It used to be said death was a great career move for musicians; at least for those who still stood to gain from the music they left behind that was certainly the case, as albums would be repackaged over and over again with ‘unreleased’, ‘demo’ or ‘rare’ material often added. Until now it was never considered that the deceased artist could actually be sent back out on tour, but that’s all changed now with the news that a holographic recreation of Ronnie James Dio is to go on the road, backed by a live band featuring musicians part of the last Dio line-up to tour while he was still alive.
Perhaps presumptuously, this tour is called ‘Dio Returns’ and several dates across Europe have already been announced for November/December this year. The holographic recreation of Dio made its ‘live’ debut last year at Wacken Open Air festival in Germany, at the end of a performance by Dio Disciples (formed from the surviving members of the last Dio line-up), with a rendition of ‘We Rock’ using vocal taken from a DVD issued in 2002. The hologram is the work of Eyellusion who collaborated with Wendy Dio (Ronnie’s widow/former manager), and it made a further appearance at this year’s Pollstar Awards with the band performing live alongside the hologram.
At the time of writing there haven’t been any further dates confirmed, although the camp have promised a ‘world tour’ taking in many countries including the UK. I consider myself one of Dio’s long-time fans, having first seen him with the original incarnation of his own band at the 1983 Donington, going on to see many performances afterwards including three occasions with Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell. The blurb promises a set taking in his spells with Rainbow and Sabbath, as well as his own band, and they have created a stage set reminiscent of the tours in support of the ‘Sacred Heart’ and ‘Dream Evil’ albums. This, then is surely a must-see for a fan such as myself?
Well, no, not for me thanks. I was fortunate to see Dio on what I estimate to be 17 times, over a period spanning almost 30 years and nothing these technowizards can do will come remotely close to what I got from seeing that guy perform live. He wasn’t just a great singer (he was arguably the best), he could deliver the goods every single night and even in his latter years, with the songs taken down a step, he still astonished, and had the energy of a man at least twenty years younger. That’s why it was such a sad day when he was unable to play that last tour in 2009 having been diagnosed suddenly, and worse when that illness finally took him in 2010. He was irreplaceable, a total one-off, and until now the Disciples have paid tribute by using current singers inspired by his music such as ‘Ripper’ Owens. They don’t try to BE Ronnie James Dio, they interpret his songs their way, but most importantly of all, they are performing LIVE. Behind the technological magic that has made this possible, what we’re still dealing with here is a recording of Dio played over a band on stage. Despite Wendy’s repeated assurances that Ronnie ‘would be giving this his blessing’, I’m unconvinced. Surely he’d want his fans to see live bands giving all they have to an audience, the frontman and the band feeding off the crowd energy in the same way he did? You can’t replicate that with a 3D image.
Another thing which has raised red flags with me is this: what if this tour actually is successful? Will audiences accept this more willingly as time goes on, and will that mean Eyellusion or another company will produce holograms of say, Lemmy, or Bowie? This technology is in its infancy and will only improve, so I fear this is the thin end of the wedge. Even as I type I can imagine Sharon getting Ozzy to stand in a studio somewhere and re-enact his stage moves so that they can be recreated for a similar project once he’s no longer here. The same with other classic bands nearing the end of their careers; surely KISS will have taken note and Gene is already looking into how to apply this technology to his own band/brand. Then there’s the ultimate long-standing rock band: this idea would allow the Rolling Stones to keep going long after all the members have left us, so you can bet somebody somewhere is working on this idea for every big-ticket rock star still capable of pulling an audience.
With that in mind, where will that leave REAL live bands, those coming up and hoping to reach the same status as those that came before? In a pickle, that’s where. If the future of ‘live concerts’ is holographic recreations of major names, then there’s only so much disposable income to spend on shows and it is those smaller bands, the ones your friends tell you ‘I’ve never heard of them’ as though that renders them non-existent, who will take the brunt of this hit. I would like to think the likes of Iron Maiden (a band who have historically tried to do right by their fans) would have no truck with this idea, but I can think of many veteran bands who may well be tempted to go down this route for when they are no longer here, yet still want to generate income for their estates.
I’m not a fan of this idea at all, despite being as amazed as anybody else at the work that must have gone into making this possible. Consequently I shall be sitting out the ‘Dio Returns’ tour when it does come to this country, and will look instead for gigs by real, live musicians standing on that stage playing and singing in front of me, not a fancy projected image going through all the motions while an archived vocal recording plays.
Perhaps in an ironic twist, it is the other Dio offshoot band (Last In Line, featuring original members, guitarist Vivian Campbell and drummer Vinny Appice; bassist Jimmy Bain was also involved until his death last year) who appear to be the preferable option for Dio fans who still want to see that music performed live. Campbell was of course infamously canned from Dio’s band in 1986, causing a rift between him and the singer which never healed, and he spent years distancing himself from his time with Dio after he reappeared, first with Whitesnake and then Def Leppard. However, since Dio’s death he has come to terms once again with the material he had a hand in writing, and has performed with Last In Line whenever possible between Def Leppard tours, and of course around his own treatment (Campbell was himself diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2013). These shows, despite some criticism, cannot be lucrative for the Leppard man so his motivation must be to reclaim his right to that music.
Speaking as a Dio fan since the 1980s however, I’d have to disagree with Disciples guitarist Craig Goldy; this new show cannot be the same as experiencing Dio ‘live’; those ‘poor quality youtube videos’ are all we have left.
To close this post here is one of those videos – there are several officially-released shows from the 1980s which have appeared on youtube and this one from 1986 shows Dio in top form, complete with stage show – including Denzil the Dragon! (A show I was lucky enough to catch twice when they came to this country in May 1986) 🙂