I take absolutely no pleasure in doing this, because Ronnie James Dio is one of my personal heroes, a man who's lived it all, done it all and exuded nothing but class all the way. He's the reason some of my all-time albums are my favorites. I won't even dignify an idiot's "Ozzy or Dio?" question with a reply, because there's no fucking contest, and anyone with ears and a metal heart knows this.But Dio doesn't sound good on this album. God, that was hard to even type! But it's true. It's shocking, because despite his age (I've read estimates from 57 to 65 online, and his history makes the latter more likely) the man has been a consummate professional since I was in diapers (and I'm twice as old as some of you morons). But here he is, voice blown out, singing "Holy Diver", the song, in a lower register and rasping through it like he's about to have a coughing fit. He seems to warm up as the night progresses — at the beginning, on "Stand Up and Shout", he doesn't even sound like himself. By "Gypsy", he's pulling it together, and he takes off to allow Simon Wright a ridiculously long drum solo. Normally, this portion of DIO's modern-day show leaves me cold — Wright is a likable, workingman's drummer, but hardly the type who needs his own moment in the spotlight. Here, though, you're just glad RJD gets a chance to head off stage for some hot tea and a break. When he comes back for "Caught In the Middle" and "Don't Talk To Strangers", things have obviously improved, although he's still a little rough around the edges (particularly in the chorus). It's hard to get over the shellshock of hearing bad Dio, though, mainly because the man's been so damn good for so long. Even as he rounds out disc one, hearing him croak the last syllable of "rainbow in the dark" is cringe-inducing. It's not that I don't empathize with the situation — if you plan a live taping months in advance, and get the flu two days before, what are you gonna do? It could be as simple a matter as not getting enough sleep the night before, eating a bad meal that day, or having bad monitors at the show the night before and overstraining the vocal cords. These are the unglamorous little real-life things that interfere with the glitz and gloss of the rock and roll dream. But feeling bad about it doesn't mean I can, in good conscience, recommend this set to anyone but DIO completists. The idea is awesome — "Holy Diver" remains one of DIO's best-loved albums, and playing the whole thing as one unit live is beyond cool. Hell, I was front-and-center when the band did "Magica" in its entirety on their tour a few years ago, and I screamed myself hoarse for that. Seeing "Holy Diver" impeccably jammed-out by Dio and his crack band would be quite a sight. Sadly, Dio's vocal problems cast a pall over this live album, marring what should have been a momentous occasion. I have no doubt that, for those in attendance, it was still a magical night – the live energy of the band, and the impeccable song selection ("Tarot Woman", for Chrissakes!), would smooth over a lot of rough edges. But at home, all it's doing is reminding me that no one is immortal — not even Ronnie James Dio. It's depressing enough to think that for free. Why would I want to pay money to be reminded of it?
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