August 5, 1975
Asbury Park, NJ
101. Killing Yourself to Live
102. Hole in the Sky
104. Symptom of the Universe
1205. War Pigs
201. Sabbra Cadabra
203. Iron Man
204. Orchid > Rock & Roll Doctor > Don’t Start (Too Late)
205. Black Sabbath
206. Spiral Architect
207. Embryo > Children of the Grave
A highly respected Sabbath collector contacted King Biscuit to inquire about the full release of their 1975 show, which was thought to be from Philadelphia by most people at the time. King Biscuit had been taking requests for future releases, so this was a completely legitimate request. Their initial response was that the show "wasn't good enough". But once the KB engineers had a listen to the tapes, they quickly discovered how wrong their assessment was. One of them even asked the collector to identify a song for them. It turned out to be "Spiral Architect"! Also, the tapes were identified as being from the Asbury Park show, not Philadelphia as previously thought. (sabbathlive.com)
The King Biscuit kindly sent the collector a complimentary copy of the show, since there were now plans to release it officially. But when he tried to follow up on this release a few months later, the King Biscuit employee no longer worked there and the release was apparently nixed. And it was from this 'advance promo' that the slew of Asbury Park bootlegs originated from.
A compromised 2cd set called ‘Past Lives’ was finally released comprising selections from three separate shows recorded between 1973 and 1975
This stereo soundboard recording began circulating in 2001 and is taken from the master tape, made for broadcast as mentioned above. It captures the band at the beginning of the ‘Sabotage’ tour with the classic line-up of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward.
This is the full unedited show from Asbury Park originally heard on bootleg under such titles as “Heaven And Earth,” “Sabotaged,” “Accidental Overdose” “Let Slip The Pigs Of War and Dying To Live.
As a live document of the Sabotage tour, there is, at this time, simply nothing better available. The recording opens with a stomping version of "Killing Yourself To Live". It’s an angry performance with Ozzy's vocals having a bluesy quality and sounding positively enraged at certain points. The song has a grim message, without a doubt. Unlike those that came from later eras of the band, the grim darkness that shrouds the lyric of this is firmly grounded in reality. The sense of helplessness and futility ("You work your life away and what do they give? /You're only killing yourself to live") in these words has an universal quality that I think nearly anyone can relate to. I can't help but remember the background of Terry "Geezer" Butler when I listen to these lyrics. I can see the darkness of a steel town like Birmingham and the blackened faces of factory workers enduring brawling, blighted lives. Geezer's righteous indignation at the injustices of the world is expressed better in other songs, so in a sense this song is a variation on the traditional Sabbath theme of alienation from the mainstream world but also a satisfying and acceptable musical statement. And its suitably energetic performance by the band makes for a rousing opener as well.
Following new song “Hole In The Sky” is "Snowblind". Ward counts the band in and they launch into the magisterial, grinding riff. Many may find this dull and ponderous, but I hear a simple but epic musical number that carries the listener away to an entirely different mood. It’s a mood set by Iommi's guitar, the focus of power, around which the vocals, instruments, and lyrics swirl. From the first time I heard Iommi's beautiful, brooding blues guitar, I responded to its sound immediately, it’s meditative, soaring peaks and its dismal valleys. It sounded primordial, like the vivid essence of what rock guitar should be, technically simple but emotionally vast. Iommi learned his lessons from early American rock 'n' roll and its earlier blues roots just as every other British guitar hero of his generation did. His playing always exhibited a commitment that you could hear in every note. Its 'sincerity' remains unquestionable in my eyes. And that commitment and emotional depth is what I respond to even today. The crash and burn in this song is extraordinary. Tony leads the band from one crushing section into another in a consistently dramatic fashion and his playing is wonderfully inspired.
Speaking of the dramatic, "War Pigs" begins with a raucous squeal from Iommi before the band lurches into the intense and melancholy opening. The second section again shows why no other rhythm section has ever inspired Tony to the outermost limits of his ability like Geezer and Bill did. Bill, in particular, astounds me. He drives this band at times with his tremendous sense of feel and his creativity. And the chemistry between Bill and Geezer is undeniable. Probably the busiest bass player of his time, outside of Jack Bruce, he plays fluid, swinging lines that demonstrate more empathy with and support Tony's guitar work in a myriad of ways that a rhythm guitarist could never hope to match.
"Sabbra Cadabra" opens at full throttle and it's boogie Sabbath playing a relentless, warped, and very individual take on the classic rock 'n' roll subject of passion for a woman. The band establishes an impressive groove that centres around the rhythm section with Tony's incendiary licks laid over the top of it all. And, by god, he was never the most talented vocalist in the world, but Ozzy was putting everything he could into his vocals here and I appreciate that much more than his voice cracking could ever displease me. And it cracks a lot in this song and throughout the entire concert. Technical brilliance in music should be respected, but I could care less whether Ozzy can hit and sustain high notes, never slip out of key, and astound with his sweet dulcet tones. His voice is full of grit, reality, and character here. It is one of the classic rock voices, never pretty, but cawing, insistent, and unstoppable. He spits out the lyrics to this song with interest and authority and grabs a hold of the band as only a strong front man can.
