to the physical toll of a Sabbath show on our weathered sexagenarian heroes.

The troubles weren’t enough to undermine the performance as a whole, and as it came to a close there was a sense of finality, of completion. There wasn’t any sadness, because the band approached the show with a spirit of celebration. If the tour proceeds like this, The End will be a fitting coda to Black Sabbath’s half-century in music. The question now, given Ozzy’s history with retirement: Will this truly be the end?

Critic’s bias: It’s not very heavy of me, but I’d have loved to hear a Sabbath slow jam. They may be the founding fathers of metal, but they also had some killer light numbers. Cases in point: “Changes” and “Orchid.”

The crowd: There’s something comical yet upsetting about a bunch of people standing politely in neat rows while a band like Black Sabbath plays the soundtrack to Hell for two hours.

Random notebook dump: There’s a special joy in watching people throw up devil horns without irony.

Random notebook dump No. 2: Ozzy really wanted to see our "fucking hands!" 

Smelled in the crowd: A cigarette. Weed is never out of the ordinary, but it’s been awhile since I’ve witnessed somebody lighting up good ol’ tobacco in a venue the size of the Target Center. Very metal, cigarette guy. Very metal.