Been an interesting last few weeks here in Melbourne regarding touring acts. Like I said in the previous post, we had Public Image Ltd. just last month, and before that we had Iggy and the Stooges (or what passes for the Stooges these days; there's none of the Asheton brothers in the band anymore, and that new album... peee-yoooo! I can't possiby express disppointment, since there isn't any), and in the past fortnight we've had Blue Oyster Cult, Flamin' Groovies and Black Sabbath all passing through town. Hell, whilst yer at it, throw Aerosmith in the mix there, too. 1975 is alive and well. I caught none of them, for various reasons. Actually, my main reason would be a lack of interest and desire to fork out big dough for the occasion, but there are other mitigating factors. Black Sabbath were the pick of the bunch, so far as I'm concerned (and reports from all and sundry have been universally very positive), but I've been to a handful of arena shows in my lifetime, and they've all been duds. If there's one thing them punkers got right it remains this: "arena-rock" shows are one hell of a lifeless, disengaging experience. I fell asleep watching Slayer in such a manner mid last decade! Sitting down w/ 10,000 other schlebs in a cavernous airport hangar watching your fave raves from a zillion miles away is a bore, and I don't care who's leaping about on stage. I'd rather watch the Youtube clip the next night and save my money. There was the one glaring exception of having witnessed a brain-frying show by Neil Young at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl about a decade back, when his blazing performance smoked minds left, right & centre, but that also mighta had something to do w/ what I smoked before the show.
Anyway... BOC played at the Prince Of Wales, as a sideshow to their Dig It Up! show (where the Flamin' Groovies also played; Google this event, if need be), and, being cautious about paying money for a band whose peak era was roughly the year I was born (that's 1972, folks), I steered clear. Some friends of mine attended and were vaguely positive about the performance, although griped about it being either a little too "guitar workshop" or even "too Pat Benatar" for their liking. Yikes! Having only two original members in the mix probably didn't help the cause. The 'Groovies? They're OK, though they've never worked me up into enough of a lather to care a great deal for their existence, despite what my namesake thinks of them. I've never even bothered to research the whole story behind the differing Roy Loney/Cyril Jordan lineups, since their music has never inspired me enough to care. Still, this "Slow Death" clip is one of the greatest things I've ever seen and there are other moments in their discography I like (and even own), but again: their highpoint was approximately the year I was born (or maybe even the year I attended kindergarten, if you're willing to vouch for Shake Some Action as the contender), so it wasn't on my radar. Some folks said they were sloppy, some folks said they were great. Some folks said they were sloppy and great.
Now, let me tell you a little (and perhaps pointless) story about Black Sabbath... last week I was invited to a private "listening party" by Universal Music for their forthcoming new album, 13, to be released worlwide next month. It's not because I'm an important guy or anything, it's just because myself and a workmate happen to be friendly w/ a sales rep from the company and were offered the passes. We eagerly accepted them. I'm not one prone to attending such events - in fact, I usually avoid them like a proverbial cliche - but I figured it would get me out of the office for the afternoon, give me a chance to mooch a few free drinks and possibly even grant me the honour of shaking the hand of either Ozzy, Geezer or Tony, the three of whom would be in attendance. What the fuck, I'm pretty shameless. I might even be able to get a snap of the four of us together and post it on Facebook for the envy of my nerdy friends.
I hadn't been to a "listening party" for over 15 years. The last one I can remember attending, in all seriousness, was for Sepultura's Roots, which was held at the Public Bar in North Melbourne and comprised of a hundred or more freeloaders packed into a small bar for the free booze and pizzas, a chance to hear the record (which I'd already heard a thousand times by then, anyway, as I was working for their distributor at the time and was - quite literally - involved w/ the manufacturing of the album) and get drunk w/ friends. I remember having a blast, if I remember much at all. I expected this one, to be held at the ultra-posh Park Hyatt Hotel, to be a similar if perhaps larger affair: 200 junket-riders packed into a mini-ballroom, guzzling booze whilst the album was played overhead and the members of the band shuffled around under heavy security to meet and greet important people (mostly journalists). It was nothing like it.
