Call me Russ L

Take heed, youngsters, this is what gigs are like when you are old

Posted in Music by Russ L on 23 December, 2013

A while ago I bought a ticket to go and see Black Sabbath for the third time, on the 22nd of December (the second of the two Brum gigs that they were doing). It was very dear, as tickets for arena gigs are nowadays prone to be. After buying it, I wondered about whether I’d done the right thing. Sabbath have of course been one of my absolute favourite bands for two thirds of my life, but on the other hand they’d be without Bill Ward (I have no idea who is in the right and who is in the wrong in the ongoing dispute between him and the rest of ’em, but I have a strong reflexive feeling of “poor Bill”) and it was an arena gig. Arenas are horrible. You also have the fact, I suppose, that I’m just not quite as into gigs as I used to be. It’s my age, just like those hot flushes that I get. It was a whole month before this when I last went to a gig, and that was Billy Bragg at Symphony Hall (i.e. a nice one with chairs that you get to sit on).

The evening of the 22nd comes. After waiting three quarters of a piggin’ hour for a flippin’ 126 bus, I board the vehicle and find myself only a few seats away from a gentleman making the most revolting bronchial noises that I have ever heard. Alongside a short prayer to any listening God to try to ensure that whatever he’s got isn’t infectious (also that he gets better, natch), I am (not for the first time) moved to ponder the odd nature of the word “phlegmatic”. You can see my train of thought there. Mr Lungbucket over yonder strikes me as more of a choleric type at first glance, but I’ve been pretty phlegmatic lately in spite of having tried to perform a lot of enthusiasm. I won’t say anhedonia because that would be being massively and ridiculously melodramatic (and, furthermore, untrue), but if I tell you that I’m not even really as excited for Christmas as I’m making out that I am then you might get the gist (I am still quite excited for Christmas though). I’m just bored with more-or-less everything. Was I going to enjoy this favourite band of mine? Or just sort of shrug my shoulders a bit?

I arrive at the NIA and find my standard general feeling that Practically Everything Is Wrong With The World getting some profound reinforcement. This building is like an aircraft hangar, and I’m in it but I’m no aeroplane (I’m very certain about that point). I get the realisation that someone who wants to be able to cope with the NIA should’ve got themselves far drunker beforehand (well, really they should’ve been outright trippin’ balls if they want to be able to actually cope with the NIA, but let’s restrict ourselves to the legal options).

There’s a band on stage at this point, but look, I’m busy. I make a mental note to attend to them in a little while, once I’ve got my bearings. I’m foolish enough to glance upwards, and see all the girders. There’s something inherently distracting about a very busy grid of girders. Distracting and… sinister. But then I notice the balloons up there in the rafters! Bloons! That is pleasing, but then I realise that I’ve spoiled for myself what might later on have been a nice surprise. And so I go back to being a grumpybum. “It probably won’t beat the rain of confetti at the Britney Spears gig here in 2004, anyway” I mumble to myself. That was the best instance of stuff falling from the ceiling at the NIA ever. It was like the end of “The Crystal Maze” all up in there. Although Britney is no Richard O’Brien (I’m very certain about that point too).

I head upstairs to get drinkies. The cider they sell at the NEC venues (I forget the name of it) is actually surprisingly OK for what it is, and at four quid for a nearly-a-pint bottle it’s obviously very expensive but not quite as expensive as it might be. I know at this point some pillock will do the “Oh but of course my dear boy that stuff isn’t proper cider, you mustn’t drink that” bit, because some pillock always does. If said pillock was actually here I’d briefly consider replying by saying “Yes, I know, and I like going in The Post Office Vaults as much as anybody, but you need to be a bit more realistic about what’s actually available in an arena”, but ultimately I know I wouldn’t be able to shake the thought that just shouting “BUGGER OFF YOU SENTENTIOUS TWAT-WIT” is by far the better response.

(Also, non-locals should note that The Post Office Vaults is a pub in Birmingham that sells lots of different ciders. “Going in The Post Office Vaults” was not some kind of euphemism for a formerly illegal expression of love, as much as it may have sounded like one).

