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The idea of playing an album through live was perhaps done most famously by Pink Floyd in support of The Wall, but done more than a decade after the album's release the concept becomes even more interesting, giving the musicians who worked on it an opportunity to re-interpret and to bring fresh life to one of their seminal recordings. To my knowledge, Floyd weren't in the habit of playing The Wall in the same order as on the album, but Holy Diver is played in the exact same order as it was set to vinyl in 1983, with the songs flowing into one another and almost no banter with the crowd to create the most cohesive experience of the album possible. After that we are treated to what seems like a snapshot of Ronnie Dio's mid-seventies to mid-eighties career.
Through some of the set, Ronnie's performance is low and often hoarse. Rather than the operatic vocal lines with which he graced the studio recording of 'Holy Diver', here the track sees him using an almost growling moan to sing the lyrics. Two years later he would be on tour with Heaven & Hell, proving himself capable of singing as if it was still the '80s, so I can only assume that the less theatrical performance for this concert was a stylistic decision or a result of circumstances at the time. For 'Don't Talk to Strangers' and 'Shame on the Night', he uses a more "classic" Dio voice, as he does for most of the second half of the concert. His finest moment here is when he unexpectedly opens the brilliant rendition of 'Long Live Rock'n'Roll' with a section from 'Catch the Rainbow', one of the most tender and lovely pieces of music he has performed on and which never fails to get me all misty-eyed and shit. Had I been at the concert, mind, I would have been gutted that this song wasn't played through.
Doug Aldrich really shines on a lot of the guitar solos, particularly for 'Don't Talk to Strangers' and the final two songs, while his solo on 'Holy Diver' far surpasses Campbell's original. Aldrich isn't quite up to the task of 'Heaven & Hell' however, with his playing actually sounding quite messy in parts, and overall thoroughly paling in comparison to the version released a year later on Live Radio City Music Hall. He also fails to bring out the bounce and atmosphere of 'Gates of Babylon', although the track is saved by Simon Wright's spectacular performance.
However, 'Man on the Silver Mountain', 'Tarot Woman' and 'Sign of the Southern Cross' are all a delight to hear as well as, of all things, 'Rainbow in the Dark', and then 'Shame on the Night', which both sound better than they ever did on record. He truly has his moment with the half-time guitar solo on the end of 'Shame on the Night', eventually joined by Wright and Sarzo for some rather excellent jamming that reminds of some of the elaborate Rainbow performances Ronnie was a part of with Cozy Powell and Jimmy Bain. And then at the end, after a reprise of 'Shame...', Aldrich fucking nails that 'Holy Diver' riff. What was the problem earlier?!
One of the things that make Dio-involved concerts such a pleasure to hear is his handling of his crowds. He's really damn polite. Whether re-emphasizing how honoured he is to have been part of Black Sabbath or Rainbow, repeatedly and humbly thanking the audience and promising he really means it, or in a more touching moment dedicating a song to the late Cozy Powell, Ronnie is an absolute gentleman.
There is some inconsistency, and although Holy Diver does in my opinion, probably deserve most of the praise it is given, something like Dream Evil would have made a better whole-album-played-live experience. Even with a few stumbles on the guitar, I must confess Aldrich is usually very impressive, especially considering his being drafted in as an emergency after Craig Goldy pulled out. Dio, as well as the musicians he was playing with at the time, present a capable and often exciting performance of the album, and it did mean that five or six songs barely ever played did get played. For those looking to get some live Dio songs, this album probably has the overall best tracklist of the band's three live albums.
Now Rainbow's Rising, that's what I would like to see performed in its entirety. We'd have to get Ritchie Blackmore back from the middle ages, though.