Upon arrival we were directed to the downstairs bar where we were greeted by several security types who instructed us to hand over our mobile phones and then ran a metal detector over us. I guess it only takes one person to leak an album to the entire goddamn world these days. We were then directed to the next room, a very swish private area where billionaires probably hold hooker parties and snort coke off the balls of midgets. Or something like that. This was to be a far more intimate affair than I expected. There's a coffee machine and some backstage deli treats laid out for the guests and 20 chairs lined up in a semi-circle against the oval-shaped space to my right. I immediately spot a few people I know - radio and retail types - so I get myself a bottle of mineral water and grab a chair next to an old retail friend who's there. Proceedings are about to begin. We're given a program of the forthcoming album before it's to be played - track listings, a rundown on the history (sales and otherwise) of Black Sabbath - and a Park Hyatt notepad and pen to make notes. A marketing schleb from Universal - thee marketing schleb from Universal, apparently - then gives a speech about the album and 'Sabbath's standing in the greater scheme of things, the kind of award-winning speech which earns you six figures a year in major recording companies. OK, it wasn't that bad. Being an Englishman of the right age, he went on to talk about the English punk scene of the late '70s (don't ask me why, no one asked) and how it was a rebellion against the pretension of rock music in the '70s - yada yada yada... heard this before? - but remember this: Black Sabbath were never pretentious, they were the real deal. OK. I won't argue.
Cue Ozzy, Tony and Geezer for a quick hello, quite literally. Ozzy shuffled in - the others seemed more sprightly and compos mentis - and mumbled a polite greetings to everyone, saying thanks you for coming along and he hopes we enjoy the record. I don't care what they say about the guy, he was the perfect gentleman when I semi-met him. Exit band members and cue the madly-guarded new album for the select few people in the room. The speakers set up were tiny, about twice the size of my fist, but fuck me, they could pack a punch: they were LOUD. Too loud. Annoyingly loud. Nobody wanted to be known as the person who asked that the volume be turned down at a Black Sabbath listening party, but everyone was thinking it. Anyway, we sat through the eight tracks of the album, I scribbled out a Satanic star on my sketch pad and wrote "Hail Satan" and then we were once again politely escorted from the room to pick up our mobile phones and chat amongst ourselves. I joked to a friend that I had a plastic-based recording device sewn into my jean cuffs and was shot a suspicious look by a company rep. It was a joke; he soon realised that. Ozzy and co. were kicking back at the bar 10 metres away, waiting for the non-journo plebs to leave so they could answer some pre-approved questions from the Woodward & Bernsteins present. My workmate pointed him out to me and said, Maybe I'll potter over and say g'day to him. Two turtlenecked dudes were in proximity of Ozzy, and it was quite obvious that if you were to seriously entertain such an idea, they would sniff you out pronto and probably put you in a lung-squeezing Brazilian jujitsu hold before throwing you through a plate-glass window onto the street. Best not risk it. What the fuck do you say to Ozzy, anyway? "I really liked you music ca. 1968-1978"? No, to be fair, the new 'Sabbath album sounds pretty A-OK to me. It certainly sounds better than the new Stooges album, and even better than the first "new" "Black Flag" track leaked just this past week (sidenote: care to discuss this? Please do. Ginn's guitar sounds hot, as always, although Ron Reyes' - a man who's been residing mostly under the Where The Fuck Is He Now? file for the past 30+ years - Hank Rollins impersonation sounds constipated and the rhythm section is weak as piss and possibly playing an altogether different song underneath. I like jazz, too, especially SST-damaged jazz, but this sounds extremely unpromising to me): every riff off 13 is ripped off a track from one of their first six, classic LPs (there's about three moments throughout which had my workmate prodding me and shouting in my ear, "That's 'Children Of The Grave'"), Rick Rubin's production is crunching and mostly sympathetic to what 'Sabbath should sound like (he hasn't totally reproduced the beautifully organic fuzz of their early '70s works, the bass lacking the warmth of the days of yore), the lyrics are mostly atrocious drivel you might expect to see written on the schoolbag of a 13 year-old and out of the eight songs, there's probably four I'd rate as being really great, two as "good" and the remaining two being a bit weak but still acceptable in the grand scheme of things. W/ today's diminished expectations for listenable rock music, that's not a bad strike rate. I told you this story was pointless.