Dio + Support
Festival Hall, Melbourne
September 16th, 1986
Reviewed By: Rod Whitfield
It’s quite incredible what you can dig up on the internet. I knew the 30th anniversary of my first ever live music experience, Dio at Melbourne’s Festival Hall, was coming up, but I couldn’t remember the exact date. I was Googling it, and lo and behold, to my surprise, the internet threw up an exact setlist of a gig that happened in Melbourne, Australia more than a decade before the World Wide Web even existed in any meaningful form.
Please forgive me for the self-indulgent nature of this piece.
I was talking to a friend the other day about this. I’d imagine that most people’s first ever live music experience might be sneaking into a small venue to catch the set of a local band. Or watching a band play covers in a backyard for someone’s birthday celebrations. Or some other such low key occasion.
For me, it was Dio, no less. The pint-sized, but mighty voiced legend of classic heavy metal. The man who replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath, the band who invented heavy metal music. The man who helped Richie Blackmore, founding member of another seminal heavy band Deep Purple, form Rainbow in the mid 70s. And the man that left Black Sabbath after two illustrious studio albums, and one epic live album, to form his own band, Dio, who went on to become damn nearly as legendary as the bands from whence he came.
For me it was seeing this legend with his mighty band in full flight and at full eardrum blowing volume in a big hall with 6000 other metal-mad mothers. Intimidating, scary and truly exhilarating al at once.
Today is the 30th anniversary of this event.
So there was I, with my brother and best friend at the time, driving up from the tiny coastal/regional town we lived in, absolutely shaking with anticipation.
I am very grateful to my father, who drove us from our home an hour and a half away, against his better judgment (my parents, understandably, didn’t understand this loud, noisy, horrible ‘heavy metal’ music I was so obsessed with by then) and sat in the cold car waiting for us for the entire concert.
I remember approaching Festival Hall, attired in our khaki army jackets with Iron Maiden backpatches and replete with requisite studs and chains that we had installed ourselves, and gazing out the window in wonder. I had never seen so many headbangers in one place at the one time before. My naïve and ridiculously impressionable 15-year-old mind was already spinning out of control.
Entering the venue, the anticipation and the crush of people were overwhelming. If my mind was spinning before, it was somewhere in the stratosphere now.
I’m quite fuzzy on this topic, mainly due to the sheer sensory overload I was experiencing, and the fact that it is three decades ago, but I think there was a support band. From my exceptionally sketchy memory, I think they were kinda thrashy and not at all like the classy classic metal sound of the headliner, and their set whizzed by quickly. I’m sure they were good, they would not have been chosen to support Dio otherwise, by my recollection of them is sparse to say the very least.
But, to Dio’s support band that night, you are actually the very first live band I saw in my life.
After the changeover break between bands, Dio and has band exploded onto the stage and my tiny mind, already in the stratosphere, simply exploded. I remember the feeling, probably more than the actual gig itself. I was very familiar with his music, having listened to it on a stereo at home almost non-stop for three years leading up to this moment, alongside Iron Maiden, Rush, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple etc etc, but absolutely nothing could have prepared for what it would be like seeing it unfold live. And no words I can put to paper, or cyberspace, can adequately describe that feeling.
It was like, “WHAT IN GOD’S NAME AM I WITNESSING HERE??”
It is a feeling that you wish you could bottle, to draw upon subsequently when you are in need of extreme inspiration, exhilaration, catharsis. It’s a feeling you will never re-capture, no matter how many live shows you attend in your life, that first time.
I’m sure other people with other interests, or other fields of endeavour, have similar memories, of the first time they jumped out of a plane, drove an F1 racing car, ran onto the field to play a Grand Final, reached the summit of the first big mountain they climbed, or whatever it happened to be.
For me, it was seeing my first big-time live rock/metal show.
And the show itself? Looking at that setlist, that’s probably close to two hours of music. All-time classic metal songs, sung with God-like precision and passion by the man himself and played with big, bold, beautiful professionalism by his magnificent band (Craig Goldy on guitar, Vinny Appice on drums, Jimmy Bain on bass and Claude Schnell on the keys. Arguably the classic Dio lineup. Maybe Vivian Campbell on guitar?).
Plus the requisite bombastic drum solo, the blistering fretwork of Goldy’s guitar solo and Schnell’s symphonic keys solo.
Devil’s horns all round too, by the man who damn well invented it. Or at least brought it into the metal spectrum.
And it was just so insanely ridiculously loud, it was like the sound enveloped me, entered my physical being, became one with me. The sound became a physical, tangible thing that I could touch. At the same time, the experience was way beyond the physical. It was as if I had reached a new utopian spiritual realm, beyond worldly understanding, for those two hours. If that makes sense?
I walked out of the venue in a complete daze. I could not speak, I could not think, I felt I was barely functioning. People were talking to me, asking me if I enjoyed it, but I could not answer. My little mind was still in some bizarre and beautiful netherworld.
I’ve always said ‘my 15 year old jaw was on the ground for the entire hour and a half drive home.’
Even to say this was a ‘life-changing experience’ does not actually do the experience justice, although it did change my life forever. The effect it had on me cannot be overstated.
So there you have it. The memories I have of my very first live music experience, on the 30th anniversary of the day it happened.
And RIP to Ronnie James Dio and Jimmy Bain.