Posted by TAG - August 26, 2009 | Concert Review


Heaven & Hell: Geezer Butler, Vinny Appice, Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi
(Photo: Mark Weiss / heavenandhelllive.com)

Every thirty years I see Black Sabbath live.

Last night the band wasn’t called Black Sabbath but as the DJ who introduced them said, whatever it’s called — it is Black Sabbath. And “Heaven and Hell” was indeed worthy of the name. I saw the original Sabbath in 1978 and they were excellent — but Heaven and Hell does not suffer by comparison to Black Sabbath in its heyday.

The venue was the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden. I had mistakenly assumed that my son and I would be seeing Sabbath in the same venue where the Rangers play hockey. Fortunately I was wrong – the WaMu is much smaller, with infinitely better acoustics. The seats are comfortable and the view of the stage is good from almost any vantage point.

The show began promptly at 7 p.m. — the opening act was the prog rock band Coheed and Cambria — and was over by 9:45. This is not unusual but nonetheless always strikes me as odd. When I was my son’s age — he wearies of hearing this — shows never started on time, never ended before midnight at the earliest, were deafening and the venue was always a fog of pot smoke. Times have changed, but luckily, there are some constants.

On November 5, 1978 I saw Black Sabbath live at the Hollywood (Florida) Sportatorium. Van Halen was the opening act and it was a striking contrast: David Lee Roth leaping about while Ozzy could barely stagger to the microphone stand. For Sabbath, this was the ironically titled “Never Say Die” tour – the last tour that included Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy and Sabbath were wonderful. Stoned, drunk, whatever else – Ozzy and company played most of the Paranoid album and a variety of hits from their other recordings. It was a memorable show.

For many years following this show, I didn’t listen to new Black Sabbath recordings as I couldn’t envision the band without Ozzy. And for years Black Sabbath founder Tony Iommi and newcomer Ronnie James Dio, guitar and vocals respectively, struggled with one another. The result was a fractured catalogue of recordings: the well regarded releases “Heaven and Hell” (1980) and “Mob Rules” (1981) — followed by five Sabbath albums without Dio — and then the final Dio-Iommi effort as Black Sabbath: “Dehumanizer” (1992). After only three albums it appeared the so-called “Heaven and Hell lineup” — Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice — was a part of rock history.

Fast forward 15 years…

In April of 2007, Rhino Records released a compilation called Black Sabbath: The Dio Years. The CD featured three new songs recorded by the Heaven and Hell lineup. Pleased with their new material, Iommi and Dio, et al. decided to reunite. As Black Sabbath’s original lineup had also reunited (in 1997), Dio and Iommi opted to call their project “Heaven and Hell”, after the first album they created together — and the title track that has become a Sabbath anthem. The resulting tour produced a CD and DVD entitled “Live from Radio City Music Hall”. This in turn spawned an album of all new material called “The Devil You Know”, released in April of 2009. It was “The Devil You Know” that caught my attention — I bought the disk just to see what Iommi was doing these days and came away very impressed. This ranks as one of the finest Sabbath recordings ever — by any of the lineups.

And so, not surprisingly, the show at the WaMu was very good. The band was in top form and the setlist included three tracks from “The Devil You Know”: “Bible Black”, arguably the best track on the disk (this tour is called the “Bible Black” tour), “Fear” and “Follow The Tears”. The remainder of the songs were pulled from the “Dio Years” body of work and included “Mob Rules”, “I”, “Children Of The Sea”, “Falling Off The Edge Of The World”, “Die Young”, “Heaven and Hell” and the encore, “Neon Knights”.

Iommi, clad in a black leather coat and playing his familiar Gibson SG, was inspired. As was the 67-year-old Dio, small in physical stature but endowed with a truly operatic vocal ability. Geezer Butler was equally impressive on bass and Vinny Appice’s drumming was excellent. Generally I find drum solos rather generic and a good time to check e-mail but Appice’s solo was entertaining and flew by.

Stage props included transparent globe streetlights, a cemetary fence encasing the amplifiers that flanked Appice’s drum riser and a rather elaborate drum kit. Appice had a variety of drums suspended high above the usual array of snare, bass and floor toms. He utilized these drums, which resembled pots and pans hanging above a kitchen stove, infrequently — primarily in his solo. Geezer, also clad in black and playing a Lakland bass, stood stage right (house left). Iommi stood opposite Geezer — as a southpaw the headstock of his guitar pointed towards Appice and Butler, who returned the favor. This minor detail reveals how precise everything about the show was. The music was delivered with obvious attention to detail as well — the diminutive Dio introduced all of the songs, belted out some incredible vocals and thanked the audience profusely. Several of the songs were illustrated by animated video clips that were displayed on a screen above Appice’s drum kit.

