Black Sabbath – Portland 1970 Reel To Reel Master (Zodiac 304)

Portland 1970 Reel To Reel Master (Zodiac 304)

Sullivan Gymnasium, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME, USA – November 7, 1970

(46:09) Intro, Paranoid, N.I.B., War Pigs, Behind The Wall Of Sleep, Iron Man, Hand Of Doom, Fairies Wear Boots

Back on Christmas day 2016 on a well known torrent site came a gift from KRW_CO who frequently upload classic shows. The torrent in question comes via the superb Joe Maloney archives and was a previously unknown recording of Black Sabbath at the Sullivan Gym on the campus of the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Maine where they were the second band on a bill that consisted of Badfinger opening and headliners Mungo Jerry. The torrent is a new transfer of Joe’s master reel to reel tape and it caught fans by surprise not only for its sound quality but the date as well. This is the first known recording of Black Sabbath in the United States, the concert was the fifth date on the tour that spanned the month of November.

The sound quality is very good, clear and detailed with just a bit of hiss that is to be expected, some distortion, as expected, and some hall echo as well. All the instruments and vocals are clearly defined with the drums lowest in the mix, the audience is not loud and overall a really nice recording by Joe. The recording is also not complete, there is a cut 2:28 into War Pigs missing about a minute, followed by a slight drop in sound quality for another minute before clearing back up. Fairies Wear Boots is cut at the :23 mark with less than a minute missing, like the cut in War Pigs the sound quality lessens a notch but quickly clears back up.

The person doing the intro states “and now for the second half…from England…Black Sabbath”, Tony’s guitar distorts perfectly as he goes straight into Paranoid. The set list for the show features heavily on the yet to be released Paranoid album, so much of the music is new to the audience. It’s amazing that Joe recorded Sabbath this early on, based upon the list of bands I see he recorded, hard rock was his music of choice. I wonder how many in attendance have even heard Black Sabbath music, the pause between Paranoid and N.I.B. has the crowd dead silent, nonetheless they are to be crushed by the latter.

War Pigs is quite muscular, you can almost faintly hear a few clapping in time, must have been a few crazies down front. The song starts off a bit slow but by the end it seems the band is in full swing and Tony in particular is nailing every note, it should be noted that Geezer’s bass is clear in the mix, his playing is also superb. The Jazz shuffle of Behind The Wall Of Sleep is preluded by Tony having a guitar issue, Geezer fiddles around a bit while they wait. Sleep is superb and introduced by Ozzy to zero fanfare, the band is used to being the “unknowns” and take the chance to hammer their music out for maximum effect. Tony struggles a bit during the song with equipment issues.

Iron Man has a very raw in your face feel to it, the band are relentless in their playing, Bill Ward’s drumming is phenomenal, he hammers out the end and receives a nice ovation from the audience for their collective efforts, you can feel some momentum building in the audience. Another long pause before Hand Of Doom, once they get into it they hammer it out. The lyric is intensely about drug use by soldiers, Tony Iommi once told a reporter “raw words go with raw music”, very apropos. I love the heavy riff section that culminates with “push the needle in” line, so devastating in its simplicity, the ending features a quick bit of Rat Salad. The set culminates with Fairies Wear Boots, again this song has an almost Jazzy feel to it, Ward’s drums just swing and is the true heartbeat of this band. The cut in the song does mange to kill the momentum briefly but the playing is so good, it quickly gets you head bangin’ again. Great playing and early Sabbath performance!

The packaging consists of full color inserts featuring some great live and posed shots of a very young Black Sabbath, the cover has official looking fonts and the picture frame look is cool. We get a cool numbered sticker and a picture on the CD, standard fare for most releases these days. A short disc at just over 46 minutes, but the music found within is potent and for a Metal collector, essential. Makes me want more, the Fillmore West November 1970 show would make for a great release.

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