London WC2 Astoria

This special 'intimate' (ie, with a roof) gig is the smallest [B]Sabbath[/B] have played since 1971, and for a while [B]Ozzy[/B] looks not so much a fish out of water as a rocker out of stadium as he


Ye gods, are we not worthy? Are we letting his Ozzness down?

No cosy, nostalgic family celebrations for the ‘farewell’ Sabbath show. Ozzy wants us to throw back at him every drop of satanic sweat, bad craziness and mesmerised madness he’s invested in this music over 30 years. No, scratch that, he [I]needs [/I]it. And he’ll go stark staring cold turkey crackers every second he doesn’t get it.

This special ‘intimate’ (ie, with a roof) gig is the smallest Sabbath have played since 1971, and for a while Ozzy looks not so much a fish out of water as a rocker out of stadium as he paces back and forth across a 6ft space on the stage. He’s like a dog chasing its own tail in search of an elusive feeling that still gets him high after all these years of sobriety.

He finds the first flickering essence of the fix when the devil-farting bassline of ‘NIB’ explodes into a roof-shattering riff and we all sing, [I]”Der ner ner nut der ner der ner ner nut… OH YEAH!”[/I] That’s more like it. And all of a sudden, everything looks majestically familiar. Ozzy is the incorrigible old idiot savant with newly dyed black hair.

To his left, Tony Iommi is Darth Vader with designer shades, impenetrable and emotionless in black leather cloak and dangling cross. To his right, Geezer Butler is wigging out like he’s playing for a garage sludgecore band called Slavegrinder rather than reawakening ghosts of the past. And at the back, erstwhile excess casualty Bill Ward is soon stripped to the waist like a navvy digging his own band’s grave.

But what sets Sabbath apart from so many other reformed charades chasing shadows of former glories is how they can reproduce almost perfectly that vintage gut-stabbingly heavy sound without any compromise or diluting to taste. It’s not like they had any great nimble groove or frantic speed to keep up, just depth and volume, and here it is with nowt taken out, like the pillars of the rock establishment they are. Even if the intro to ‘Black Sabbath’ is identical to the intro to ‘Stonehenge’, like AC/DC, their sound has long outgrown ‘heavy metal’. It’s rock at its purest and most unimpeachable.

The night soon turns into a terrace-style singalong, as a sea of previously circumspect 30-somethings are lured into a heaving orgy of debauchery and dandruff-dredging. Even that’s not good enough for Ozzy, though. He’s got that adrenaline fix, but he won’t be happy ’til he overdoses. By the end of the encore of ‘Paranoid’, you can tell that for all the two-hour set has taken out of him, he would gladly play all night. He needs this even more than we do.

If Sabbath are calling it a day, then they’ve laid history to rest with dignity and style. But any reports of Ozzy‘s retirement should be taken as seriously as your average [I]Sunday Sport[/I] headline. No rest for the wicked.