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Friday, November 12, 2010

CD Review: Dio - Dio at Donigton UK: Live 1983 & 1987

Dio - Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987
2010 Nigi Entertainment Group/BBC
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

As with happens when legends pass into the next life, a flurry of archive material to help us remember and cherish them with arrives quickly thereafter. Often, releasing posthumous albums can--and sometimes should--be looked upon as despicable cash-in jobs. Even if the material is worth hearing, the echoes of cha-ching dropping into the powers that be's coffers tends to stain the listening experience.

Ronnie James Dio was such a force in his career people wanted to hear him, be it in front of Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath or in his solo capacity. There are vocalists who try to emulate the man, but it's safe to say Dio's voice will stand eternity as its own unique cadence. That's a selling point, alive or dead. The resurrected Dio-Sabbath encampment Heaven and Hell had even more to do with Ronnie's official stamp upon "Neon Knights," "Mob Rules," "Children of the Sea" and "Heaven and Hell" than his reknowned bandmates.

Dio leaves behind a tremendous legacy and if it weren't for the class and caliber of the man, one might have to feel dizzy instead of elated that a score of new releases with his name affixed to them are hitting us all at once. Heaven and Hell's performance at last year's Wacken festival will be an emotional viewing on DVD as it represents Ronnie's final live show. Ronnie's former Elf shotgun rider David Rock Feinstein has a new album, Bitten By the Beast, which features Ronnie on a track appropriately titled "Metal Will Never Die."

Neither will Ronnie, because his music transcends the fundamentals of the genre. He and his most memorable songs are timeless, inarguable classics you wouldn't dare scoff at if you strap on the title of Metalhead. Thus we have Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987, and thank God for that.

In life, Dio was famous for releasing live albums with the same relish as Iron Maiden. We took that for granted as fans. "Oh, another Dio live album, sheesh..." we'd be guilty of saying. Don't deny it. I'm just as guilty as anyone and I still had to summon the courage to be professional in 2005 when I had the privilege to interview Ronnie for his Evil or Divine live album. Ronnie remains one of only two guests I nearly vomited before the interview because I respect him that much.

So now we're at the point in our lives when Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 comes along where we suddenly rejoice instead of rebuke. Holy smokes, vintage live Dio material? And two selections from the celebrated Castle Donington festivals of the eighties? As an American metalhead of the eighties, I daydreamed about going to these shows and gnashed my teeth in jealousy, as did many fans of the day who couldn't get over there to attend. Donington was the Wacken of its time.

Though Bon Jovi was inexplicably the headliner of the 1987 Castle Donington shindig, at least Ronnie James Dio was there as a "special guest," which meant he was the torch carrier between the still-thrashy Metallica and the livin' on a prayer glee club that was Bon Jovi. Touring his Dream Evil album at the time, there were many of us initially calling Ronnie out for the album's first single "I Could've Been a Dreamer," a softer song catching many off guard upon its release. "All the Fools Sailed Away" was likewise slow and keyboard-drenched, but it brought fans back to Ronnie's cause on Dream Evil and now both songs are beheld by many of his fans as classics.

Surprising that he didn't peel off "Dreamer" in the Donington '87 show, but at the same time, what he did deliver with Craig Goldy on guitar instead of Vivian Campbell (who had vanished to join Whitesnake) was still an event, if you sit back and fall into Dio at Donigton UK: Live 1983 & 1987.

Though not as vibrant and urgent as the '83 show on this double live album, the '87 performance is still a court for a king. Both shows sound bigger than the moment and whether Ronnie's kicking out old Sabbath staples from his tenure or even Rainbow's timeless cuts "Long Live Rock 'n Roll," "Man On the Silver Mountain," "Starstruck" and a medley portion of "Stargazer," it's a wow moment to let it all sieve into your ears.

The finale of "Heaven and Hell" in the '87 show is so bombastic and glorious you're trapped into the moment, which allows Ronnie to go bananas with "Man On the Silver Mountain," then lavish his crowd to a home stretch finale with his own "All the Fools Sailed Away," followed by a reprise of "The Last in Line" and his signature jump-up-and-be-proud-of-yourself anthem, "Rainbow in the Dark."

The '83 Donington concert supersedes the '87 show, even if the latter is crisper and more fluid due to better sound capture. The fact either of these shows remain in pristine audile condition is why you're going to hunt down Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987. These represent some of Ronnie's finest live moments--on album, anyway.

"Starstruck" with Vivian Campbell, Claude Schnell, Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice (who are all present, sans Campbell in 1987) sounds just as explosive as performed with Ritchie Blackmore, while Dio's earlier solo stuff like "Stand Up and Shout," "Straight Through the Heart" and "Holy Diver" come out with all pistons popping. Interesting that Dio relied on a heavy dash of Sabbath and Rainbow in the '83 set, including a reprise of "Man On the Silver Mountain," but that was a case of a man still trying to build a new career on personal songs still building their own legend. Regardless, it's a stellar moment of transition we're subjected to with the '83 Donington show and if you're a drumhead, focus in on Vinny Appice here. The man nearly steals the show from his host, crikey...

Call it a cash-in if you like, but Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 is special. The only shame in this release is that Ronnie didn't get to see it unleashed upon the music world. Fun that the package tosses in replica stage passes to make you feel like you are there as a valued guest. Wouldn't a fan-appreciative icon like Ronnie have adored that?

Happy he didn't get to see idiotic publicity hounds under the cross of Jesus target his good name, but in the end, the legend of Ronnie James Dio will go down as a proponent of love and harmony. "Rainbow in the Dark" will forever be one of the most positive heavy metal songs ever recorded, and it deservedly finishes this two-piece live album. No matter how many times you've heard it, "Rainbow in the Dark" is our unification song and Ronnie has to be pleased from the other side we honor him in this manner.

Rating: ****1/2

1 comment:

Martin said...

"Ronnie remains one of only two guests I nearly vomited before the interview because I respect him that much." Just curious, who was the other one? :-)
By the way, first visit to The Metal Minute and I'm impressed. Keep up the good work.