ronnie james dio

#832: This Is Spinal Tap

GETTING MORE TALE #832: This Is Spinal Tap

I can admit it.  I was only 13 years old, and I thought Spinal Tap were a real band.

How was I to know?  A lot of media surrounding Spinal Tap took them seriously.  When MuchMusic’s J.D. Roberts interviewed Ronnie James Dio about the Hear N’ Aid project in 1986, he played it straight.  David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap appear on the track “Stars”, which Ronnie produced.

Roberts:  “I think that one of the great coups of Hear N’ Aid, and I think you’ll have to agree with me, was having David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap enter the project.”

Dio:  “Yeah that was a real special moment. I must tell you that there was a little consternation on the part of some of the people who did not turn up, who were asked to take part in ‘Stars’, that the inclusion of those two people, or anyone from Spinal Tap, made this project a laughing stock.  I’d like to be able to reply to anyone who thinks that’s a valid point.  Again, we are human beings.  And part of human nature is to laugh.  Probably the nicest part of human nature is to laugh.  And these are two wonderful people who made us laugh, not only in this project, but in Spinal Tap.”

Even though Dio actually broke the wall for a moment and entered the “real” world with his answer, Roberts shot right back into the fictional world with his followup question.  Dio played along this time.

Roberts:  “It’s a good thing, as Derek says, that you didn’t let them do the lead vocal, because they would have blown everybody away.”

Dio:  “Well they did a lot of singing when the tape wasn’t rolling, and they were better than all of us.  And they happen to both be the best guitar players I’ve ever heard too.”

Never mind that Derek plays bass!

Shortly after the interview rolled, Much played the video for “Hell Hole” and I had a chance to hear Spinal Tap for myself.  Yeah, that blonde guy could sing.  It was a decent song.  I expected something heavier — more thrash like.  Maybe the reason I hadn’t heard of them was they were a thrash band?  If they were so highly praised by Ronnie James Dio, I couldn’t understand why I never heard of them.  I didn’t have much to go on either.

According to the Dio interview, there were some unnamed rock stars who felt that Spinal Tap would turn Hear N’ Aid into a “laughing stock”.  Why?  I turned various scenarios over in my head.  Were they satanic?  Well, they had a song called “Hell Hole” and there was a big demon skull head in the backdrop, but that didn’t make them satanists.  Just what was the story exactly with this Spinal Tap?

They did seem arrogant in the Hear N’ Aid “making of” video.

David St. Hubbins:  “They asked us to do the leads, but like I said before, I didn’t wanna blow these other blokes away, you know.  I’ve been doing this a lot longer than they have.  I’ve got pipes I haven’t used yet.  Haven’t located them yet.”

Derek Smalls:  “He could break the board in there.  It’s really an act of mercy to the engineers that he doesn’t sing lead.”

Arrogant yes, but…St. Hubbins has been doing this this a lot longer than they have?  Just why haven’t I heard of Spinal Tap before?  Analysing the video for “Hell Hole” revealed little.  Yes, there was a comedic slant to it, but the song actually rocked.  Other bands put comedy in their music videos too, like Twisted Sister.  There was no reason whatsoever to suspect the truth.

The only real clue that I had was when Dio briefly mentioned a film.  There, the trail went cold.  Never heard of it, never seen it, didn’t know anybody who did.  It was a couple more years before I eventually put the story together.  While continuing my education in KISStory, I learned that their film, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, was shown in a double bill with This Is Spinal Tap for a limited run.  This happened in England, a “Headbanging double feature”, around October 1984. I began to read names like “Michael McKean” and “Harry Shearer”.  Eventually a highschool friend named Andy recommended that I see the movie ASAP so I rented a copy from Steve’s TV.

The truth is, I did not like This In Spinal Tap the first time I saw it.  I didn’t laugh.  It certainly wasn’t a gleeful rock and roll comedy, as I watched the hard times roll out one after another.  But then the next day back at school, talking about it with Andy, I started to get the jokes.

“…and then when they’re stuck in those pods for ‘Rock and Roll Creation’ and the bassist can’t get out…they have to bring out a blowtorch…” said Andy.

