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For those of you out there who are learning to play guitar and are looking to start up and band and play gigs, or have already done so and have a few under your belt, there has likely always been that annoying person who always asks you to “Play Free Bird!”. Personally I’m not one to hate on a bunch of good old boys from the South who could appreciate a good long guitar solo, but there is more to rock music than just that damned song. Likewise, my biggest pet peeve about all of the live Dio releases coming out of late is that they all feature the obligatory classics.
If I had a dollar for every person who has said or written that “Holy Diver” was Dio’s greatest album outside of Rainbow and Sabbath I could probably retire from giving guitar lessons and buy up all the studios controlled by the RIAA. It is blatantly untrue and most people who believe it haven’t heard more than 2 or 3 Dio albums, one of which was probably one of Dio’s later albums which are obviously shrugged off for not having the age factor on their side. Unfortunately, one of those people who believe this has not only heard all of Dio’s albums, but actually created them all.
Ronnie has an attachment to Holy Diver mostly because it was his first effort as an independent producer who basically ran the whole show. While I can appreciate the empowerment that comes with being able to call the shots and not have to answer to some non-member of the band while in the studio, this does not make Holy Diver a superior album. Musically and lyrically it was fairly primitive compared to lyrically ambitious and sadly misunderstood releases like “Dream Evil” and “Lock up the Wolves”. I love the album, I listen to it frequently, but it is way overplayed and extremely overrated.
So we thus have another live performance of Holy Diver, which happens to have coincided with the re-release on DVD of the first two Dio tours with Vivian Campbell, both of which feature several of the same songs. If there is a silver lining into what is otherwise more of the same yet again, it is that Doug Aldrich, who lit up the stage during the “Killing the Dragon” tour, plays circles around everyone else who has every performed these songs. Peoples’ jaws may drop when they hear the original recordings of the solos to these songs, but believe it or not, what is heard on here is twice as intense and technically extravagant than anything Vivian Campbell every could rip out, and in this case we also don’t have to watch a tense shouldered statue attempt to look like he’s in the zone while playing them.
In fact, if one went solely by the musicianship on display here and tuned out the fact that these songs have been played to death, this lineup of Dio is the best one to ever play live. Rudy Sarzo just flows up and down each bass string effortlessly and is even more animated on stage than Ronnie himself (though he’s probably at least 15 years younger). Simon Wright makes a hell of a racket throughout the whole performance and Scott Warren is so animated behind that keyboard that I almost wish that Dio would let the guy use a keytar, despite how goofy it would probably look.
As far as standout performances go, “Gates of Babylon” and “Sign of the Southern Cross” are the best solely because they sound fresh for having not been heard several hundred times live. Scott Warren completely nails the beginning keyboard solo in the former, and although the latter doesn’t have the serene acoustic intro, the atmosphere and Ronnie’s vocals are incredible. “One Night in the City” and “We Rock” are also extremely well realized, specifically during the solos where Doug Aldrich takes a pair of rather short and dry lead breaks and turns them into high frequency, ultra-climactic wonders. I could make a strong case that Doug Aldrich is the guitar player that Vivian Campbell could’ve and should’ve been had he gotten over his own ego and personal insecurities as a musician.
This is a good performance, even a great performance, but I really wish that Ronnie would start putting some different songs into his set lists. Instead of playing his Rainbow stuff, he should take at least one or two songs from the “Sacred Heart” and “Dream Evil” albums, which are both excellent and have songs in need of more attention. If you’ve heard or seen the Killing the Dragon tour live Dio releases, you’ll probably like this. Dio’s been around for quite a long time and he still gets the job done live with seemingly little effort, and I am hopeful that after Heaven and Hell does their album and tour that Dio will revisit it’s later 80s material on their next tour.