by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Columnist —
May 15th, 2014 at Centrum Promocji Kultury in Warsaw, Poland —
The tribute concert form is probably the most demanding one – a tough nut to crack, if you think the audience being comprised of the die-hard fans of the original band or artist and their critical approach. It’s getting even more difficult when the act you’re paying a tribute to is considered a real classic of the respective genre and an untouchable example of musical excellence. And yet, it seems that fortune favors the brave, as “King Of Rock’n’Roll” – a tribute to Ronnie James Dio – held in Warsaw, Poland on Thursday, the May 15, turned out to be both a considerable success and an unforgettable experience music-wise.
The gig (which took place a day before the fourth anniversary of Ronnie’s death) was organized by Sebastian Stodolak, a talented frontman of the Polish heavy metal band Scream Maker. Starting from the mastermind of this endeavor and his band, the line-up was comprised of the cream of the Polish heavy metal scene – including such acclaimed singers and musicians, as Grzegorz Kupczyk (CETI, ex-Turbo), Tomasz Struszczyk (Turbo), Wojtek Cugowski (Bracia) or Piotr Brzychcy (Kruk), to mention just a few. The special guest of the show – whose presence was the real icing on the cake – was Alessandro Del Vecchio (Hardline, Silent Force), one of the most important names of the current Italian rock scene known also as a great producer. And as for the setlist, it included as many as 21 songs – all of them being a cross-section of Ronnie James Dio’s work in Rainbow, Black Sabbath and DIO. As for visual impact, the subsequent tracks were illustrated with the respective album covers projected on a big screen in the background of the stage.
The first to hit the stage were Scream Maker, opening the gig with a track that Rainbow themselves used to open their gigs with – “Kill The King” of 1978 album Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll. Their excellent rendition of DIO’s 1983 classic “Shame On The Night” (Holy Diver) was soon to follow. The next was the performance of the foreign guest Alessandro Del Vecchio bursting into blistering versions of Sabbath (“Children Of The Sea”), DIO (“Last In Line”) and Rainbow (the epic “Stargazer”). In the last track of these three, the guitarist to accompany Alessandro was Piotr Brzychcy (of Kruk), who’s refinement and prowess make him a perfect tp foloow inthe footsteps of Ritchie Blackmore’s rock legacy.
Tomasz Struszczyk (Turbo) was the one to have the longest tenure onstage – and certainly all fists were pumping in the air during both the monumental “Heaven And Hell” and the fast-paced parts of DIO’s “Don’t Talk To Strangers”. But apart from having the audience red-hot and roaring, Struszczyk managed to bring tears to their eyes while he went for the nostalgic, flute-driven “Rainbow Eyes” of the above 1978 album of Dio-fronted incarnation of Rainbow. It was also the point when Wojciech Cugowski (a son of Krzysztof Cugowski, Polish rock legend, and a talented musician himself) and his bandmates (of the band Bracia) joined Struszczyk onstage. What this line-up performed was “Between Two Hearts” (of 1990 DIO album Lock Up The Wolves) and Rainbow’s “Tarot Woman.” Speaking of Ritchie Blackmore’s group, perhaps the most extensively covered period of Ronnie James Dio’s career during this gig, in “Man On The Silver Mountain” Cugowski and his band were joined by the powerhouse duo of two excellent singers: Marcin ‘Merot’ Maliszewski and Maciek Szulc (both of ThE BlacK HorsemeN). Cugowski sung lead in the enchanting “Temple Of The King” which the majority of the audience found the highlight of the gig.
Another of such highlights was surely the beautiful rendition of “Catch The Rainbow” preceded with “Run With The Wolf”. Both were performed by Radoslaw Kordowski (Hippocampus), a gifted Hammond player, keyboardist and sound engineer who claimed to have debuted behind the microphone that night, but having experienced his vocal excellence no one was too eager to believe him. Obviously, there couldn’t have been a Dio tribute concert without perhaps the most recognized song of his self-named band, “Holy Diver” – but have you ever wondered what the three different voices can make out of the 1983 classic? The answer was given by Stodolak, Maliszewski and Szulc joining forces onstage.
Next was Norbert ‘Smola’ Smolinski, introduced as “Ronnie James Dio reincarnated” and for each and every Dio fan there was something strikingly familiar and Dio-esque in Smolinski’s presence, moves and gestures indeed. And although his takes on Rainbow’s “Self-Portrait” and DIO’s “Egypt (The Chains Are On)” were memorable, the absolute gem was the tearjerker ballad “As Long As It’s Not About Love” (Magica, 2000). Surely more than a few tough metalheads dressed in denim and leather have shed a tear during this particular song. The tears was also in the performer’s eyes when he talked about himself having a personal meeting with Ronnie James Dio after what turned out to be the last Dio’s gig in Poland, in 2007 – as well as his beginnings with Holy Diver over thirty years ago.
Perhaps the most anticipated part of the show was the performance of the last name on the bill, Grzegorz Kupczyk, a legendary singer of CETI (formerly of Turbo). Despite some technical difficulties, the heavy metal legend managed meet the audience’s demands with the melodic “Rainbow In The Dark” followed by two songs of Black Sabbath’s repertoire, “Neon Knights” and “Mob Rules.” The former also marked the return of Piotr Brzychcy onstage. After this, the crowd certainly wasn’t going to let the musicians go without an encore – singing the main motif from Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell” at the top of their lungs to bring the musicians back onstage. And so they returned. Almost complete line-up of the gig, conducted by the charismatic Sebastian Stodolak, performed the reprise of “Heaven And Hell” and “Children Of The Sea,” the last notes of the latter being drowned out in the sea of roars, screams and squeals.
A Polish Ronnie James Dio tribute gig was a very enjoyable, varied experience for a listener – but, above all, it proved two things. One is that as Ronnie James Dio sung in one of his last studio recordings, “metal will never die” and although it’s been four years since the legendary singer’s death, he’s still remembered for his legacy, the untouchable voice and manner, his imaginative lyrics and epic songs. The other is that there are still people – generations of people – who continue to carry the torch, a part of Ronnie James Dio’s music and spirit living in each and every of them. So, as “the little man with the big voice” would put it – let’s stand up and shout together in loving memory of him, “… long live rock ‘n’roll!”