“Oh yeah, that was pretty funny actually.  You know what part I did like, was when they were lost in the basement trying to find the stage.  Did you notice Billy Crystal was the mime?  Mime is money!”

I finally got it.  I rented it again, and this time I dubbed a copy for myself.  I understood Rob Reiner’s role in the concept and recognized the actors from other roles.  Christopher Guest, the other singer, was Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, only one of the greatest movies ever made.  Also directed by Rob Reiner!  I watched Spinal Tap again, and again.  I think I had a new favourite movie!

There’s no shame in admitting being fooled by Spinal Tap.  That was the whole point, wasn’t it?  Otherwise the band wouldn’t have continued doing interviews in character.  The idea was to always keep it believable enough that you can fool a small minority.

My dad used to say, “If that band is just a bunch of actors, then I guess it doesn’t take much talent to play rock and roll.”  But my dad missed something then, that he now understands.  Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest are actually excellent musicians on multiple instruments.  And that is why Spinal Tap was so believable.  When Nignel Tufnel rips a solo in the video for “Hell Hole”, it looks right because Christopher Guest performed that solo.  You know, maybe Spinal Tap should be considered a real band after all!

 

 

 

* Thank you Dale Sherman for that detail!

#811: Ride the Tiger

GETTING MORE TALE #811:  Ride the Tiger
Holy Diver,
You’ve been down too long in the midnight sea,
Oh what’s becoming of me.
Ride the tiger,
You can see his stripes but you know he’s clean,
Oh don’t you see what I mean.

I can’t believe it has been this long.  20 frickin’ years ago I started talking to a metalhead in England named Dan Slessor, from Brighton.  He has since deleted his social media and I’m no longer in touch with him.  Hi Dan!  I hope you are well.  Drop me a line.

I was very happy for him when Dan told me had started writing for Kerrang!  (I still have an issue with one of his articles, and Josh Homme on the cover.)  He had achieved the Dream.  Best of all, he got to interview rock stars for the magazine:  Tom Araya, David Coverdale, Joe Elliott….

And Ronnie James goddamn Dio!

One of Dan’s signature moves was to ask bands a joke question, in hope that they have a sense of humour and it would loosen things up.  It worked with Tom Araya when Dan asked him if Slayer ever killed time on the tour bus by seeing how many pencils they could stuff in their pubes.

I recently dug up an old message from Dan.  It was just after he interviewed Dio.  And folks, I can testify that in May 2008, Dan did ask Dio if he had ever ridden a tiger.

Dan told me that while Ronnie did answer in the negative, “Dio was awesome dude – and judging by his amusement, I think I’m the first person to ever ask him if he’d actually ridden a tiger….”

Ronnie passed away only two years after that interview.  You gotta give Dan credit for that one!  I don’t know anyone else who has asked Dio that question.

Dan, I hope you are doing well and if you stumble upon this, please drop me a line, I’d love to catch up!

 

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: We Wish You A Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year – Various Artists (2008)

WE WISH YOU A METAL XMAS AND A HEADBANGING NEW YEAR (2008 Armoury)

Yep, It’s another Bob Kulick album with various guests.  You know what you’re going to get.  Let’s not dilly-dally; let’s crack open the cranberry sauce and see what a Metal Xmas sounds like.

Generic!  A truly ordinary title track features the amazing Jeff Scott Soto on lead vocals, but it’s a purely cookie-cutter arrangement with all the cheesy adornments you expect.  Ray Luzier fans will enjoy the busy drums, but this does not bode well for the album.

Fortunately it’s Lemmy to the rescue, with “Run Rudolph Run”, an utterly classic performance with Billy Gibbons and Dave Grohl.  All spit n’ vinegar with no apologies and nary a mistletoe in sight.  I remember playing this for my sister Dr. Kathryn Ladano in the car one Christmas.

When Lemmy opened his yap, she proclaimed “This is bullshit!  How come they get to make albums and not me?”

Lemmy Kilmister, pissing people off since day one, has done it again.  You can buy the CD for “Run Rudolph Run” even if the rest is utter shit.

