Black Sabbath celebrated ‘The End’ at the Sprint Center last night
Sprint Center, Kansas City
Wednesday, February 17
It’s impressive to listen to folks excited about a band, but it’s another thing entirely to feel it coming from every single person in attendance. The sheer intense expectation of the crowd prior to last night’s Black Sabbath show at the Sprint Center was palpable. To say people were stoked for this show would be a massive understatement. This tour, billed as “The End,” is most of Kansas City’s last chance to see this iconic metal band.
However, for me, the expectation begged the question: ought one’s first Black Sabbath show be the last? It’s a tense situation to see an act on their farewell tour, as there is far too much chance of the lifetime of hype rendering your concert-going experience an intense letdown. How much of a risk was this?
The moment the animated video package ended and the white curtain hiding the band whipped away, a bell tolled ominously, and the opening strains of “Black Sabbath” blasted out across the Sprint Center. The track that set the tone for the band when it debuted 45 years ago and also set the tone for this show: plenty of smoke and fire on stage, with lights sweeping across the audience in tandem with the pulse of the band. I was back in my bedroom as a teenager, blasting this in my headphones.
Even discounting the fact three of the four men on stage have been making music together off and on for nearly five decades, this was an exceptional performance. So, yes, all fears aside, the show was excellent — when the sound cooperated. Unfortunately, the irregular sound that plagued the nearly two-hour set from the Birmingham quintet was distracting from what was an otherwise top-notch concert.
Tony Iommi’s guitar would be full and rich one minute, then thin and distant the next — frequently within the same song. Half of “Fairies Wear Boots” was amazing. During the intro, the song was a wall of power, but half terrible, as during the song, it sounded like all of the low end was stripped away. However, immediately thereafter, “After Forever” fairly melted faces with its epic blasts of riffage. Later on, “Hand of Doom” sounded like a YouTube video. It was frustrating and repeatedly killed the momentum.
Otherwise, the performance worked because Black Sabbath recognized their collective limitations and played to them. They took their loud, powerful hits and played them like this was a a celebration, which, essentially is what it was. Loads of audience clapping and screaming and singing along made “The End” as a tour stop more like a raucous Irish wake than a maudlin funeral. The show stood in stark contrast to other reunion/farewell shows, in that the band didn’t fucking embarrass itself.
It took a bit for Ozzy Osbourne’s voice to warm up, but by “Snowblind,” it was like listening to a record. The power and range of his singing were slightly diminished by his age, but the intensity was still there, and it was amazing to witness.
A perfect example of how Black Sabbath made a limitation into a benefit was “Iron Man,” played about half a step slower, worked with Osborne’s weaknesses, letting him hit the notes without getting out of breath, while also accentuating the strengths of the rest of the band and allowing the song to regain much of its original evil menace.
Tony Iommi’s guitar work was the opposite of showing off. He nodded his head at cheers and horns thrown his way, but it was all sheer confidence. “Into the Void” could have been a showboating situation, but Iommi just waggled his head a bit and threw out riff after massive riff. The same goes for Geezer Butler’s bass solo, which introduced “N.I.B.” It could’ve easily been as wanky as the drum solo during “Rat Salad” but managed to seem like just this natural thing only he could do.
It’s a rare thing to see any act this startlingly good after so long but to actually feel like something other than just a run-through is impressive. Thanks to a set that turned weaknesses into strengths, and an audience there to get the band through some parts, it became more than just another “farewell” show and actually seemed like a real, honest performance.
Openers Rival Sons took the stage to Ennio Morricone’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” and it was the quietest their set would be. They were loud, in a manner that only a wall of sound can be. The five-piece heavy blues act engaged in amplifier worship, which bordered on aural punishment. They weren’t all just volume, though, as their organ player lent the quintet a boogie vibe, allowing Rival Sons to be more than just a meeting point between Sabbath, Hendrix, and the Cult, fronted by Sammy Hagar. It was only slightly above standard, but there was an impressive amount of commitment to playing bar-band songs at a crippling volume.
Black Sabbath set list:
Fairies Wear Boots
Into the Void
Behind the Wall of Sleep
Hand of Doom
Children of the Grave
Black Sabbath’s management did not approve photographers for this tour. All photos are from a different show.