So, I mentioned a band who were all such as playing some music up there on the stage. Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats, they were called, and that is a rubbish name. What is going wrong? Bands used to be called things like “Motorhead” or “The Dave Clarke Five” or “Janet Jackson”. Now we have all this wacky nonsense. I totally thought of a punning variation on their name last night that would’ve shown them the error of their ways if I posted it on the internet, but I can’t remember what it was. Blast. You’ll just have to take my word that it was really funny.

Music-wise, I actually quite liked them. Admittedly it was a heard-it-a-squintillion-times-before combination of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple (or, as I shall henceforth call it, Bleep Surple. This is itself a better name for a band than Uncle Acid and the flippin’ Deadbeats) with a 60s psych fuzz over the top. Actually, that was what I thought at the time but right now it’s occurring to me that Iron Butterfly are probably the more obvious reference point. They were suffering a bit from being too quiet for the size of the room (big-name headliners are not to be upstaged by other bands playing as loudly as them, you know this) as well as the galloping unoriginality, but I did quite like them nevertheless. Maybe they will repay further effort in the future.

Now we get the gap between bands playing. That’s always fun. To fill time, allow me to mention that recently I went to see Bernadette Russell’s “366 Days Of Kindness” at The Rep, and that it was lovely and that I’d really recommend that you go to see it. Basically she attempted to be kind to a complete stranger every day for a year, and this comedy/theatre performance chronicles it.

Yes, alright, I’m getting to the point. What I mean to say is that, while I was there watching “366 Days Of Kindness”, I was thinking things along the lines of “Ooh let’s be relentlessly lovely to everyone right up to the point of nausea”. Here at this gig, surveying the people around me, I was thinking things along the lines of “Contemptible tossers, the world is full of contemptible tossers”. The continual contradiction between these two states of mind is a big part of why I’m a functionally unlikeable individual, ah reckons, but that is a pathetic self-pitying whine for another occasion. Let us just say that The Duality Of Man was writ large in my responses to recent events I’ve been to. It’s also important to note that this not proof that all of those other goons aren’t actually also a load of contemptible tossers for real. This demonstrates my feelings about people at music-related gatherings more eloquently than any thoughts that I came up with on my own ever could. Such ruminations are interrupted by some bloke starting to give me moody stares, but he’s about four-foot-two and so I decide to just give him moody stares back until he pisses off. This works quite well, and I don’t even have to say “I’m-a whip you ass” or “u gunna die” or anything like that.

I can’t outstare the girders, though. They’re up there. Conspiring against me.

All of a sudden Ozzy’s voice echoes around the room, saying something thoroughly inane and stadium rock-ish. Which is exactly what you expect from him obviously, but sometimes you want people to surpass your expectations, y’know? He’s still behind the curtain at this point, but has cleverly chosen to use a microphone so that we can all hear him. Sirens begin to wail, and so we all know that we’re beginning with “War Pigs”. Ozzy hoves into view, and… Christ, look at the state of him. Nowadays he resembles something out of a claymation film directed by Tim Burton. Alas, Geezer Butler is no Helena Bonham Carter (this may be the point about which I’m most certain of all).

And look, there’s Tony Iommi! Aaaw, I like Tony Iommi. The man of the riffs, periodically interrupting his image of being an unfuckwithable iceman with a cheeky little smile. He’s like your coolest possible dream partner’s coolest possible dad. I recall that Ozzy used to be the one that everyone loved when I was younger, but there seems to have been a memetic shift of adoration over to Tony Iommi nowadays. I’m all in favour of this, but I do wonder why/how it happened. Is it because he’s like some kind of implacable terminator who can just shrug off lymphoma cancer like it ain’t no thing? It might be. We hail your impressive immune system, Big Tone.

There’s also some bloke on drums. We’ll get to his non-Bill-Ward ass in a moment. Apparently Rick Wakeman’s son was knocking around somewhere on guitar and keyboards too, but you couldn’t see him from anywhere I stood.

