For a guy who started howling heavy metal songs way back in 1967, Ronnie James Dio looked and sounded remarkably strong during his concert Saturday night at Myth nightclub in Maplewood. His sorcery-conjuring voice was flawless. His stage prancing and devil-horns hand gestures seemed tireless.
He even seemed to be taller than 10 years ago — which is how long it’s been since he died.
Minnesota officially entered the hologram rock ’n’ roll era as the Dio Returns tour rolled into Myth. Although technically based more on CGI film technology than a textbook hologram, the concept was the same: to let fans imagine Dio was there in person rocking out with a live band. He even did an encore.
The tour’s arrival on the home turf of another late rock legend who couldn’t pass the 5 ½-foot mark even in heels — and whose family and bandmates are still figuring out how to keep his memory alive in concert — made it more noteworthy. And with rock’s heyday heroes bound to be dropping like flies in the coming years, many other singers’ estates will soon be weighing the hologram decision. Roy Orbison’s and Frank Zappa’s families already signed off on similar productions.
As back-from-the-dead rock stars go, Dio actually makes sense.
Widely considered metal’s all-time greatest vocalist — Jack Black’s duo Tenacious D famously paid homage to his “songs of wilder beests and dangers” — Dio always enlisted fantastical imagery and lyrics. Wizards, undead beings and other realms famously populated his works before his death to cancer in 2010 at age 67.
With his CGI likeness flanked by large video screens flashing scenes of dungeons and dragons and misty mountains, there were times when the Dio Returns concert felt more like a ride at Harry Potter World or a high-tech Medieval Times restaurant than a rock concert. But what’s a metal concert without a little cornball visual gimmickry?
Hologram Ronnie was joined on tour by drummer Simon Wright, guitarist Craig Goldy and keyboardist Scott Warren, all from late-era lineups of his namesake band Dio. The same group has toured as Dio’s Disciples with tribute singer turned one-time Judas Priest frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens and Lynch Mob’s Oni Logan on vocals, both of whom were also part of Saturday’s production.
Owens and Logan traded vocals duties with Hologram Ronnie throughout the 90-minute performance. Eventually, all three singers wound up singing “We Rock” side by side near show’s end, like the unlikeliest heavy-metal revue you’ve ever seen.
Prior to “We Rock,” they genuinely did rock. The band brought ample firepower and synced up well with the trove of recorded live vocals used behind Hologram Ronnie, starting with the opening song “King of Rock and Roll.”
Hearing a prerecorded Dio sing “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Last in Line” with a solid live band was still a more banging headbanger experience than witnessing a weakly croaking Vince Neil front Mötley Crüe.
“Obviously, he was the greatest singer of all time,” Owens said matter-of-factly as he took the stage to squeal out “Stand Up and Shout.”
The two (living) singers broke up the hologrammed moments and kept the concert from feeling too mechanical. And Logan actually proved a worthy Dio fill-in starting with “Children of the Sea,” among the handful of tunes picked from Dio’s 1979-’82 reign fronting Black Sabbath.
Still, Minnesota’s inaugural hologram rock show was hardly a success. Despite a decent buzz for the tour, the 3,500-capacity venue was about three-quarters empty. Even Dio’s many wizardry-loving believers didn’t buy the concept, it seems.
Those who did attend gawked at Hologram Ronnie as much as they rawked with him. The novelty of the show never gave way to a more authentic rock-concert experience, and the weirdness of seeing a 3-D Dio back from the Great Beyond never went away. It even got kind of creepy, like a character in a virtual-reality video game who keeps reappearing and doing the same gestures because you can’t find a passageway to the next level.
Also odd in this case, three of the best-known songs helmed by Hologram Ronnie — “Holy Diver,” “Heaven and Hell” and his Rainbow classic “Man on the Silver Mountain” — were delivered as mash-ups and all cut short. Not getting to hear the crescendoing finale of “Heaven and Hell” was like having the Who end “Won't Get Fooled Again” at the synthesizer solo.
Who knows? Maybe those tunes were snipped for technical reasons, like the audio didn’t match the video, or the holographic lens had to be cleaned? We do know, though, it’s not because the singer was tired or his throat was hurting.