Dio Disciples - LIVE: Islington Academy, London 2017

Dio Returns World Tour
December 19 (20:35 - 21:55)
Capacity 800

This project was always going to be an uphill struggle for everything involved. From the moment Ronnie James Dio's wife Wendy and former band members in Dio Disciples debuted a hologram of the departed singer at the Wacken Open-Air Festival, reactions were at best mixed, with the overriding view being "that's all well and good as a gimmick, but not if they tour with it". So when a tour was announced, there was probably as much backlash as there was support. Most fans are simply unwilling to give the idea a fair chance, and as such, booking venues with large enough stages to accommodate the bulky hologram technology, and then sell a reasonable number if tickets in those venues, becomes a big challenge.

Promising shows in countries all over the world eventually, the tour began as a modest run in Europe, hitting a few dependable places where metal shows are known to do well - and where Dio Disciples have done reasonably well in the past. The statement accompanying the announcement reassured fans that the show wouldn't be 100% hologram, and would also feature singers Tim "Ripper" Owens and Oni Logan, plus a rotating setlist as the hologram could be programmed with different songs each night.

Come the night in London, with no support band even though "special guests" were advertised when tickets went on sale, Islington Academy was completely, surprisingly, packed. Somehow, despite all of the negativity surrounding the tour on popular online forums, the Dio Returns concept pulled in twice as many people as either of Dio Disciples previous two shows in the same venue. Vindication, perhaps, for the band and organisers who believed in the idea from day one, but in the end, at this level of venue, it's simply not that good a concert experience.

Before the show, all the professional photographers were told they would have to take pictures of the hologram from the back of the room, not the front as normal, because the hologram looks too flat up close. That makes sense; full 3D projection technology doesn't exist. But if that's true for the photographers if they were at the front, then it's true for the fans in the front row too. This, and all the other venues on the tour, are relatively small, so the front row is very close to the stage, so either the fans who get to the front have to watch a sub standard presentation, or everyone has to stand further back to get the full effect of the technology. Neither of these is ideal.

It also still seems like a work in progress, lacking the finer details which would make it a slick, professional presentation. There's almost no beginning, ending, or between song animation, for instance. Ronnie just fades into being at the start of a song, and fades out again at the end. Making him simply walk on and off stage would at least have added to the illusion a little bit. He doesn't gesture to the crowd much, like the real Ronnie used to, and doesn't say anything before or after the songs. Some of the movements are a little jerky, it blurs a bit if it gets too close to the top of the projection screen, and a lot of its motions bear no resemblance to the audio. It's never out of sync, but it will do things like pump a fist when there's no beat, or make a gesture which juxtaposes against what he's singing. It will even sometimes make singing motions when there are no words. All the while video screens at the sides of the stage behind drummer Simon Wright and keyboard player Scott Warren, play cheap-looking CGi footage for every song, with song titles which look like they were lifted from a child's classroom presentation slides.

Ultimately though, it's neither as offensive as the detractors want it to be, nor as good as the people behind it think it is. It's just there, adding little-to-nothing to the show. It is, in the end, no more than an inconsequential gimmick which the band and songs would do better without, serving the same purpose as a video screen tribute would have. The set kicks off with the hologram singing King of Rock And Roll (because despite the promise of a varying setlist, the hologram appears on the same four occasions every night, so far, and none of those are We Rock, which is the one song it has performed in the past) and proceeds to disjointedly switch back and forth between the singers and the hologram. When it does "take the stage", so to speak, the band are rather lifeless while playing with it, presumably because they have to concentrate a little harder on staying exactly in time. They've got no front man to feed off, of course, and are so constrained on the stage by the size of the holographic equipment, which forces the drum kit and keyboards to be much further forward than normal, that they can't move around enough to interact with each other either. When Ripper and Logan take over, either separately or together, they can't move very much either, and when dueting songs, one of them usually needs to retreat behind the drum kit to give the other space to sing.

Naturally the setlist can't be faulted, classic after classic, and the audio of the hologram is excellent, even if some of the songs are rather incomplete as they've made an effort to patch together various live recordings into medleys (Holy Diver is not sung in full, unbelievably), but all in all, the Dio Disciples concept worked far better with a couple of quality singers tagging each other in and out throughout the set than this does. While it's of course wonderful to hear the voice of Ronnie James Dio roaring in a music venue again, a video would have achieved the same effect, without all this fuss and expense. A second tour is likely because this one has sold so well thus far, but that's mainly going to be because fans' curiosity will get the better of them. Eventually the novelty will wear off, and hopefully at that point the band go back to performing normally. They're better for it.

“ an inconsequential gimmick ”

Setlist: King of Rock And Roll / The Mob Rules / Straight Through The Heart / I / The Last In Line/Holy Diver / Egypt (The Chains Are On) / Tarot Woman / Guitar Solo / Catch The Rainbow / Stargazer / Keyboard Solo / Mystery / Heaven And Hell/Man On The Silver Mountain / Drum Solo / Heaven And Hell (Reprise) // Rainbow In The Dark

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2017, Gigs, Heavy Metal, , ,

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