Twenty-five years after “retiring” with his solo “No More Tours” outing in 1992, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath (allegedly) played their final performance in their hometown of Birmingham, England on February 4, 2017, an avalanche of hits and classics from the band that many credit with inventing heavy metal.
This being Black Sabbath, a band with more lineup changes than Spinal Tap — they have gone through six other singers since Ozzy was fired for perpetual intoxication in 1979 — it’s not quite a full reunion: drummer Bill Ward parted ways with the band in 2011 and did not come back for this (allegedly) final performance.
But singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist/riffmaster Tony Iommi, and bassist/lyricist Geezer Butler, joined by drummer Tommy Clufetos, are in top form throughout the concert, the highlights of which form the spine of Black Sabbath: The End of the End, a concert film interlaced with interviews and commentary with the band.
If you missed the show — and if you do not live in England, it seems likely that you did — but are a fan of the band, this film is a must-see: highlights include “Black Sabbath” from their eponymous 1970 debut, “Fairies Wear Boots,” “Snowblind,” “Into the Void,” “Hand of Doom,” “War Pigs,” “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave,” and of course, “Paranoid.” A couple of these tunes had to be tuned down to accommodate Ozzy’s shrinking vocal range (the man is pushing 70, after all), but the playing is stellar across the board and even Ozzy, whose live performances have always been a little erratic, is on point.
As an extra treat, the band kept the cameras rolling for a post-concert reunion rehearsal (what are they rehearsing for?) — a sort of final show just for them, where they could enjoy each other’s company, discuss old times, and actually hear each other. These performances are even better than the concert proper, and include “The Wizard” with Ozzy on harmonica and “Wicked World,” from their first album, plus a surprisingly solid “Changes,” Black Sabbath’s first and only piano ballad, with Iommi and Butler both on keyboards and Ozzy amazingly both remembering the words and hitting all the notes before being overcome with emotion and bowing out for the end of the song.
There are a few amusing insights about the band’s early years along the way. Asked if they are still bitter about being ripped off on their first record deal, Ozzy points out that, given their legendarily debaucherous ways back then, “If we’d had our money, we’d all be f—ing dead!” and he does not appear to be joking. There is also a semi-serious suggestion that Iommi’s 2013 diagnosis of blood cancer may have been the karmic toll paid for having named their album of the same year “13,” but I won’t dignify that here.
It might seem that a 2017 Black Sabbath show would pale in comparison to the band at their early-‘70s peak, and in some ways that may be true. But 2017 Black Sabbath has exorcised itself of the bad habits that led to Ozzy’s departure and the revolving door of vocalists, bassists, and drummers on Tommy Iommi’s payroll through the ‘80s and ‘90s, and they sound fantastic.
As Ozzy puts it on his way out the door after that final rehearsal: “Well chaps, thank you for everything. Now f— off!”