By Sean Palmerston
I’ve always loved Black Sabbath. Through all the different incarnations of the band, almost every line up of the Sabs that Tony Iommi has put together has at least been decent. Sure there have been a few really bad clunker albums over the years (Forbidden, I am looking right at you), but for the most part Sabbath at its most disappointing wipes the floor with a lot of other so-called metal bands. Sorry if you don’t agree.
One of the high water marks of the band’s storied career was the early eighties when Ronnie James Dio fronted them for two awesome studio albums and one passable live album. The Heaven & Hell album in particular still remains one of the band’s all time greatest studio sides, right up their with the first four Ozzy-fronted records. It was a brief, somewhat tumultuous three years that ended way too soon, with internal problem with the mixing of the Live Evil album ending the band. But, of course, you all know that anyway. Blah blah blah…
Fast forward to 2007 and the Dio era version of the band reformed to tour in support of a compilation entitled The Dio Years that came out through Rhino. The band, now renamed Heaven & Hell supposedly to avoid legal ramifications, started with a warm up tour across Canada that many Hellbound writers had the chance to see, myself included. The group played a number of shows from Vancouver westwards across the country supported by Megadeth and Down and culminated the tour with a show at New York’s prestigious Radio City Music Hall with an intention to film the show for a potential DVD release in the future.
At the end of the summer of 2007 Radio City Music Hall was released to positive reviews, which it whole heartedly deserves. By the time the band had hit NYC, they were indeed firing on all cylinders, with any rust clearly done away with. I had seen the band less than two weeks before at London ON’s John Labatt Centre and was really disappointed with their set. Honestly, they were the worst band that night, blown away by both Down and Megadeth. I remember being seriously bummed on the ninety-minute drive home after the show thinking that maybe they had lost their magical edge, but really just hoping I had seen a good band on a bad night. After all, even the most professional bands in the world have off nights, right?
Radio City Music Hall proves that the show I saw in London was just a bad show by a good band. On this fifteen song show Heaven & Hell played their hearts out for the cameras at hand, made good use of one of the most legendary concert halls in North America and left a great visual document of the band. Not an amazing one, mind you, but a great one. I had the opportunity to see the band two more times after the release of this live DVD, once with Alice Cooper in 2007 and again the following summer in on a great bill that also featured Judas Priest, Motorhead and Testament and I can honestly say that as good as Heaven & Hell is on this DVD, they were even better for those performances.
if there is one criticism that I could lay on Radio City Music Hall it is that it was filmed far too early on after their reformation. The difference between this band’s performance here and the way they were playing that October when they did a second North American tour was like night and day. They went from being a great band to an outstanding live act. As good as this live set is – and it is very good – I think that had they waited another six months to film it we would have had an absolutely incredible artifact.
Originally only released on DVD, Radio City Music Hall has finally seen issue on blu ray disc thanks to the folks at Eagle Vision. The transfer is very well done, the sound mix doesn’t have a lot of difference from the 2007 version but the picture (at least on my TV) is a little sharper than the original DVD. I’m not sure that it is an absolute must upgrade if you already own that version, but if you don’t and are trying to choose I think I would give this one the nod. It’s also recommended over the Neon Nights DVD from Wacken, as this performance just stands up better from start to finish.