A silly “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Alice Cooper echoes “The Black Widow”, but novelty value aside, is not very good.  A joke song can only take you so far, and Alice is usually far more clever.  (At least John 5’s soloing is quite delicious.)  And even though Dio is next, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” comes across as a joke, too.  Which is a shame because the lineup is a Dio/Sabbath hybrid:  Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo, and Simon Wright.  Dio’s joyless, dead serious interpretation is amusing only because of its unintentional dry humour.

Funny enough, Geoff Tate’s “Silver Bells” has the right attitude.  Even though Geoff is perpetually flat, his spirited version (with Carlos Cavazo, James Lomenzo and Ray Luzier) kicks up some snow.  That makes me happy, but it pains me to say that Dug Pinnick’s “Little Drummer Boy” (with George Lynch, Billy Sheehan and Simon Phillips) doesn’t jingle.  Ripper Owens, Steve More & pals team up next on “Santa Claus is Back in Town”, so bad that it borders on parody.

The most bizarre track is Chuck Billy’s “Silent Night”, with thrash buddies like Scott Ian.  Chuck performs it in his death metal growl, and it’s pure comedy.  Oni Logan can’t follow that with “Deck the Halls”, though it’s pretty inoffensive.  Stephen Pearcy’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” adapts the riff from “Tie Your Mother Down” and succeeds in creating a listenable track.  “Rockin’ Around the Xmas Tree” is ably performed by Joe Lynn Turner, sounding a lot like a Christmas party jam.

The final artist is Tommy Shaw with John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”.  It’s an authentic version and while not a replacement for the original, will be enjoyable to Styx fans.

Christmas albums by rock artists are, let’s be honest, rarely worthwhile.  This one has only a handful of keepers so spend wisely.

2/5 stars

VHS Archives #35: Ronnie James Dio talks Satanism in Metal (1987)

While out promoting 1987’s Dream Evil, Ronnie James Dio and Craig Goldy sat for an interview with MuchMusic’s Erica Ehm.  She asked him about Satanism in rock lyrics and videos.

REVIEW: Dio – Magica (deluxe edition)

DIO – Magica (originally 2000, 2013 Niji deluxe edition)

Although Ronnie James Dio was a very vivid songwriter, he only made one true concept album.  Magica was intended as a trilogy, but only the first part was completed before Dio’s death in 2010.  Magica was released in 2000 as a story of aliens, heroes, villains and magic.  Dio’s new band consisted of returning champions Craig Goldy (from the Dream Evil album) on guitar, drummer Simon Wright (Lock Up the Wolves), and original bassist Jimmy Bain.  The album, co-written by Dio and Goldy, was considered a triumph in its time.  It is a strong return to old-style quality metal after 1996’s questionable Angry Machines CD.  This deluxe edition collects the album and all related tracks together in one place.

Without getting into too much story detail, “Discovery” introduces aliens that serve as a framing story.  Alien explorers have found the ancient planet of Blessing, but are confused by the written records they find.  “Flesh can NOT be mutated into stone, and re-morphed back to the body once again.  Continue the investigation with special attention given to one word:  MAGICA.”

“Lord of the Last Days” is a dramatic and metallic start.  Dio’s slow grooves bring the melody and power of the riff to the fore.  “I love the night, so many shadows,” he sings as the villain character Shadowcast.  A segue brings us to the single “Fever Dreams”, a song so good that it was performed live in 2001 by Deep Purple with Ronnie as guest.  Goldy’s choppy riff is the stuff of metal dreams.  Fans who thought Dio strayed too far from the old school before were very pleased.

The music speeds up and becomes more menacing on “Turn to Stone”.   Evil has made its move!   “Turn to Stone” is classic Dio music, very much in line with Dream Evil (1987).  Goldy turns in some killer solo work here, before we move on to the robotic “Feed My Head”.   The album loses momentum on the long “Eriel”, and the truth is that the story gets too hard to follow without reading along with the liner notes.

