The very first concert that started it all for me was AC/DC – fronted by the unmistakable Brian Johnson – all the way back in 1996. Since then there’s been no turning back as rock n’ roll has become not only my strongest subject, but my savior, largely in part to Johnson and the rest of the guys in the band that night.
It’s always been fascinating for me to learn just how the musicians I listen to get to that stage in front of me. Johnson’s life story is not unlike many before him; humble upbringings, paying dues, and plenty of mistakes and hardships along the way. Everything, from his early days with Geordie (a band name I had only ever heard over the years, though never really took the time to look up until after reading the book), to his one and only encounter with his AC/DC predecessor Bon Scott, to his eventual joining the band in 1980 and finding worldwide success, is covered here.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit too much information sometimes however, and at times I found myself wishing Johnson would simply get to the point a little faster. But to be honest, I’ve always been more of a fan of Johnson’s era of the band than Scott’s. As a whole, it’s the perfect source for those about to rock their reading material; if you’re already an established AC/DC fan, there’s no doubt this should be right up your alley, too.
AC/DC were one of the pivotal bands that introduced me into rock n’ roll. Their massive 1980 effort Back in Black was, to the best of my knowledge, the second rock album I ever owned. And in 1996, they became the first band I ever saw live when a group of friends and I drove down south to West Palm Beach to catch them in concert. But in all honestly, the band hasn’t released anything that’s really excited me since 1990’s The Razor’s Edge album…until now anyway.
Power Up is the first studio album from the band since original founding guitarist Malcolm Young, sadly passed in 2017, and serves as a tribute to him. However, his presence is still greatly felt; co-founder/brother Angus Young complied each of the record’s tracks from non-recorded material the two had previously worked on together, while their nephew Stevie Young once again steps in in Malcolm’s place. The permanent returns of vocalist Brian Johnson, bassist Cliff Williams, and drummer Phil Rudd give the album a sort of ‘comeback’ feel as well.
“Shot in the Dark” served as an appropriate first taste of what was to come from the Power Up. Other numbers like “Demon Fire,” “Systems Down,” and “Witch’s Spell” are reminiscent of 1981’s For ThoseAbout to Rock… album (still my personal favorite release from the Johnson era). Make no mistakes about it; AC/DC are back, and with a roar.
Ever since the Dio Returns tour had first been announced there’s been an abundance of backlash from some fans calling it a ‘cash grab’ (I’d almost guarantee most of those complaining are the same people who went to see Bohemian Rhapsody when it came out last year, too). You can write tours like this off as such (it should also be noted that some of the profits from the tour are allegedly going towards the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund), or you can look at them the way I do; tributes meant to keep the memories alive of legends who rightfully deserve it. Ronnie James Dio was one such icon who I grew up admiring dearly, and unfortunately I was never able to see him perform live before his passing in 2010. The Dio Returns tour gives all those who never saw him the chance to finally experience his music live (and the last time I can remember looking forward to a tour as much as this much was probably when I caught the original lineup of one of Ronnie’s former bands, Black Sabbath, back in 2004).
Essentially, the band itself is one of two current versions of the Dio band that has been going for nearly ten years now (the other being Last in Line, with Vivian Campbell and Vinnie Appice at the helm) called Dio Disciples. This version of the band (which features Dio alumni Craig Goldy, Simon Wright, and Scott Warren) has been performing for years with multiple singers in place of Ronnie, including ex-Judas Priest/Iced Earth vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens, and former Lynch Mob singer Oni Logan, who were both there trading off vocal duties (along with live recordings of Ronnie when his hologram was present) when the band came through The Plaza Live in Orlando this past Saturday, June 1.
Jizzy Pearl’s current incarnation of Love/Hate opened the show, and I was actually looking forward to finally catching Pearl live as well after interviewing him for Rewind ItMagazine just last year (I found it strange however that none of the material from Pearl’s recent album that I interviewed him for made it into the set list). At this point, the club was still fairly empty, and the band received only a modest response. But still, they played with all their might on tracks like “Straightjacket,” “Tumbleweed,” “Spinning Wheel,” “Fuel to Run,” “Mary Jane,” and “Wasted in America.” A seemingly set up (and awkward) moment found the band being told to leave the stage before declaring they were doing one more song, which ended up being “Blackout in the Red Room.”
After Pearl’s set, there was a sort of calm before the storm as the crowd sat anxiously to finally see what awaited them (this was only the second night of the tour, after all). It was quickly revealed as Ronnie’s hologram made its introduction by way of “King of Rock and Roll.” From there, it was one amazing moment after another from beginning to end.
A pair of Sabbath-era classics in the form of “Mob Rules” and “Children of the Sea,” sung by Owens and Logan, respectively, followed before Ronnie’s image made its way on the screen again for the classic Dio tracks “The Last in Line” and “Holy Diver.” After Owens belted out one more Dio classic (“Stand Up and Shout”), the stage was cleared for a drum solo by Wright, which was a tribute of sorts to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
A tagged-team rendition of “Don’t Talk to Strangers” by Owens and Logan followed before more Dio/Rainbow classics began making their way into the set, including “Rainbow in the Dark,” “Egypt (The Chains Are On),” “Gates of Babylon,” and “Invisible” (another duel effort from Owens and Logan). Goldy then treated the crowd to a guitar solo before a couple more Rainbow tracks (“Catch the Rainbow” and “Stargazer”) preceded an unforgettable version of Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” (which briefly segued into the classic “Man on the Silver Mountain”).
Owens and Logan then took the stage along with Ronnie’s hologram to close out the night on an epic note with “We Rock,” and finally (after a short reprieve) “Neon Knights.” The only thing I might have changed (other than include tracks like “Time to Burn” or anything off the Sacred Heart album in place of some of the other chosen tracks in the set, but that’s just my own personal taste!) would have been to market the tour itself a bit differently; even though the hologram does indeed play a prominent role, there’s so much more to the entire show than just that. Still, every person in attendance that night seemed to be in agreement of just how well-executed this show truly was.
After the show itself, my wife/photographer and I were extremely lucky to be invited backstage, where we were able to briefly meet and talk to every member of the band, as well as Dio’s own former wife, Wendy. It was apparent that this tour was a collective labor of love from all those involved, and the feelings resonating backstage were that of celebration, and triumph. And as far as all the closed-minded critics of the tour go, to quote Aesop; “The ignorant despise what is precious only because they cannot understand it.” I think if Ronnie were still here today, he would fully approve of what is being presented on stage in his honor right now.