Words by Jesse Striewski | Photos by Brooke Striewski and Stephanie Cabral*

There’s been a lot of negativity thrown out there regarding this latest Dio Returns tour. After experiencing it firsthand at The Plaza Live in Orlando this past Saturday, June 1, I can tell you with all honesty it needs to be seen to be believed.

What the people most critical of this tour don’t realize is there has actually already been two versions of the former Dio band for nearly a decade now; the Vivian Campbell-led Last in Line, and Dio Disciples, which features Dio alumni Craig Goldy, Simon Wright, and Scott Warren, as well as rotating singers in the form of Tim “Ripper” Owens (ex-Judas Priest/Iced Earth) and Oni Logan (ex-Lynch Mob). Essentially, this is just the latter band with an elaborate digital holographic screen playing various images throughout the show, with the image of Ronnie James Dio singing on top of previously-recorded live material. The actual ‘hologram’ is simply one of many said images played throughout the set, and not necessarily even the main focus of the entire show. What ensued was a fitting tribute to Ronnie that included material throughout his entire career, including his days from Rainbow and Black Sabbath as well.

The evening was kicked off by rock veteran Jizzy Pearl and his current incarnation of Love/Hate, which stirred up a moderate response from the still not quite filled club. Still, Jizzy gave it his all on stage, giving the crowd his best moves over the course of tracks like “Straightjacket,” “Tumbleweed,” “Spinning the Wheel,” “Fuel to Run,” “Mary Jane,” “Wasted in America,” and Blackout in the Red Room.” Curiously, there didn’t seem to be any newer material in the set list, odd considering Pearl had just released a new album last year.

There was a collective sense of nervous anticipation going into the main act, the crowd not knowing exactly what to expect. But once the house lights went down, it suddenly became apparent what all those in attendance were in for. The hologram made its first appearance via “King of Rock n’ Roll;” the rest that followed was one surprise after the other, and a night full of rock royalty.

Owens and Logan quickly took over vocal duties on the next couple of classic Dio-era Sabbath tracks (the former on “Mob Rules,” and the latter on “Children of the Sea”) before stepping aside again for Ronnie’s image on “The Last in Line,” which segued briefly into “Holy Diver” before Owens gave it his all on “Stand Up and Shout.”

At this point, the stage was cleared for drummer Simon Wright, who tackled sections of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, before handing the stage back over to Owens and Logan for a mesmerizing duet of “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” which then paved the way for Ronnie’s image on “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Egypt (The Chains Are On).” The Rainbow classic “Gates of Babylon” followed before Owens and Logan took the stage together once again for “Invisible,” then stepped aside again in favor of a brilliant guitar solo from Goldy.

A couple more from Ronnie’s Rainbow days (“Catch the Rainbow” and “Stargazer”) followed before an epic rendition of Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” (with “Man on the Silver Mountain” making its way in the middle of it), after which Owens and Logan took the stage with Dio’s image for an exhilarating version of “We Rock.” After a short reprieve, the night was finally closed out with an unforgettable performance of “Neon Knights.”

There was zero doubt afterward that everyone in attendance that night had felt they had just witnessed something truly special, and not just some “cash grab” that many have so ignorantly written this tour off as. There’s no difference between a tour like Dio Returns and a film like last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody;” each pays homage to an artist deserving of having their memories preserved. If you’ve never seen Dio in concert before, ignore the naysayers, and go in with an open mind.

*Photos named “Dio” are by Brooke Striewski/Photos named “Dio Returns Live” are by Stephanie Cabral

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