Some smoking soloing introduces “Challis”, a memorable rocker that brings the album back on track.  The songs work best when backed by good old riffs.  “Challis” is quintessential hard rock Dio, but Dio also has a tender side.  The album’s ballad “As Long as it’s Not About Love” is long but exemplary.  Then it’s a celtic sounding jig on “Losing My Insanity”, before it transforms into something heavier and almost Sabbathy.

The deluxe edition of Magica contains the original Japanese bonus track, an instrumental called “Annica”.  This is on CD 2, but for the most authentic listening experience, you should move it back to where it belongs, on the first disc between “Losing My Insanity” and “Otherworld”.  This guitar piece really shows off Craig Goldy’s style and tone. Then “Otherworld” is the climax of the story, good triumphing over evil, and a nice dramatically heavy track.

The alien framing story returns with a reprise of “Lord of the Last Days”, indicating that the tale is not over.  Far from it.

The final track on the original album has been moved to CD 2: Dio reading “The Magica Story”, also included inside as text.  This is 18 minutes of some of the dullest narration you’ve ever heard.  Finishing it once is a challenge, listening to it regularly as a part of the album is madness.  Instead, skip to “Electra”, the only song they finished for Magica 2 (or 3).  “Electra” was the last single that Dio released in his lifetime, as part of a box set called Tournado.  It sounds like a part of Magica, perhaps indicating the next album would have been darker.  It’s sad but gratifying to know that the last song Dio put out was a good one.*

Five rare live tracks round out the set, all songs from Magica never released on anything else.  Live, the band featured Alice Cooper bassist Chuck Garric in Jimmy Bain’s place.  “Fever Dreams” is particularly good, a little bit faster than the original.  “As Long as it’s Not About Love” has more passion in the live setting.  Most fans have not had the chance to hear live versions of the Magica songs before this package came out.

When Magica was originally released, I was lucky enough to get the Japanese version right away.  I was hoping for something more like old Dio, and less like Angry Machines.  Judging from my time in the Record Store, I think many Dio fans lost interest in the band after Angry Machines.  One of my old customers, Glen, was turned around by Magica.  I recommended it to him, and he loved it.  Now, I’m recommending it to you.

4.25/5 stars

 

* Former Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich recently stated that he is in possession of a complete demo with vocals of another Magica 2 song.  He has offered it to Wendy Dio to release.

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

REVIEW: Dio – The Last in Line (deluxe edition)

DIO – The Last in Line (originally 1984, 2010 Universal deluxe edition)

Ronnie James Dio used to consider the second albums he did as inferior to the first ones.  Second Rainbow wasn’t as good as the first; same with the second Sabbath, according to Ronnie.  Is that also true for The Last in Line compared to the legendary Holy Diver?

Comparing the two is much like splitting hairs.  The two albums are so close in style and quality that it really doesn’t even matter.

A better opener than “We Rock” is hard to find.  The blitz of drums and riff was custom made for bangin’ on the stage.  It’s unusual to hear a song where the drums are a major hook, but Vinny Appice has a way of doing just that.  He gives you the urge to air-drum every time he throws down a fill.

Dio had an interesting pattern for his albums in the early days, up to Dream Evil (1987).  The albums always began with something fast.  In the song two position:  always the title track!  (The title track of each album always had a few lines of lyrics printed in the album sleeve too!) And so it is with “The Last in Line”.  The soft and ballad-y opening lures one into that “safe place”…before Dio lets it loose.  One of his best and most memorable music videos went with “The Last in Line”, absolutely one of the legendary man’s most notable songs. Its reputation is well earned, as all the pieces are in the right and you never get tired of hearing it.

We’ll know for the first time, if we’re evil or divine, we’re the last in line!

With the first two tracks being so legendary to Dio fandom, it’s easy to understand how the next batch often get lost in the shuffle.  “Breathless” lacks for nothing.  Vivian Campbell’s solo spot is blazing stuff, and the song is memorable enough for head banging.  Accelerating into “I Speed at Night”, hooks are sacrificed for tempo.  It’s quintessential 80s heavy metal when speed was such an important thing.  Not a bad tune, but one with only a single purpose — banging thine head.