The jam that follows the song is often just flat out brilliant. There are some riffs within this musical exhibition that show how heavy Sabbath could still be in 1975 and how some of their experimentation with new sounds were beginning to hit the mark in quality. Of the latter, the slightly funky, meandering jam with Geezer's distinctive wah-wah bass sounds incredible to these ears and one can only wonder what that jam could have turned into if the band had turned its full attention to it in the studio.
The slow, brooding blues of "Sometimes I'm Happy" starts. The gloomy swing of the music belies the romance and cheerfulness of the lyric. It was a definite departure from the typical Sabbath song in this era, but the lyrics are primarily, ornamental and serve as an open-ended structure designed to allow room for improvisation from show to show. Ozzy sings the lyrics with ugly, full-on passion. Ward and Butler shine again here as they establish a slow, slinky groove that is the absolute highlight of this particular performance.
Ozzy introduces Bill Ward and his drums take over. Drum solos can be brutal, interminable affairs with little redeeming musical value. The best examples of drum solos are short excursions that most often lead into the next song; we get that here. Ward shows off his distinctive, upbeat jazzy patterns and also the raw, angry power that kept Sabbath in good stead for over a decade.
The band segues into "Supernaut" with a piercing squeal. Ward is a dynamo on the sticks as the band delivers here with a towering, aggressive performance. Ozzy is again going full out here; the stress he is subjecting his vocal chords to is obvious.
The band backs away again and leaves Ward alone again to wail on his kit. After a brief drumming exhibition, Ward begins to pound out the rudimentary opening beats of "Iron Man" and Ozzy says to the crowd, "Guess what?" What a joker. The guitar comes in and it sounds slightly out of tune, but the band soldiers on and this version rises up from the pack on the strength of the band's interplay tonight. It could have fallen completely apart, but it doesn't. Instead Sabbath plays it with vengeance and authority, like the garage band to end all garage bands, and anything unusual about the performance begins to pale in comparison to the intimidating head of steam that the band builds. The band blows up in the final section and unleashes a barrage of its gloomy, angst-ridden industrial metal before they collapse into a brief Iommi solo.
At this point, we have our intermission, and the band plays a tape of "Changes" for the crowd's benefit.
The brooding, baroque notes of "Orchid" begin and it is played with lovely touch and restraint. Like many bands of this genre in this era, Sabbath made a conscious attempt to utilize both spectrums of light and dark, soft and heavy. These experiments, while noble, often resulted in some of the more obscure filler tracks on the studio albums.
Iommi's heavily distorted guitar returns and, after briefly noodling, Iommi begins to play an embryonic form of "Rock 'n' Roll Doctor" that was taking shape during the extended jams of this tour. The groove isn't quite there yet, but they have the song and, even in its early form, it shows promise as a strong rocker firmly in the Sabbath mould. Once they finish however, the band disappears and what we end up with is Iommi playing flurry after flurry of notes in a largely nonsensical, forgettable fashion. He finishes by playing a fast version of "Black Sabbath’s intro before the band segues into the main riff of the song with a roar. This performance here makes full use of the song's primal theatre. This is a committed band playing with absolute authority and the song ends up being yet another strong performance in a night full of them.
"Spiral Architect" is one of the more ambitious songs on an album that reeks of ambition. The less said about the lyrics, the better. Geezer tries in seemingly every line to break through to some higher level of emotion and thought, but the result is a collection of obscure, pseudo-poetic lyrical conceits that communicate little to the listener but a sense of bafflement. Only during the bridge do the lyrics reach clarity and speak to the listener directly, simply, and emotionally. Oddly, Ozzy's energetic wail largely redeems the weaknesses of the lyrics and he is obviously there with every word. There's a critical difference between the Ozzy's vocals in this era and his vocals in the concerts that followed Sabbath's reunion years later. It isn't really chops. The word is commitment and Ozzy has it here in spades. Churning and crashing around him is a band that executes well and moves effortlessly through the song's many tempo changes. Iommi's guitar sounds brittle and sharp here, but it works as he plays vicious, slashing chords and notes that demand to be noticed. This is a performance from a band that wasn't locked into an image and was a real band intent on pushing their sound and song-writing into new areas and if the new material doesn't entirely succeed live, which it doesn't, it's a noble and interesting failure.
Before introducing “Children of the Grave” Ozzy splutters out his typical spiel about love to the audience but it doesn't sound much like love when the song begins. Tony rushes the intro and when the relentless, immortal opening riff begins, you understand immediately that Tony was pumped to play this song. He attacks the riff with focused, undeniable aggression and leads the band through a rampaging, raucous version of this song that features Ward playing with wonderful abandon. The frantic energy that the entire unit brings to the song implies the dire messages of impending doom that the lyrics hold. Ozzy doesn't sound like he's trying to cajole the youth of the world into gentle revolution; he sounds angry and his tone is soaked with rage and condemnation. It's a wonderful performance.
It's time for the encore "Paranoid", but it’s apparent from the first note that the energy from the previous performance has carried over into this song and the band establishes a dominant, authoritative groove as they rip through it with sledgehammer like intensity. It provides us with a thunderous close to a show that only grew in momentum from the first number to the last.