|Heaven & Hell and Down - August
Sydney, AUS - Entertainment Centre
To be honest when it came time to write this review I was lost for words. Anyone who has been a frequent reader of my interviews and reviews and for anyone who knows me, its easy to see just how much I love the greatest music on earth. Growing up I would listen to many of what are now classed as classic rock bands such as Kiss, Iron Maiden and the mighty Black Sabbath. Unlike many people I know, I have always preferred Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio & Vinny Appice over Ozzy and Bill. When word first spread that the Heaven and Hell line-up were reforming for a world tour which was going to include Australia I have to admit; I never believed they would ever actually make it here.
Over the last twenty years the promise of Black Sabbath touring Australia with any line-up has never eventuated but once tickets had actually gone on sale I was overjoyed to say the least, knowing that I would finally see one of the greatest bands in the world live in my hometown. To give those overseas readers a little perspective on the anticipation of Sabbath's Australian tour you need to know that the last time Black Sabbath played in Australia was back in 1980 with Ronnie, Vinny, Geezer and Tony. Since then Ronnie James Dio has returned to Australia only once which was back in 1986. A show I missed as I was too young to attend, so for me and many others in the packed out crowd this show was twenty years in the waiting.
When the day finally rolled around, my excitement levels were through the roof. We had decided to book a hotel and stay in Sydney for the night, only two blocks from the Sydney Entertainment Centre which was killer. We made our way to the venue early for dinner with a good friend, before settling in for the show of a lifetime. Our seats for the show were situated dead center front row of the first elevation right behind the sound-board. An amazing place to sit and witness the godfathers of heavy metal doing their thing and right here I want to thank Mel for setting us up with such amazing seats.
Being a lover of everything loud and heavy I was extremely happy to hear that Down would be Heaven and Hell's direct support. This was Down's first trip to Australia and the all-star band did not disappoint. The band which is made up of Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity) Phil Anselmo & Rex Brown (Pantera) Jimmy Bower (Superjoint Ritual / Eyehategod) and Kirk Windstein (Crowbar) put on a performance that no one will forget anytime soon.
Unfortunately over the years I never witnessed Pantera live, so this show was my first live Phil Anselmo experience. I had heard so many varied reports about Phil's onstage antics, how he would be too high to perform, at times so incoherent that you couldn't understand a word he was mumbling, to falling off the stage that I really didn't know what to expect. No doubt Phil has battled with his demons in the past but from the performance I witnessed, Phil was amazing. Note for note perfect, the front-man I expected, full of attitude, full of energy looking healthy and at times intense to watch and listen to.
Down played a killer set lasting approximately fifty minutes and featuring a collection of tracks taken from the first two Down albums. Tracks such as 'Losing All' and 'Rehab' were amazing to hear live. Down opened with 'Lysergik Funeral Procession' and at that stage I was standing directly underneath one of my all-time favorite vocalist in the photo pit goin' nuts with camera in hand! Second track of the night was dedicated to the one and only Dimebag Darrell, the crowd went crazy as Down broke into 'Lifer'. Being down in the photo-pit for the first three songs I tried to observe as much of the performance as possible while shooting away! Which believe me sometimes seemed impossible to do. Last song I was in the pit for was 'Hail the Leaf' which Phil dedicated to everyone in the crowd who were still quite happy to smoke a little pot.
From the photo pit it was amazing to see Down up onstage rockin' out. Jimmy Bower showed Australian audiences just how amazing he is behind the kit. All night Pepper was on a mission to make his head fall off. His energy certainly made up for the energy that was lacking on the left hand side of the stage. The one thing I observed throughout Downs set was how tame both Kirk and Rex were onstage. Never seeing them live before I'm not really sure what I expected. I guess I was searching for a little more energy and intensity from them. As players, these guys sounded fantastic, by no stretch were they boring live but I just expected a little more from them. Down were all rockin' out when it came to the highlight tracks 'Ghosts along the Mississippi' and 'Stone The Crow'.