“One Night in the City” takes the time to allow the hooks to percolate through.  Vinny and bassist Jimmy Bain lock into a mid-paced groove while Ronnie lays down one of his typically emotive melodies.  Though it simmers on a back burner, “One Night in the City” is hot just the same.  “Evil Eyes” is also a high quality tune, and if it’s familiar that might be because an earlier version was a B-side, included on the Holy Diver deluxe edition.  Naturally, the album version is more polished, but as for which is better, that’s up to the listener.  Then there is “Mystery”, arguably Dio’s most “pop” single.  Not such a bad thing, after all Ronnie James Dio also did right by “Love is All” from the Butterfly Ball.

We are lightning, we are flame, and we burn at the touch of a spark.

“Eat Your Heart Out” is the only stumble, but it’s soon paid back with “Egypt (The Chains are On)”, a Dio epic in true metal fashion.  Who doesn’t love a good plodding metal epic about Egyptian legends?  It’s a second or third tier metal motif!  Ronnie brings his own metal melodrama to the fore.

The Last in Line is already a great album, certainly up to the quality of Holy Diver with equally memorable material.  This carries over to the bonus CD included in the deluxe edition.  Four single B-sides from the era are included.  They are live versions of “Eat Your Heart Out”, with “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark” (all originally from Holy Diver).  The only two B-sides missing are “Stand Up and Shout” and “Straight Through the Heart” live at Donington 1983, from “The Last in Line” 12″ single.  These tracks however can be found on the 2010 CD release, At Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 

Finally we have Dio’s entire set from the 1984 Pink Pop festival.  Naturally there is some overlap with the previous live tracks:  “Holy Diver”, “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers”.  This is offset by a smattering of Rainbow and Black Sabbath classics:  “Stargazer”, “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Heaven and Hell”.  The audio is quite good and Jimmy Bain’s bass has a nice full thump to it.  The Last in Line is one deluxe you’ll want to add to your collection

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime II (2006)

QUEENSRYCHE – Operation: Mindcrime II (2006 Rhino)

10 years ago, when this project finally saw the light of day, a lot of fans were expecting it to be 1988 all over again. However, there were many reasons why they shouldn’t have.

1. Longtime guitarist/songwriter Chris DeGarmo, such an integral part of the original Mindcrime, had been out of the band for quite some time.
2. Geoff Tate’s voice didn’t have that high-note power it once had.
3. The band never intended to pretend it was still 1988. This album is a continuation, 18 years later, and as such the music has changed somewhat as well.  The albums are meant to complement each other, not duplicate each other.

Scan_20160510 (2)The story picks up with Nikki, the anti-hero from the original Mindcrime, finally being released from prison, 18 years after the events of the first album. He begins to piece together his memories of what happened. He decides to pay Dr. X a visit (“X marks the spot”, goes the lyric), who is deliciously played by the late Ronnie James Dio.  For die-hard Dio followers, this was a real treat. Dio sings as if in a stage production, which I’ve never heard him do before. Pamela Moore reprises her role of Sister Mary, playing a larger role and appearing on more songs. She’s a great complement to Geoff Tate, who clearly revels in the chance to do something dramatic like this.

New second guitar player Mike Stone (ex-Criss) gels very nicely with Michael Wilton, playing dual guitar leads that Queensryche of old would have been proud of. At the same time, modern technology has creeped into the production in the form of sequencers and samples, to remind us that this was 2006.  Still, Eddie Jackson’s bass had never been recorded this well before; he should be very proud of his rumble. Scott Rockenfield’s back to playing some serious metallic drumming as well, leaving behind some of his tribal influences for the moment.

So, the actual sound of Mindcrime II is amazing. The songs however are not up to the very high standards that Mindcrime I set. There is no “I Don’t Believe In Love” or “Eyes Of A Stranger”, although some songs like “The Hands” come pretty close, with an amazing metallic riff and great chorus. (Did anyone else notice a few bars of music from “I Don’t Believe In Love” within “The Hands”? Listen again.) “I’m American” is lyrically fantastic, and angrier than anything Queensryche has done since Q2K. “Chase” is the one featuring Dio, and the one I keep coming back to.

