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Reunion shows Black Sabbath still has a pulse

'Can he walk at all, or if he moves will he fall?"

"Can you help me? Occupy my brain?"

"What is this that stands before me, figure in black which points at me?"

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These all valid questions, all posed by Ozzy Osbourne at the Air Canada Centre. He appeared there with the reformed Black Sabbath, the English heavy-metal mountaineers who put to rest any doubts regarding their ability to reclaim their stoned, horrified kingdom.

After bouts of litigation, Osbourne has reconciled with guitarist Tony Iommi, who with original bassist-lyricist Geezer Butler and new drummer Tommy Clufetos rode their brutish material as if it were a fleet of tanks and the players were field generals with heads held high in the open hatches.

The songs, some classics (Iron Man, War Pigs, Paranoid) and some from the new album, 13, were standard head-banging issue, offered in workmanlike fashion to a rather rough-looking lot. Carbon-dating techniques being what they are, we can determine that some of the mullets in the room dated back to 1973. Nobody wants to upset this kind of crowd, and so Sabbath's new album breaks no new ground.

Reunions are plentiful enough these days, with no two exactly the same.

The Pixies didn't record a new album, choosing instead to tour past ones by performing them in their entirety, top to bottom. What remains of the Who did the same, mounting a production of its Quadrophenia album from 1973 instead of a greatest-hits roadshow.

The Rascals reformed this year with a hybrid "bio-concert" that began on Broadway and currently grooves at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre. Also this year, the punkmaster general Iggy Pop and the Stooges recorded a ripping new disc; they're part of the Riot Fest & Travelling Exposition that sets up its tents at Fort York on Aug. 24 and 25. On that bill too are the Replacements, whose long wished-for re-formation involves frontman Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson, who last year reteamed to record a limited-edition EP in benefit of the band's former guitarist Slim Dunlap, who had suffered a stroke.

In 2005, the legendarily volatile Cream reunited for a series of shows in a pair of venues, Madison Square Garden in New York and London's Royal Albert Hall, the site of the trio's farewell concerts in 1968. The reunion-rock grandaddy, of course, was Led Zeppelin's one-off at London's O2 Arena in 2007.

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Which is all to say that when it comes to reunions, there are many ways to skin a cat, even if there is only one way to bite the head off a bat.

At ACC, Osbourne was all business, harming no animals at all: Even such warhorses as Fairies Wear Boots and Rat Salad were treated with respect. While his solo shows are marked by razzle, dazzle and pyrotechnics, the Sabbath show was no frillier than the black concert T-shirts worn by the fist-pumping hard core. None of Osbourne's solo material made the set list; the singer sublimated himself to a menacing-looking group who, despite its advanced age, made the Manson Family seem like the Partridge Family in comparison.

All reunions are tenuous; there are reasons that the splits happened in the first place. Even Sabbath, whose re-formation has been rewarding, was forced to cancel a European tour a year ago when Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma. Later, original drummer Bill Ward bowed out, citing an unsatisfying contractual arrangement.

"Is he alive or dead?" Osbourne bellowed onstage, asking the eternal question when it comes to rock 'n' roll acts, even ones seemingly with no pulses left. Resuscitation is always an option. Iron Man, for now, lives again.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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