Pick Your Rock and Metal

Friday, August 09, 2013

This is not a tribute...This is the Last In Line

THERE are always a few dissenting voices when any band tries to do something, anything. Hence when Vivian Campbell announced that he was bringing back the original members of Dio back, there were people who doubted the validity of this exercise.

Campbell was quick to deal with those doubters addressing his and Jimmy Bain's authorship of the songs, and that was before he was diagnosed with Hodgins Lymphoma, and before the planned tour was curtailed to four-dates.

As always Campbell was strident in his defence of the decision to tour with Jimmy Bain, Vinne Appice, Claude Schnell and singer Andy Freeman. Last night (Thursday, 8th August) the decision of Campbell, Bain et al was justified as they turned in an superb set.

Campbell, of course, began his career with Sweet Savage, immortalised when Metallica covered Killing Time. Thus it was appropriate that Savage opened up for Last In Line, albeit with only Raymie Haller from the original line-up in place.

Determined to place their mark on the proceedings Sweet Savage ploughed straight in to their set, pushing many songs faster than previous. It was title track of the last album, Regenerator, before things settled down; however, by the time they played Killing Time it was back to a frenetic stampede.

Special mention must go to Simon McBride, who appearing for the first time with Sweet Savage, and normally best known for his blues licks, played a stormer set of solos and tight riffage.

With the questions still to be asked about Last In Line, their set opened suitably dramatically, and by the time Freeman settled into his role it was clear that this was more than re-capping old history.

An immaculate sound, with clear separation between Bain's bass and Campbell's guitar lent life and power to the songs; Appice nailed it to the proverbial 'T' and Schnell seemed a very happy camper, relaxed and adding flourishes when needed, but not over-burdening the metallic soundscape.

Running through all the standards off the first two Dio albums, plus the title track Sacred Heart from the the third LP, it was inevitable that this would be a crowd pleasing set; what was not inevitable was the panache that all five members carried the songs forward.

Campbell was noticeably happy at just laying down the familiar tracks and re-visiting the solos, with dexterity and faithfulness - no surprise being the author of them. What it did show is that he retains a fondness and enthusiasm for being a six-string leader, despite his dalliances with the softer side of rock - indeed one punter commented that "he's wasted in Def Leppard".

Freeman's role in the band was always going to be the one subject to question - how would he cope with standards like Holy Diver, Don't Talk to Strangers, Last in Linee etc.

Campbell, Appice and Bain have always been adamant that the former Lynch Mob front man was not a Ronnie copyist, and that he was not there as a sound-alike.

He did not try to imitate Dio's stage moves, nor did he try to sound exactly like Mr Dio; but with the phrasing and intonations of the songs so set it in stone it would be impossible not to repeat those lyrics like Ronnie. At times it was uncanny in how alike he sounded. Having said that he retained his own personality throughout and laid down a professional and likeable performance.

All-in-all this set, this performance and this attitude did Campbell and his cohorts proud; it laid down a marker for years to come. With Campbell wedded to his trademark Les Paul  and with a classic metal sound this does beg one question: is there life beyond re-visiting the Dio years. From the evidence on display in Belfast, could there be new recordings from this five-piece?

With all members having their own projects and band commitments such a question remains moot, but with songwriting talent and outstanding musicianship it must be something worth all the members seriously considering.

Until then it is sufficient to say that this was not a tribute, this was an outstanding replaying of memories, an opportunity to see four of the originals from the '80s pound it down with a frontman showing he was more than just a session singer.

This was a truly enjoyable night, and one can but hope that this was not be the last time the Last In Line grace stages.

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