When I had returned to my seat after shooting the first three songs my better half Aimee turned to me and showed me guitar picks in her hand. I looked at her with some confusion asking where she got them, she replied "the sound guy jumped up on to the rail, hit my hand and said here ya go". What she was handed was one guitar pick from each of the guys in down, Pepper, Rex and Kirk. That was too cool. Here is where we insert a massive thanx and shout out to Downs sound guy, you rock man! As Downs set was ending I had to make my way back out to the foyer to meet with other photographers and publicists. The time had now come to cover one of the greatest bands on earth BLACK SABBATH!
The wait to get back into the photo-pit felt like a lifetime, the lights dimmed, the crowd roared and it was finally time to see the metal masters at work! Opening with The Mob Rules I was blown away. First thing that came out of my mouth was Fuuuuuuuuccccckkkkkk! I couldn't believe I was two feet from Ronnie James Dio. To be totally honest for a moment I didn't even want to take photos. I just wanted to take in the sheer power that these four guys were projecting on that stage. The band sounded amazing, loud and tight. Standing in front of Geezer doing photos, you could feel the air from his set-up as he pounded away note after note. I again turned my attention to Ronnie and realized just how little he is.
I knew he was small but wow, such a little man, such a big voice! Ronnie looked fantastic and sounded every bit the magical vocalist I expected. During the Mob Rules guitar solo most photographers turned their attention to the one and only Tony Iommi, who is phenomenal and mesmerizing to watch on-stage. I spent most of my time surrounding Ronnie over the other guys being such a massive Dio fan. It was fantastic to see Vinny Appice looking larger than life complete with killer kit on a drum riser decked out with all the extras. His kit was truly an amazing instrument to look at and watching Vinny play was at times hypnotic.
Heaven and Hell's lighting was amazing and the bands first few songs featured a massive backdrop of the smoking angels featured on the cover of Black Sabbath's classic 'Heaven and Hell'. During the bands set the smoking angels were replaced with a backdrop of a castle wall decked out with windows which had colored lights shining through all night long. The only thing that disappointed me about Heaven and Hell live was that they didn't play long enough. Of course any fan is going to say that though, aren't they? Ripping up the stage for just over ninety minutes Ronnie, Tony, Geezer and Vinny took us on a musical journey that will remain with me until the day I die. Tracks such as 'Children of the Sea', 'I' and 'Falling Off The Edge Of The World' just blew me away.
At no point during the night did I ever feel disappointed with the bands choice of songs and or the arrangements. Stand out tracks of the night for me were 'Computer God', 'Voodoo', 'Die Young' and 'Neon Nights'. Sitting behind the soundboard for Heaven and Hell was nothing short of mind blowing. Both Tony and Geezer didn't really move around the stage too much, never at anytime crossing sides. But they put on an outstanding performance nevertheless! The one moment of the night that I will talk about for the rest of my life was Vinny Appice's drum solo. Vinny was onstage playing a monstrous kit and hitting every single drum and cymbal. At one stage during his solo Vinny must have split his snare skin, and from where we were sitting you could see his drum tech change his snare mid solo. It was almost unbelievable. At no stage did Vinny lose track of what he was doing and continued his solo never missing a beat! At that point I was screaming my ass off and applauding from my chair. It was fantastic to see such a professional doing such an amazing job under the spotlight!
The one song that was played on the night known by every person who attended, no matter how young or old was of course 'Heaven and Hell'. This fifteen minute epic had the crowd going nuts. Fans of all ages were singing along and chanting with Ronnie. Over the years these guys would have played 'Heaven and Hell' a million and one times and yet they still pull it off like it's the first time they've played it. Lighting during 'Heaven and Hell' was extremely cool. During one point the stage was in total darkness. Ronnie sang to the crowd with one blood red light shining on his face. Man Ronnie looked evil! I will forever kick myself for not pulling my camera out and taking a shot of that! In all, the night was one that no doubt metal fans of Sydney will never forget. The demand for heavy metal bands to play here is at an all-time high right now and no doubt we will be seeing Down return to our shores soon enough to headline their own shows. We can only hope that Heaven and Hell will follow suit and won't wait anywhere near as long to come back and visit us.
Reviewed By: Cameron Edney