WEDNESDAY 29TH JUNE – TUESDAY 5TH JULY
PICK OF THE WEEK
SATURDAY 2ND JULY
What new can be said about Black Sabbath? But the fact is, in a world of veteran artists that have been on the edge of retirement for decades, this really is in all probability our last chance to see this legendary band. And there just aren’t that many artists still playing who can honestly be called the architects of the music that surrounds us everyday.
There is no way to overstate the importance of that incredible run of the first six Black Sabbath albums (1969 – 1975) on EVERYTHING that came after. Not only did they literally invent a genre – what became known as heavy metal – but even music completely outside of that world is indebted to Sabbath. The hardcore punk of The Dead Kennedys, the avant garde insanity of Faith No More, the industrial clang of Nine Inch Nails, the loud-quiet-loud distorted dynamics of Nirvana, the Flaming Lips’ modern psychedelia, to name but a few – all of these and hundreds more owe their existence to these four lower class kids from the dirty industrial city of Birmingham, England, whose sound took in the factory clang and fury of their upbringing and married it to the power of Cream and Hendrix to create something completely new. By the time they recorded the Volume 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath albums, they were boldly experimenting with electronics, synthesizers, and odd changes of rhythm and mood – essentially inventing the prog metal genre a full decade or more before anyone would notice – a true testament to the spirit of progression that embodied rock music in those days.
Later, Ozzy Osbourne’s 1979 exit after a couple of less-than-stellar albums and tours paved the way for the band to do the seemingly impossible by reinventing themselves – joining forces with the late lamented Ronnie James Dio for a couple of albums (Heaven And Hell and The Mob Rules) that redefined the genre they’d invented a decade earlier into something new and vital all over again. In the years that followed, there were numerous personnel changes, with at least six replacement vocalists (including short stints with such greats as Deep Purple alums Ian Gillan and Glenn Hughes, thereby connecting virtually every band in British history, driving Rock Family Tree compilers insane), as well as the occasional reunion with both Ozzy and Dio (although not at the same time, obviously). The only constant in every permutation was guitarist Tony Iommi, and his playing is so distinctive that each album sounds like no one BUT Black Sabbath, whoever’s in the band.
After years of attempting to engineer a reunion album of new material with the original lineup (there had been a live record in 1998), the album 13 was finally released in 2013, and the band commenced a long touring cycle. Although tarnished by drummer Bill Ward’s refusal to join due to a contract dispute, Iommi’s (ultimately successful) cancer battle, and the continuing tabloid circus that tends to follow Osbourne, the album and tour were a huge success, but took enough of a toll on all concerned (especially Iommi) that it was decided that the end had to be near.
Thus, The End. Which is the name of this tour.
So call it a celebration or a victory lap, but with a set drawn almost entirely from their first four albums (with the exception of the cult fave “Dirty Women” from 1978’s Technical Ecstacy), this is a show designed for either old guys like me wishing to relive their childhood, or those wanting a chance to experience one of rock and roll’s last great masters while there’s still time.
As is true for a lot of people my age, Black Sabbath are special for me. I too come from an industrial wasteland – kind of an American Nowa Huta – and their sound echoed, amplified, and gloriously objectified and celebrated the dreaded noise that constantly soundtracked our waking and sleeping hours. The pictures painted by bassist Geezer Butler’s post-apocalyptic lyrics were evocative of the night skies that burned orange around us with the acrid waste of the steel furnaces. They were neither hippie dreamers a la Zeppelin, nor did they ascribe to the Springsteen ethos of honor and dignity in being part of the working class. These guys knew how soul-destroying life in a steel town was, because they were us. And they got out. That was important.
Sabbath were the second concert I ever experienced – at the ripe old age of 12, in 1972. It was just about the greatest moment of my life until then. My mom – a very indulgent unconventional woman – understood that music was the only thing that really mattered to me, and kindly chauffeured myself and seven close friends a distance of 15 miles in the family VW camper bus to the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to see them. Against my father’s wishes, I might add. I don’t even have to look up the date – March 27th, 1972 is ingrained in my memory.
Back then, the floor area of this 13,000 seat arena was completely general admission – first come, first served. Our desire to be in the very front led to queuing at the venue two hours before the doors opened, but it was worth it. Oh, was it ever. With barely any “show” to speak of in terms of lights or visuals, they were Gods on that stage.
That was the first of a dozen or so times I would witness the band through the years, in various incarnations good and bad. They were often a hit-or-miss affair, sometimes one or more members maybe too high, or perhaps burned out, or indifferent, to perform at their peak, but also sometimes transcendent in a way that uniquely belonged to them.
Sabbath pioneered a kind of musical experience that is absolute ecstacy for those that ‘get’ it. It is the “spinal rush” that comes when certain sounds, sympathetic chord structures, and rhythms meet. It’s actually been analyzed as creating an emotion in some that’s analogous to what classical aficionados experience. And I can assure you, it’s a real thing. One of my fondest childhood memories is the hair on my arms standing straight on end as my best friend Rick and I heard the song, “Supernaut”, on the radio for the first time, shortly before the release of the Volume 4 album. 43 years later, I assure you that he too can remember the place and time when we first met that glorious guitar riff – it was heavenly rapture and religious transcendence on the corner of Grandview Ave. and Orchard St. in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. THAT’S what Sabbath meant to a generation of lower middle class kids in the 1970s.
As I look over their current setlist, I am struck by the realization that 90% of these songs were played in that Pittsburgh arena on that spring night so long ago, when a middle school kid’s dreams came true. If you had told me then that they would be doing a nearly identical show 40+ years later, I almost certainly would have thought you completely insane.
But this – really, this is your last chance. Take advantage of it.
THURSDAY 30th JUNE
Although in existence for less than a year, Kraków’s Apple Fields are making quite a name for themselves. They were finalists in Radio Kraków’s Megafon contest, and were featured on the British radio show Through The Curtain out of Manchester, which is very fitting since their sound draws heavily from the more psychedelic end of 1990’s britpop. They remind me most of early, pre-“Bittersweet Symphony” era The Verve, before Richard Ashcroft refined his songwriting skills and the band was more focused on atmosphere and psychedelia. Much like that, Apple Fields are still developing, but there’s great potential here.
SUNDAY 3RD JULY
The latest project from experimental blues artist Michał Augustyniak, who you also may know as the man behind that very unique collective known as Limboski. After several delays, Naked Mind will be launching their new album, Remember Me, and it’s combination of throat-singing, sitar, viola and various bass and percussion is as creative as it is unique.
TUESDAY 5TH JULY
Etno Kraków Festival presents;
ICE Congress Center (Marii Konopnickiej 17 – 20:00 / 200 zlt – festival ticket good for all events from 5th through 10th July – tickets for individual events, if available, will be sold at the door)
The Etno Kraków Festival features a host of artists from all over the world in many venues around the city from the 5th through the 10th, with over 200 musicians from four continents performing over 20 concerts, conducting workshops, etc. and this is the opening headline show.
If you’re not familiar with the Spanish phenom known as Concha Buika, or often just Buika, it’s probably because the world of Latin Jazz isn’t on your radar. This is a stop on her To Live Without Fear tour, which is her seventh album since 2000. She’s also published several poetry books, won loads of awards – including Latin Grammys – and collaborated with artists as diverse as Pat Metheny, Jason Mraz, Anoushka Shankar, and legendary French crooner Charles Aznavour! And if that’s not enough, she sings in five different languages.
Festival link and schedule;