Dio mentioned several times during the performance that there were gaps between the recordings by this incarnation of Sabbath due to a lot of “water under the bridge”. He thanked the audience for supporting the band “All of these years, particularly the last three”. You got the feeling that Ronnie had real regrets about the turbulent history of the Heaven and Hell lineup. And that he genuinely appreciated the opportunity to make up for lost time. At one point Dio told the crowd, “Life still sucks but you have us and we have you and together we have the music.”

Introducing Tony Iommi’s guitar solo by referring to Tony as “the greatest guitar player who ever walked the Earth”, Dio walked offstage. Iommi gently patted the back of Dio’s head as he walked by — a gesture that seemed quite genuine and indicated that the Heaven and Hell bandmates have left their troubles in the past and are enjoying themselves as they make some great music.

I bought my first Sabbath album, Master of Reality, at a Maumee, Ohio K-Mart in 1971. I was 14 at the time. And so, when the show ended last night, I asked my 14-year-old son what he thought of Heaven and Hell.

“They were good,” he said.

I’d have to agree.


The Girls Night Out promo poster – and ticket stub
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — At times it felt as though the audience was sitting in Cyndi’s living room — the banter went well beyond the usual perfunctory exchanges between rock star and fans. The event was billed as “Girl’s Night Out” and featured a half hour of comedian Rosie O’Donnell’s standup followed by almost two hours of Lauper’s greatest hits. “Out of a possible five apples” — this reviewer gives Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Night Out” tour the Big Apple. It’s hers to begin with — and on Wednesday night she stole the heart of every New Yorker in the joint.

***

Two years ago I began attending metal concerts as an exercise in father-son solidarity. I wanted to spend time with my newly minted teenager doing things HE wanted to do. Along the way I learned a thing or two. I discovered that my son had quietly learned how to critique art and had developed a keen interest in experimental music. Gaining self confidence, my son told me, “Forget about punk, the real experimentation is going on in metal — and there are hybrids out there too, ‘metalcore’ bands that have the best of both genres.” He’s right: bands like Between The Buried And Me prove this. However, some of the original experimentation that characterized punk continues, even though the music industry does not promote it.

One of the original experimenters signed under the punk umbrella — who is still producing great music — is Cyndi Lauper. The unusual girl from Queens, known as a champion of human rights and hero of the LGBT community, has a stunning four octave range and a unique vocal style. But what is truly special about her is that she embodies something that appeals to the kid in all of us: her very existence is a celebration of life. And even more remarkable, if not particularly surprising, is that this appeal is not limited to adults who want more from life than Blackberries, hopeless wars and sub-prime economic disasters. Lauper appeals to kids too. I know this because Wednesday night I attended a show in solidarity with another of my children. My 7-year-daughter is a Cyndi Lauper fanatic and has been for years, dating back to when she pronounced Lauper, “Locker”.

***




The ornate ceiling of the St. George Theatre
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Lauper and O’Donnell’s “Girls Night Out” took place in Staten Island’s premiere venue, the St. George Theater, where the finale of the 2003 Jack Black film “School of Rock” was filmed. The St. George, with its explosion of Spanish and Italian Baroque styles, high ceiling and unobstructed view of the stage, was the perfect setting for the colorful Cyndi — and her friend Rosie. Completing the picture was the audience — devoted fans, a number of whom I recognized from covering LGBT Pride parades.




The exterior of the St. George Theatre
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

“This is one beautiful theater.” — Rosie O’Donnell, describing the St. George.

Rosie O’Donnell, Lauper’s friend and collaborator on the current tour, opened the show. Her standup — my first experience with seeing it performed live — was entertaining and she is clearly in command of the art form. She discussed being lesbian, being a mother and going through menopause. She also got in a few digs at Donald Trump — and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the ultra-conservative co-host of The View who cat fought O’Donnell during the time they both worked the show. O’Donnell’s comedy, coarse at times but chock full of endearing personal anecdotes, resonated with the crowd.

O’Donnell, who took a short break after her performance, returned to introduce Lauper — and sang backup on a few songs before departing a second time.

