Dio Returns at The Plaza Live in Orlando, FL on 6/1/19 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

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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 It Magazine 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.

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Queensryche and Fates Warning at The Plaza Live on 3/2/19 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

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Unlike other bands from their era simply running off nostalgia (Ratt, Quiet Riot, etc…), bands like Queensryche are still releasing more-than-respectful material, and not relying solely on their past. And while they may still be largely ignored by modern radio these days, bands from said era such as them (along with Iron Maiden and Megadeth, among others), are still just as strong as ever. After catching them live this past weekend for the second time, there’s no denying these bands are still able to pack a house.

Fates Warning have always been somewhat of interest to me, especially since Armored Saint/ex-Anthrax bassist Joey Vera first came aboard. And with a solid lineup that also includes original guitarist Jim Matheos, joined with other longtime members Frank Aresti (guitars) Ray Adler (vocals), and current Sebastian Bach drummer Bobby Jarzombek, I was looking forward to actually seeing what they could do on stage when they opened the first night of this current tour. But for the most part, they focused a tad too heavily on their (not so) new album, 2016’s Theories of Flight, performing “From the Rooftops,” “Seven Stars,” and “The Light and Shade of Things.” The furthest the band even went in their own catalog was “Life in Still Water” from 1991. While it’s understandable they had limited time to work with (only able to squeeze in eight tracks) this is one case where it would have been nice if they dug just a little further back in time (at the very least 1988’s “Silent Cries” should have still found its way in the set list somewhere).

And finally, Queensryche took over. The last time my wife/photographer and I saw them live, they were still touring for their first album with current vocalist Todd La Torre in 2013. Since then, the band has released a couple of more albums, and were not swayed from playing material from any of them (despite knowing many likely still come to hear their Geoff Tate-era hits). One thing’s for sure, their stage/light show has definitely improved over time. However, it was somewhat disappointing to see original drummer Scott Rockenfield was not on board this time around, though Kamelot’s Casey Grillo filled in just fine.

Opening with “Blood of Levant,” the band continued with mostly newer tracks such as “I am I,” “Man the Machine,” and “Condition Human,”  but managed to throw one from their debut album, “N M 156” in there before finally breaking out with one of their signature “classics” (“Queen of the Reich”) six tracks in. “Selfish Lives,” “Open Road,” “Light-Years,” and “Eyes of the Stranger” all followed before the band took a quick reprieve.

It didn’t take long for the band to come back with a trio of their most well-known hits for their encore, including their biggest (and in my book, extremely overrated) power ballad “Silent Lucidity,” as well as “Jet City Woman,” and finally “Empire.” I say it all of the time; if ever you doubt the ability of a band that’s been around as long as Queensryche, wait to see them live before judging. These guys have been going strong since 1980, and it’s clear they don’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Fates Warning opening the show.

Sebastian Bach at The Plaza Live on 11/2/18 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

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The last time I caught former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach live, he was the supporting act for Guns N’ Roses back in 2006. Last Friday night’s show at The Plaza Live in Orlando somewhat paled in comparison to that of the larger, arena-sized production I saw him on years earlier. But despite this, those in attendance seemed to at the very least be having a hell of a time.

Young Canadians One Bad Son kicked off the night, ushering themselves onstage with the theme from “Rocky” before ripping into their set. Their style ranged from traditional heavy metal (“Scarecrows,” “Lost All Control”), to mainstream mediocrity (“It Ain’t Right”). Despite some of the most awkward silence I’ve ever witnessed at a live show in between songs,  the band truly got it right towards the end of their set with a cover of the Talking Head’s “Psycho Killer.”

Prong/Madonna (yes, you read that right) guitarist Monte Pittman (who the band gets its namesake from) was up next. It wasn’t until about halfway through their set I realized Pittman had devised a super-group of sorts, featuring Holy Grail bassist Eli Santana, as well as former Slayer/Testament drummer John Dette.

Pittman offered a wide range of various rock genres; from metal numbers worth banging your head to (“Changing of the Guard,” “Everything Undone,” “Skeleton Key,” etc..) to even acoustic numbers like “Depth of Perception.” All in all, Pittman’s set was one of the surprising highlights of the evening.

Finally, former (though not “original” – die hard fans will remember that title actually belongs to Matt Fallon) voice of Skid Row, Sebastian Bach, took stage some time after the 11 o’clock hour, appropriately kicking off his set with one from his ex-band’s glory days, “Slave to the Grind.”

The current lineup Bach has assembled for his band offers its own rock royalty as well, with Spread Eagle/UFO bassist Rob De Luca and Riot/Fates Warning drummer Bobby Jarzombek rounding out the rhythm section. Newcomer Brent Woods handled guitar duties admirably (though at one point he threw handfuls of guitar picks into the crowd in what appeared to be a fit of anger).

More tracks from both his work with Skid Row, as well as his solo catalog, quickly followed, including “Piece of Me,” “Dance on Your Grave,” “18 and Life,” “Here I Am,” and “The Threat” (a personal favorite of mine that I don’t recall him playing the last time I saw him, and was definitely not expecting to hear this time around, either!) before getting into the “big guns” (literally).

Once Bach and his band went into the massive 1989 hit “I Remember You,” fans were screaming for more. Which they quickly received, as he then broke out with a couple more from Skid Row’s debut album in the form of “Big Guns” and “Sweet Little Sister.” Bach somewhat lost the crowd for a second with a less-than-stellar joke (the punchline, “Motordead,” should give you an idea of what it entailed) before introducing the song “All My Friends Are Dead.”

Thankfully he was able to recover with the hard-hitting “American Metalhead” before lashing out some more classic Skid Row cuts in the form of “Monkey Business” (in which the band briefly segued into a nice cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” mid-way through), “Rattlesnake Shake,” and the classic anthem “Youth Gone Wild,” which would have made for more than a perfect ending to the night. But Bach hit the already-exhausted crowd with one last solo song (which the name of completely escapes me at the moment) before finally calling it a night.

Unfortunately this time around any and all material from Skid Row’s Subhuman Race album was completely omitted from his set list (if memory serves me right, he at least played “Breakin’ Down” that first time I caught him back in ’06). Even so, I’m glad to see he’s still out there giving it his all, night after night.

Bassist Eli Santana (also of Holy Grail) opening the show on stage with Monte Pittman.