When this posthumous live release containing two performances by Ronnie James Dio and the most classic incarnations of his eponymous band at the Donington Monsters Of Rock Festival (’83 and ’87, as the title suggests) came across my desk for review, my only dilemma was which concert to put on first. The 1983 show has the Holy Diver lineup—Dio, guitarist Vivian Campbell, bassist Jimmy Bain and drummer Vinny Appice who left Black Sabbath with the lead singer—but the 1987 show has more Dio material. This is reasonable, since only Holy Diver had been released in ’83, but four years later meant three additional albums; The Last In Line, Sacred Heart and Dream Evil, which they were touring to support.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be one of the tens of thousands of people in the UK to see Dio at Donington, and I think had I spent the ensuing years listening to a bootleg of the show, I’d probably be annoyed at this official live release, which sounds clean, crisp and clear in the way only a non-bootleg can, but screw it, I never had those boots and I wasn’t there, so I’m glad as hell to have the opportunity to hear these sets now, the added (tragic) context of Ronnie James Dio’s death earlier this year only enhancing my gratitude. Whether it’s the man himself screwing up the lyrics to Black Sabbath’s classic “Neon Knights,” the medley of songs that ties together “All The Fools Sailed Away” and Rainbow’s “Man On The Silver Mountain” or the crowd sing-along to “Long Live Rock And Roll,” if you’re a Dio fan, the Donington live set is going to be a necessity.
The band is a little rawer in 1983, but there’s no arguing that Dio himself was at the height of his powers. There’s more Sabbath and Rainbow material, and he sounds positively blazing on it. Again, it’s a package for fans, but if you’re just discovering Ronnie James Dio and his many works, Dio At Donington UK: Live 1983 And 1987 is a good way to continue the introduction. Extensive liner notes and replica backstage passes serve as icing on the cake of the recordings themselves.