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Although Ronnie Dio was already a rather well established force in the musical realm, when compared to his later tours, the original Holy Diver tour was quite a humble endeavor. The stage make-up is a simple gothic castle looking arrangement with no laser shows, moving monsters or knights, or any of the high budget marvels that painted the visual presentation of the “Last in Line” and “Sacred Heart” tours. But in spite of the lack of a Hollywood looking performance, the sounds that are put forth match and sometimes surpass later live efforts.
For Dio purists, Holy Diver will always remain the crowning achievement of Ronnie’s career outside of Sabbath and Rainbow, but for me it was the part of the rocket that gets out of the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s probably not the best analogy because I don’t think any Dio concert would be complete without a solid showing from his amazing debut, but the stuff on this album gets way too much attention at the expense of everything else. As such, I don’t hold this concert with the same dogmatic reverence that many do, and don’t like it any better or worse than all the other concerts he put to video.
As was the case with the Philadelphia video of “The Last in Line” tour, Vivian Campbell is as stiff as Lurch on stage. Even in comparison to Tony Iommi, who is not animated at all on stage but at least plays like he means it, Vivian just looks like he isn’t feeling it the way the other 3 are. He plays well, ripping out his signature solos from “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Straight through the Heart” with a few innovative ad lib moments, but basically stands back and lets the other members work on getting the crowd jazzed up.
The two best performances on here are “Straight though the Heart” and “Children of the Sea”. The old Sabbath classic just never fails whenever it’s played, and on this particular performance Ronnie’s voice is still capable of singing that soft intro without sounding gravely. The solid rocking riff monster from Holy Diver “Straight through the Heart” is always a hit live, no matter who plays it, but Vivian handles it the best, save Doug Aldrich’s insane interpretation of it in more recent times. But the whole concert really is one big highlight in the long line of concerts on video in the metal world.
My closing thoughts on this performance is merely this; this was Ronnie’s first test as a leader outside of an already established fold of musicians and he hit it clear out of the park. Even without the fancy stage show he owns the audience and brings them tenfold their money’s worth. It’s bitter sweet to see him and Vivian on stage together and actually acting as the friends that they once were. Vivian was nothing before he hooked up with Dio, and he went back to that when he left, and the unfortunate truth is that for the past 15 years or so the nothings of the music world are given a bigger platform than the kings of the art. Nonetheless, unaligned fans of Dio’s music, along with all the others are encouraged to pick this up along with the Philadelphia “Last in Line” concert on the 2005 DVD release “We Rock”.