CD Review: Dio - Live In London: Hammersmith Apollo 1993

This classic Dio show from 1993 sees its first-ever release in 2014.
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1993 was a pivotal year for Ronnie James Dio. Having crashed and burned with Black Sabbath for the second time, he decided to reform Dio. This new lineup featured Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice along with Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson and guitarist Tracy G. The band recorded Strange Highways, which marked a harder-edged stylistic shift musically. A concert at London's legendary Hammersmith Apollo was recorded and is being released for the first time as Dio - Live in London: Hammersmith Apollo 1993.

Not wanting to simply rest on his laurels, Dio featured several tracks from Strange Highways in the set list, alternating between old and new songs throughout. The show opens with the classic Dio track, "Stand Up And Shout," and right away the listener is exposed to Tracy G's interpretation of the vintage material. While the performance is red hot, and his playing is fine throughout, particularly on the new material where he seems the most comfortable, his embellishing of the classic tracks takes a bit of getting used to. It does demonstrate the confidence Dio had in his new guitarist though, to allow him to put his own spin on the songs.

The title track from Strange Highways follows with its sinister bass line courtesy of Pilson. Dio's vocal is dramatic and powerful and Pilson sounds great on the harmonies. With his strong voice, Pilson is a breath of fresh air in the band, allowing Dio to do his trademark harmonies during the show.

A potent "Don't Talk To Strangers" is followed by two more new songs, "Evilution" and "Pain," the former of which finds Pilson and Appice locked into a tight groove rhythmically while the latter of which finds Dio pushing the upper limits of his vocal range. 

A medley of classic Rainbow, Sabbath and Dio tracks follows, opening with a scorching rendition of "The Mob Rules." Pilson's harmonies help to make Dio's signature "Rainbow In The Dark" stand out as the band delivers a strong performance. "Man On The Silver Mountain" is played at breakneck speed and loses something in the translation, however. Sometimes less is more and speeding up the tempo didn't work for this song. Still, it is one of the few missteps of the show.

The band offers a powerful version of "We Rock," that lives up to its name before closing with the appropriately titled -- and equally potent -- "Here's To You" from Strange Highways. Throughout the show, Dio makes a point of saying that yes, the band will play the classics, but they also have new material they wanted the fans to hear.

It's rare that an artist who had been around as long and accomplished as much as Dio had by 1993 still has the hunger of his youth, but Dio and the band definitely play this show -- recorded at the end of the tour, no less -- as if they had something to prove.  Dio - Live in London: Hammersmith Apollo 1993 finds Dio and the band in great form, delivering on both the old and new songs and is a reminder of what a talent Dio was.