The thing about Queensryche albums is, they do tend to get better with time.  Maybe they were always slightly ahead of the curve, or more likely they just take a few listens to absorb.  It’s been a decade now, and few of the Mindcrime II songs remain lodged in the my brain.  Meanwhile, I could hum any song from the first one.  In particular, the second side of Mindcrime II really takes a drop.  Tracks like “Fear City Slide” do not have the impact of “I Don’t Believe in Love”, and the closer “All the Promises” fails to deliver.  It’s a concept album after all, and the last song is like the last scene in a movie.  It should be memorable.

Will Mindcrime II ever become classic like the original? Doubtful. As soon as you name something with a “II” behind it, you’re painting yourself into a corner, but Queensryche have done about as good a job as the fans could have expected.  It seems many fans have warmed up to it over the years, though it certainly cannot be considered equal with the original.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Deep Purple – The Soundboard Series – Australasian Tour 2001 (12 CD box set)

The Deep Purple Project continues!  Here is one big solid chunk of rock majesty.

Scan_20160209

DEEP PURPLE – The Soundboard Series – Australasian Tour 2001 (2001 Thames 12 CD box set)

One day in spring of 2002, I wandered into Encore Records in Kitchener.  I spied this lovely box o’ rock up front in their glass case, where they stored similarly awesome boxes of rock.

“What’s that?!” I asked, and was promptly handed 12 CDs of live Purple.  A quick glance, and “I’ll take it.”  Only a short while before, I bought yet another 12 CD live Deep Purple box set.  When I first noticed this box under the glass, I was hoping it was just a reissue of the same thing; something I already had that I could safely pass on.   It only took one close look to realize that this was a whole other animal completely.  Rather than a collection of bootlegs from the 80’s and up, like the one I had, this box chronicled Deep Purple’s 2001 tour of Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.  What special concerts those must have been.  Read on and you’ll discover why.

Each concert presented in this box is complete, and mixed from the 8-track soundboard DAT tapes.  No audience recordings in this bad boy, which is a good thing, since Purple were touring with numerous extra musicians and accoutrements that require sonic clarity.  Of the six concerts included, four are largely the same.  A lot of Ian Gillan’s song intros are the same from night to night, and the setlists are by and large the same.  Of course where Deep Purple are concerned, that means very little.  Their solos are never the same, and each performance is its own experience.  Steve Morse has never really repeated himself night after night, nor did Jon Lord.

There are some cool surprises in the sets.  One of the best tracks, and one of the most rarely played, is “Mary Long” from Who Do We Think We Are.  This rhythmic monster goes down smashingly well, and it’s a wonder that Purple never tried it any earlier.  There are some true buried gems on those early Purple albums, especially Fireball and Who Do We Think We Are, that were never given a fair shake in their day.  Deep Purple today are able to have more fun with their setlists than they were in the 70’s.  Another such track is “No One Came”, one of the strangest songs in the catalogue.  It benefits greatly from a three piece horn section (the Side Door Johnny’s).  There are versions with horns on some other live albums as well, such as Live at the Olympia ’96, so while horns are not unheard of in Deep Purple, they are rare.  “No One Came” and “Fools” (both from Fireball) are quite a treat any time you get to hear them live, which you didn’t get to do in the 70’s.  They also play the classic B-side “When a Blind Man Cries”, a blues that deserves the spotlight.

Of course Deep Purple always play new material, but what’s really surprising is that they only played one song from their last studio album (1998’s Abandon), and only one time, during the first four concerts!  At the first show, in Melbourne, they played “’69”.  Then it was dropped and the set slightly shuffled.  “Smoke on the Water” was moved from the middle to the second half of the set.  Speaking of “Smoke”, fans familiar with the Steve Morse version of Deep Purple are aware that he really likes to have fun with the intro.  He teases out several classic rock riffs, all instantly recognizable, as he tries to remember which riff is the one he’s supposed to be playing (or so it seems).  AC/DC’s “Back in Black” is the one that really stands out, and it’s remarkable how well it works with Deep Purple.  There are lots more, including “Whole Lotta Love”, “Heartbreaker” and “Stairway to Heaven”, that one normally does not associate with Deep Purple!    Other favourite riffs include “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Little Wing”, and even a Van Halen inspired version of “You Really Got Me”, but the one that surprised me the most was “To Be With You”, by Mr. Big.  Don’t forget, Mr. Big are absolutely huge in Japan, so when they played that little bit in Tokyo, I’m sure everybody knew it.