“They were throwing rocks at me because my clothes were funny. It just goes to show. And let’s face it, in the Eighties I got my revenge.” — Cyndi Lauper describing her childhood to fans at the St. George.




Dads Just Want to Have Fun: a souvenir t-shirt
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Clad in sheer black stockings, a short black waistcoat and topped off with a platinum perm, Lauper looked the part of the “weirdo artist”. That’s how the mother of an 11-year-old son defines herself, and performing live she’s nothing if not high definition. During Wednesday’s show, roadies struggled to keep up with the 56-year-old Lauper as she moved from playing her trademark dulcimer to dancing across the stage in her familiar frantic-but-very-chic style. Several times she ventured into the audience to dance with her fans, at one point climbing up on a chair and waving at fans in the balcony.

It wasn’t long before Cyndi tossed her shoes backstage so she could dance barefoot. And once she started dancing, she never looked back.

Although “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is the most famous Lauper anthem, her current show is about more than the desire to live joyously. The Girls Night Out tour is asking fans to donate food to local social service organizations that feed the hungry. The beneficiary of Lauper’s Staten Island appearance was Project Hospitality, a North Shore homeless shelter led by longtime human rights activist Reverend Terry Troia. Lauper mentioned Project Hospitality several times during her show, thanking the organization and urging people to support its work.

“Let’s have a good time and have each other’s backs,” Lauper said.

The theme of having each other’s back, and the importance of family and friends punctuated the show.

Locating a relative in the audience — Lauper’s family is spread across Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island — Cyndi struck up a conversation with her cousin “Joey”, asking about the photo of her greatgrandmother he had sent her and getting details about her “Aunt Tilly”. As a fascinated audience looked on.

“Joey is my cousin, he’s here, where are ya? Right there? I was dancing with you! Anyway, I got the picture…” — Cyndi Lauper, whose performance in Staten Island included an impromptu family reunion.

When a member of the audience began yelling “shut up and sing”, Lauper shouted back, “Shut the fuck up!”, which prompted cheers from a crowd grateful for the opportunity to see a star be herself. With tongue firmly in cheek, Lauper scolded the anxious audience member and then belted out another danceable tune, “Into The Nightlife”. The track is from her most recent CD, “Bring Ya To The Brink”, which was nominated for a grammy in December.

A touching moment, and there were several, came when Lauper described how she came to write the song “Sally’s Pigeons” — from the underrated fourth album, “Hat Full of Stars”, which included tracks that dealt with homophobia, spousal abuse, racism and abortion.

“There’s a place where my family came, to get a leg up, because they came out of the cold-water flats on Marcy Street. The buildings they tore down to build the projects they tore down. But this inspired me to write these songs about these times,” said Lauper.

Lauper had not rehearsed the song. But in response to a request from the audience, she sang it — a capella. Losing her place once, she stopped and started again. No one seemed to mind. At least for one evening, we were all family.

Speaking of family, my own provided the most telling critique of the show: my seven-year-old sang harmony vocals on quite a few songs — and stood up in her seat for most of the evening. So she could dance with Cyndi.

The comprehensive “Girls Night Out” setlist featured Lauper’s biggest hits: “Change Of Heart”, “When You Were Mine”, “She Bop”, “All Through The Night”, “Time After Time”, “Into The Nightlife”, “Money Changes Everything”, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, and “True Colors”; as well as songs from “Blue Angel”, Lauper’s first band, and an impressive rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Carey”. The fact that Lauper performs her hits endears her to her fans and is refreshing. As someone who has seen many shows over the last 35 years, I weary of performers who refuse to play the songs that made their careers. While it is understandable that playing the same song thousands of times is tedious, there is something very appealing about a performer who draws inspiration from the energy of the fans, fans who get very fired up when they hear songs that served as soundtracks to their lives.

And the biggest hits came last, capping a brilliant performance.

Returning to the stage to join her friend “Cyn” for an encore performance of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, O’Donnell banged on cymbals and a pair of snare drums. She not only pulled it off but played well, adding dramatic emphasis to Lauper’s already dramatic signature song.

During the final encore, a haunting rendition of “True Colors”, Lauper raised her fist and said, “Power to the People”, telling the audience to never forget that “it’s We The People…For the People…” I couldn’t agree more. Lauper is the People’s performer and this tour is Citizen Cyndi at her best.

And as Lauper commented on People Power — behind her was O’Donnell, saying, “Amen, Sister”, and flashing the peace sign to the audience.

Amen, indeed.