Although the Black Sabbath discography is not that complicated, we still struggle to know exactly how to file Live at Last. Recorded in 1973 (Vol. 4 tour), it was shelved because the band were not happy with it. Much later on (1980) it was released officially but without the band’s consent or knowledge. They have shunned it, while Live at Last has enjoyed a number of re-releases and remasters. For maximum fun, why not track down an old vinyl pressing with the singer’s name spelled as Ossie Osbourne? (The vinyl pressing is also one way to get a completely unedited version; most CD releases lack at least the band intro.)
Live at Last was, for many many years, the only live Black Sabbath album with Ozzy. Live Evil, released in 1982, had then-current frontman Ronnie James Dio. Although considered a sub-par album, you didn’t have much choice back then. Excessive Tony Iommi guitar feedback may be one reason the band weren’t happy with it.
Starting with new single “Tomorrow’s Dream”, Sabbath sound coked to the brim. Iommi’s guitar pukes sonic sludge, Bill Ward floating behind, and Geezer playing bass melodies from another world. “Sweet Leaf” continues the trip; Ozzy howling “I love you!” while the stoned band pummels through. Original Sabbath has a looseness that no other lineup possessed. It’s just something special that happens with those four guys, and Bill Ward had the swing to it all.
Brand new tune “Killing Yourself to Live” hadn’t been released yet, but it’s pretty intact in live form. “Get high!” screams Oz. The challenging song demonstrates Sabbath’s ability to meld multiple memorable guitar riffs together into a single whole. “Killing Yourself to Live” has at least three distinct riff sections, each cooler than the last. Unfortunately the recording doesn’t allow us to really hear how the audience responded to the new material.
“Cornucopia” alone could be responsible for birthing half of grunge rock. The young band’s energy is remarkable. “Snowblind” is a blast, with Ozzy shouting “CO-CAINE!” rather than whispering slyly. Closing side one, we come to “Embryo/Children of the Grave” and its unforgettable chug riff that launched many a metal band. You can hear the crowd clapping madly at Ozzy’s command to “Embryo”, before the riff cascades down like the Biblical flood. Bill Ward paces it faster than the album version by several notches. “War Pigs” also swings, a little faster than album, but with an unusually jazzy touch.
For some serious swing, check out the 20 minute “Wicked World” medley. Ward jazzes it up like nobody’s business, when he’s not crushing the heavy parts. Tony Iommi has a varied guitar solo section, becoming “Into the Void”, then a blues jam and the old standard “Sometimes I’m Happy”. That turns into “Supernaut” and a drum solo, before reverting right back into “Wicked World” for the finale! This insane extended track is the one to buy the album for.
After asking the audience several times “What do you wanna hear?”, Ozzy closes with “Paranoid”. Once again it’s quite fast with Bill ahead of the beat. Osbourne tells the crowd that they’re beautiful and of course “we love you all!” and that’s that — a one hour live album on a single LP, all done. No “Black Sabbath”, no “Fairies Wear Boots” or “Iron Man”, but plenty of the blackest Sabbaths.
Recommended CD edition: Black Sabbath’s 2002 Past Lives set, which includes a slightly edited version of Live at Last plus a whole CD more of unreleased live stuff. It even has a sticker on the front that says “Live at Last…deluxe edition”! Full review of that CD tomorrow.