*PHOTO COURTESY OF Chelsea Lauren/WireImage, STORY COURTESY OF ROLLINGSTONE.COM/MARK SUTHERLAND*
The biggest question about Black Sabbath’s long-awaited reunion was answered first, as soon as Ozzy Osbourne ran onto the O2 Academy Birmingham stage last night with a cheery "Come on, you f****rs!" while looking as gleeful as a kid on Christmas morning. The tattooed figure behind the drums was not given a formal introduction by a band respectful of original member Bill Ward’s absence but, as Osbourne’s regular drummer, Tommy Clufetos was instantly recognizable to many in the crowd.
With that out of the way, Sabbath’s comeback became about who was present, rather than who wasn’t. Much of the audience’s focus was on guitarist Tony Iommi, still receiving treatment for lymphoma, with the first emotional chant of "Tony! Tony! Tony!" going up immediately after opening song, "Into the Void." Later, Osbourne introduced him as the "Iron Man" before the song of the same name, and a clearly-moved Iommi remained an immutable presence throughout: black-clad, smiling and infusing the most famous riffs in heavy metal history with a vitality to thrill both the veteran Sabbath fans in the 3,000-strong audience, and those born decades after they were first committed to vinyl.
Those riffs were forged just down the road here in Birmingham and Osbourne, in particular, was clearly delighted to be back on stage in his hometown. "People say I sound like a Yank now," he said before "War Pigs" caused the first of many mass sing-alongs, "but I’m from England and f*****g proud of it."
And indeed, there was much else to be proud of in a set that served as a timely reminder of the band’s legacy ahead of a new album and other, much bigger shows at Download Festival and Lollapalooza. Despite Ward only confirming his absence three days before the gig, there were no signs of ring-rustiness, with Clufetos a reassuringly heavy-hitting presence from the start. And, while there was the odd surprise song – "Dirty Women," from 1976’s Technical Ecstasy, made an atypically ribald appearance towards the end, and even Osbourne seemed unsure if they’d played "Wheels of Confusion" live before – overall, the set drew heavily on the band’s first four, classic albums.