Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987

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Most people think of the legendary Ronnie James Dio as one of heavy metal's sage elder statesmen, but when his newly minted namesake band performed at the 1983 Castle Donington Monsters of Rock Festival, fresh off the release of its soon-to-be seminal debut album, Holy Diver, the group behaved like a bunch of hungry young upstarts with everything to prove. Don't believe it? Well then, consider the fact that, despite his already enviable track record at the helm of Elf, Rainbow, and Black Sabbath, on that hot August day Dio and his charges found themselves crammed fifth on the bill, warming up the crowd for Whitesnake, Meat Loaf, ZZ Top, and Twisted Sister! But, as you'd expect from the indefatigable vocalist (already 41 years young that day!), his professional standards never fell short of headlining status, as he guided his handpicked bandmembers -- faithful Sabbath partner drummer Vinnie Appice, veteran former Rainbow associate bassist Jimmy Bain, and white-hot guitar prodigy Vivian Campbell -- through an energized set of past and future heavy metal classics. With only 45 minutes allotted to it, the band blazed through the newer Dio cuts ("Stand Up and Shout," "Rainbow in the Dark," "Holy Diver," etc.) in the concert's first half, before embarking on a medley of established fan favorites combining portions of "Stargazer," "Starstruck," "Man on the Silver Mountain" (all Rainbow standards) and the Sabs' "Heaven and Hell," which, when stretched out to include an audience participation section, nearly brought down the ol' Castle. Final verdict: all killer, no filler. Four years later, Dio were invited back to Donington, sans Campbell (recently replaced by Craig Goldy), but tellingly slotted second only to headliners Bon Jovi on a bill also featuring -- get this: Metallica, Anthrax, W.A.S.P., and Cinderella -- a testament to the group's great success during in the intervening years. But, in contrast to this, Dio's performance felt a little less inspired and spontaneous (more like clockwork than desperate to please) due to the many years they'd spent grinding it out on tour -- not to mention churning out steadily diluted original material like "Dream Evil," "Rock and Roll Children," and "Naked in the Rain" (Remember that one? Who does?). "The Last in Line," at least, still held sway with magnificent gravitas, and, as always, the Rainbow and Sabbath nuggets were interspersed amid these cuts, oftentimes in truncated form, making for alternately confusing and entertaining combinations that ultimately sent the punters home happy. Now, decades on, these two landmark performances finally see the light of day as the first release issued by Dio's own Niji Entertainment Group, but, tragically, the double-disc set arrived just a few months after the great singer's passing following a short but typically spirited battle against stomach cancer. What's important, though, is that Dio's music will obviously live on forever.

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