Also of note, Jimmy Barnes came out for “Highway Star” and “Smoke on the Water” for a couple Australian shows.  Sharp-minded readers will remember that Barnes was one of many singers who auditioned for Deep Purple in the late 80’s before they hired on Joe Lynn Turner.  He seems to have a blast screaming his way through “Highway Star”!  Must be like a dream come true.  Gillan’s in great voice too, by the way!

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For more thrills with special guests, we must go to the last two shows, in Japan.  Australia surely had a treat with the Side Door Johnny’s and Jimmy Barnes, but what Japan got was even better.  Fresh off their well-received Live at the Royal Albert Hall album from 2000, conductor Paul Mann joined Purple for two nights in Tokyo.  That meant a full performance of the legendary and almost never performed Concerto for Group and Orchestra, all three movements.  Mann and the New Japan Select Orchestra joined Purple on a number of their songs as well, including “Watching the Sky” from Abandon, but it was only played on the first night.  All that said, there was no greater thrill than the presence of Ronnie James Dio.  As he did on the Albert Hall album, Ronnie sang lead on two songs from the Purple solo catalogue.  He performs Roger Glover’s “Sitting in a Dream” and the delightfully bouncy hippy anthem “Love is All”.  Ian Gillan, meanwhile takes the lead on Jon Lord’s “Pictured Within”.   Dio also returns for “Smoke on the Water”, trading with Gillan, but what’s really special is that Purple actually performed two Dio songs at these shows.  Though Dio and Purple are two very different bands, Purple adapt and do great versions of “Fever Dreams” and “Rainbow in the Dark”.  The drum and keyboard parts are the most different, but nobody’s complaining!  It’s great that they did “Fever Dreams” from Dio’s Magica, a great album that deserved the recognition.  “Fever Dreams” is one of Dio’s best tunes from the latter period.

“Wring that Neck” and “Pictures of Home” were brought out of mothballs for the Tokyo concerts.  “Wring that Neck” is a jazzy version with the horns coming in strong, just like it was on the Albert Hall CD.  Undoubtedly though, the centerpiece is the Concerto itself.  Even though it put Purple on the map in 1969, it wasn’t particularly well liked by the members of the band (Jon Lord aside, obviously, since it was his creation.)  With Steve Morse in the band instead of Ritchie Blackmore, feelings softened and ideas like resurrecting the Concerto were possible.  The music however was lost.  It took Dutch composer Marco de Goeij years to re-create it, but once Lord helped him finish, it could be performed once again.  It’s incredible to think that they were able to take it to Japan and play it for those lucky fans, both nights.  You can absolutely tell the difference from the London version.  It’s fortunate that it was recorded so well (not perfect but damn well good enough!), and released for you to be able to own forever.

There is no point in breaking this down for a disc-by-disc rating.  If the box set could be faulted for anything, it is that there is so much repeat between the first four concerts.  For me, box sets tend to work best in the car.  I put this on a flash drive and took about three weeks to listen to the whole thing in sequence.  In that environment, I don’t bore of the songs.  Instead I enjoyed the slight differences.  “Oh, this is a little different than the way they introduced it, when I heard it a couple days ago.”  Obviously, only a true Deep Purple lover needs to own this.  But every Deep Purple lover should own it.

Discs 1 & 2 – Melbourne, March 9 2001

Discs 3 & 4 – Wollongong, March 13 2001

Discs 5 & 6 – Newcastle, March 14 2001

Discs 7 & 8 – Hong Kong, March 20 2001

Discs 9 & 10 – Tokyo, March 24 2001

Discs 11 & 12 – Tokyo, March 25 2001

4/5 stars