Black Sabbath Fans Find Their Religion

Reunited band returns to form after two decades away by sticking to classic tracks.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- It was easy to tell Nassau Coliseum was hosting a heavy-

metal concert Saturday night. Males far outnumbered females, leather jackets and

mullets were in full force, and a large number of unopened beer bottles, confiscated by

security, lay at the venue's entrance.

Outside the coliseum, chants of "Ozzy!" and "Sabbath!" cut through the frigid air, as did

Black Sabbath classics pouring from the windows of fans' cars. Younger fans could be

overheard talking excitedly about finally being able to see onstage the original Black

Sabbath lineup -- which hadn't toured in two decades.

There were two other rock bands -- the Deftones and Pantera -- on the bill, but

for the Black Sabbath faithful, there was one band and one band only that mattered on

this night.

"Seeing Black Sabbath live is a religious experience," said Kris Fleischmann, 28, of

Baldwin, N.Y. "Ozzy is god."

As the barbed-wire fence that served as Pantera's stage set was broken down and

Sabbath's roadies set up the headliner's equipment, it became clear the band wanted to

let the music speak for it. In contrast to the extensive lighting rigs and heavy-handed

gimmicks of other arena bands, Sabbath brought along a stage that was refreshingly

simple, save for some tall black torches, which remained unlit for most of the set.

After a mini-documentary on the band was screened, Black Sabbath -- singer Ozzy

Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward -- walked

onstage. Osbourne exchanged pleasantries with the adoring throng before the band

launched into the heavy-duty war protest "War Pigs" (RealAudio

excerpt).

At first sight, the members of Sabbath seemed a far cry from their heyday as long-haired

metal freaks -- Ward was sporting a crewcut and Iommi a nifty pair of colored shades, for

example.

But they kick just as hard musically. If anything, age appears to have strengthened

Sabbath's mighty wall of sound.

And they played music almost exclusively from that early '70s era. Except for "Dirty

Women," from Technical Ecstasy (1976), the setlist was confined to Sabbath's

classic albums from 1969 through 1972.

Surprisingly, however, they played nothing from one of their most popular albums,

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1974). Nor did they play either of the two new tracks

from the 1998 Reunion album.

The latter album documented Sabbath's Dec. 5, 1997 reunion gig in their hometown,

Birmingham, England. That was the first gig the original band had played since

Osbourne quit in January 1979. The current tour, which began on New Year's Eve in

Phoenix and continues through Feb. 23 in Salt Lake City, is the first tour the reunited

band has done.

Osbourne jumped excitedly around the stage and threw buckets of water into the first few

rows of the crowd. He even purposely drenched an unsuspecting security guard to the

delight of the fans. All along, Osbourne demanded that the crowd sing and shout with

him.

"Still fresh," exclaimed Matt Baumbach, 24, of Merrick, N.Y., after the show. "Ozzy and his

gang totally kicked my ass!"

While such trusty chestnuts as "Sweet Leaf," "N.I.B.," "Snowblind" and "Fairies Wear

Boots" kept the fans singing, stomping and fist-pumping along, Sabbath also pleased

longtime fans with such oft-overlooked album tracks as "After Forever," "Into the Void"

and "Electric Funeral."

Then, with dry ice engulfing the stage and the tall torches finally lit, they came to the

evening's eerie highlight, their namesake song, "Black Sabbath," in all its plodding glory.

Without giving the audience a moment to regain its senses, Sabbath followed with one of

heavy metal's most recognizable anthems, "Iron Man" (RealAudio

excerpt), which quickly was followed, as always at Sabbath concerts, by "Children of the

Grave," complete with a finger-picked guitar intro by Iommi.

Sabbath left the stage to thunderous applause. In a scene befitting the arena spectacle,

hundreds of lighters were held high in the crowd, as fans waited for the band to rejoin

them. They returned to play the 1970 single, "Paranoid," which was punctuated with loud

explosions. To close the number and the performance, black banners were fired into the

audience.

"I was totally moved," said Mike Rossi, 25, of Levittown, N.Y. "Iommi and Ward were

excellent. It's going to take me two weeks to recover."