Eagle records

REVIEW: Styx – The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live (2011)

STYX – The Grand Illusion / Pieces of Eight Live (2011 Eagle Records)

Although legacy bands like Styx may not write and record new music as often as they used to, there have been a couple interesting effects from this.  Legendary discographies have been mined by a handful of classic bands, playing rare tracks live that haven’t been played on a stage in decades, if ever.  Sometimes, bands play full albums.  A few even play two!  Styx chose The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight for live resurrection.

Dipping back to 1977 and 1978, Styx picked two of their best records to perform.  Kind of the “sweet spot” between Tommy Shaw joining the band on Crystal Ball, and the drama with Dennis DeYoung on Cornerstone.  There are numerous of songs they never played live with Lawrence Gowan on vocals before, if at all!  They had to re-learn their own songs to put on this concert.  You can’t accuse them of taking the easy way out!

Tommy even tells you where the side breaks come!

With Todd Sucherman on drums, the songs are naturally heavier here.  Gowan’s voice lends a different sound to them too.  Bassist Ricky Phillips is rock solid as always, but original bassist Chuck Panozzo still comes out to play bass on the odd track live.  His rumble on “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” is nice and prominent in the mix.

The songs have other notable differences, like more guitar solos.  James Young does Dennis’ old spoken word part on “Superstars”.  Some might wonder, “Why listen to this, when you can play the original albums with the original members any time you want?”  It would be unwise to compare the talents of Gowan and Dennis, but why can’t you just be a fan of both?  Some people want to hear Gowan singing “Come Sail Away”, and especially “Castle Walls” which was only played once before in 1978 and a handful of times in 1997.  There are many such songs on this recording.  “I’m OK” (which Gowan sings) was dropped after 1979, until this tour.  “Lords of the Rings” (James Young on vocals) was only played once in 1978.

There are stories, and songs for the diehards.  This isn’t a package for someone looking for greatest hits.  It’s also not the same as listening to an old album.  This is for the Styx fan who loves the past and present equally.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dio – Live In London – Hammersmith Apollo 1993 (2014)

DIO – Live In London – Hammersmith Apollo 1993 (2014 Eagle)

The only good thing that came from Ronnie Dio’s death is the number of reissues and live albums we’ve gotten since.  One of the more overlooked eras of Dio was the “Tracy G” era, Strange Highways and Angry Machines.  Dio had just reunited in the middle of the grunge movement.  Tracy G (ex-WWIII) was not to everybody’s taste.  While he could indeed shred, he also utilized shrill noise and harmonics in his guitar work which isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.  He could, however, lend Dio a heavier edge necessary in 1993.  Add in bassist Jeff Pilson from Dokken and veteran drummer Vinnie Appice and you have one hell of a lineup.

Dio assembled a setlist with his best material, but ignoring a couple albums.  Lock Up the Wolves and Dream Evil were considered disappointments when they were new.  Even Sacred Heart is skipped over on this live album, in favour of old classics and a healthy serving of new songs.  Sabbath and Rainbow only get a song a piece.

The sound is bloody perfect, as if they meant to release a double live album all along.  Having Pilson on bass lends a heavy, low grumble and immaculate backing vocals.  Tracy G might be an acquired taste on guitar but there’s no question he could do the job.  He gets an extended solo on “Pain” that displays shredding, noise and musicality.  Vinnie Appice gets a long solo too, as part of a “Heaven and Hell” / “Man on the Silver Mountain” medley.  Eventually the band returns and they pound out a machine gun riff with monstrous Pilson bass licks.  Incidentally, it’s Jeff Pilson that captures that old Black Sabbath/Geezer Butler groove better than any other bassist Dio has had.

This is a phenomenal live album.  Sure, you can buy live Dio with better known lineups and songs.  You can get live stuff with Vivian Campbell or Craig Goldy.  This setlist is considerably different from those, and the sound is heavy as hell!

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Dio – Finding the Sacred Heart – Live in Philly 1986 (2013)

DIO – Finding the Sacred Heart – Live in Philly 1986 (2013 Eagle records)

The King of Rock and Roll rolled into Philly with a new axeman.  Vivian Campbell bitterly departed and was replaced by Craig Goldy of Ruff Cutt.  Goldy had a flashier style, a bit heavier on the shred.  The Sacred Heart tour was a big deal, and I can distinctly remember seeing TV ads for the Toronto show.  They had their big dragon on stage, a crystal ball, and Accept as the opening act.  The Philly gig was filmed, and so today we have this double live album to enjoy.

As it did on Sacred Heart, “King of Rock and Roll” opened the set with a flurry of speed.  Another newbie, “Like the Beat of a Heart” goes over well with an extended solo by Goldy including a nod to Blackmore.  “Don’t Talk to Strangers” is the first Dio classic in the set, though “Hungry for Heaven” was a top 30 single.

Dio had so much material to play (including his past with Rainbow and Black Sabbath) that a lot of the biggest songs are jammed into medleys.  “The Last in Line”, “Children of the Sea” and “Holy Diver” are truncated into eight minutes.  “Rock ‘N’ Roll Children” is joined with the Rainbow classics “Love Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Man on the Silver Mountain”.  It seems a shame that there are guitar solos, a drum solo, and even a keyboard solo, but all these classics had to be crammed together into medleys.  “Heaven and Hell” is complete at least, but Claude Schnell’s keyboards sound out of place on this Sabbath cornerstone.

1986 was one of many prime periods for Dio.  Your perception of this CD set will largely hinge on how much you like Craig Goldy vs. Vivian Campbell.  Goldy was a fine replacement though his shredding often sounds like a green kid just going for it.  There is plenty of great Dio material to enjoy, all killer no filler from start to finish…solos aside that is.  There’s even a live version of the smooth “Time to Burn”, the first new song with Goldy from the Intermission EP.

There is a nice selection of live Dio available on the market.  Finding the Sacred Heart would be a great choice for most, but if you want Dio live with Vivian Campbell, probably best to go for the Donington 1983 & 1987 set.  This one certainly sounds excellent, it’s a beautiful recording and mix.

4/5 stars