We had “War Pigs”, then, and I’m going to have to say that it was pretty awesome. One can of course quibble. Ozzy says he wants to see our hands about 83 times (it’s an unusual fetish, Ozzy, and – although I obviously have no objection to anything you do in the privacy of your own home – you shouldn’t take our consent to participate in it as a given). The drummer bloke lacks Bill Ward’s weird off-kilter swing and basically just powers through (I’m not saying this sounds bad. I’m just saying that it’s definitely not Bill Ward). Getting people to shout “Hey! Hey! Hey!” in a massive arena whilst bombastic music plays always feels somewhat quasi-fascistic, especially when the big screens are showing images of war.

But these are quibbles. It was pretty awesome. And it continued to be. All of your faves, or at least all of your faves that don’t require Ozzy or his offstage backing singer to do any of the higher notes. Or any of your faves that weren’t from an era when Ozzy wasn’t in the band (ah go on now, do “Turn up The Night”. Just for us). “Under The Sun” amuses me by getting a comparatively muted reaction when Ozzy announces it, before loads of people lose their minds when they remember that it’s that one that goes “dun-de-dun-der-derdler-der-der”. If you don’t like “Snowblind” then you don’t like (at least some of) the same things as me, and that sounded amaaaaaazing here. The new stuff… is actually not embarrassing, like you’d expect it to be.

N.I.B.! The wobbly bass intro (“Bassicaly” if you really, really, really pissing well must) sounded… weird. I think there might have been something wrong with Geezer’s wah-wah pedal. But then the song, and that primal power. It all goes a long way to actually slightly diminishing my standard feeling that Practically Everything Is Wrong with the world because that, that itself, feels right.

Naturally, there were bits that I didn’t like at all. Given that the dispute with Bill Ward is so well known, why in the world would they play “Rat Salad”? Y’know, the drum solo one? I know the answer to that is so that the rest of the old sods can have a little bit of a rest (not you Tony, love you kiss kiss), but it does seem suspiciously similar to a studied insult. It was a spectacular athletic feat from drumming bloke and he certainly gave it a lot of welly, but it failed the first-order quality test of a drum solo: “Does it go on for a long time? Please say no.” Mercy me, it went on for a long time. I’m honestly not sure whether he’s finished yet, given that I can’t square how long it felt like it was with the amount of time that has passed since then. I could try and blame my confusion over this for why I keep slipping between past and present tenses in this post, but that would be a lie. That’s just because I’m stupid.

Girders, man! They’re up there and taunting me. Ozzy probably says something like “I wanna see you all go fucken crazy” at this point, because that is basically all that Ozzy says.

They do “Dirty Women”, which wouldn’t be quite so bad if they hadn’t done it with lots of videos of topless boob ladies on the big screens. I don’t know why they did this, outside of the reflexive assumption that Ozzy and drummer bloke are actually Beavis And Butthead. Just… mucky. Small and mucky.

Still, though, “Children Of The Grave”! That was the main set closer and although this rendition didn’t quite live up to its official position as The Most Rocking Song Ever (I HAVE DECREED IT AND THUS IT IS SO), it was pretty darn rocking. I dunno, maybe I’m spoiled. I saw the version of it that they did at the NEC arena in 1999.

Encore break! Always a productive section of a gig. Good on ‘em for not milking it for too long, I suppose.

We know what we’re getting afterwards. They start of with the opening riff to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” but nobody is fooled, we’re all well aware of the aforementioned high note/Ozzy incompatibility. They turn it into “Paranoid” and there was much rejoicing. Their most famous song by far, of course; I don’t think it’d be in my top ten Sabbath songs, but I still like it a lot. Lots of people go seven shades of mental and – oh my god oh my god – confetti rains from the ceiling! I hadn’t seen that! Those darn girders had conned me. Then the balloons come down! One of the three nets filled with balloons fails to open but there are still loads around.

The whole thing was over and I had my answer. Yes, I did enjoy it.

Waiting for the bus to go home I saw people walking by with black and purple balloons. Do you know, my face actually let out a bit of a smile, just like Tony Iommi’s.


One Response

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  1. Stevie Too Bad said, on 28 December, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    You grumpy old rocker you! ;-)


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