Last in Line have reached the same crossroads as the Black Star Riders did a few years ago. Originally put together by former bandmates to honour the memory of an iconic frontman, what then happens when you want to start creating new music? Since their UK bow with a wholly-Dio set at this same venue in 2013, the band have pushed forward with two albums of wholly original material.
And yet my own interest in attending this gig would otherwise be modest, but for the chance to hear those classics from the first two Dio records, which completed a decade long hot streak for Ronnie James, that had taken him from Rainbow to Black Sabbath to his own band.
When Dio played Donington Festival in 1983, their star was rising while that of the band on immediately before them, Diamond Head, was falling. So there was a neat symmetry that the latter opened this well matched bill in front of an Academy crowd larger than I expected.
Guitarist Brian Tatler is the only remaining member but has kept the name alive with various line-ups and this was my first chance to see the current one fronted by Rasmus Andersen. Shaven headed, bearded and with a good stage presence, he also had an impressive voice that could switch between registers, Dickinson-like.
Despite opening with ‘Borrowed Time’ from the eponymous album, a short set bravely featured the new album ‘Coffin Train’ as prominently as old favourites. They felt slightly heavier in execution that the vintage songs, with ‘Belly Of The Beast’ the most immediately notable, but demonstrated that Brian is not far behind fellow West Midlander Tony Iommi in his ability to craft a dark but killer riff.
Given a new, extended intro, ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ was my favourite and I felt 15 all over again, while Brian had a joyful grin on his face as he and second guitarist Abbz Abberley pulled poses as they cranked out the riffs. The set seemed to have passed in no time, but needed to create space for a typically epic ‘Am I Evil’, the NWOBHM classic that Metallica have ensured will be remembered for posterity. But tonight was as much about Diamond Head’s future as their past.
Last In Line set the tone for their set by opening in fast and furious fashion with ‘Landslide’, before a huge cheer went up for the opening riff to ‘Stand Up And Shout’, followed as on the ‘Holy Diver’ album with ‘Straight Through The Heart’.
Vivian Campbell’s superb solo was the first, but not last, reminder that as a heavy rock guitarist he is, if not wasted (pun intended), then certainly under-utilised in Def Leppard. He was a revelation throughout and treated us to some vintage solos, rapid but fluent, pitched somewhere between John Sykes and Gary Moore.
With keyboards ditched from earlier live shows, the new material such as ‘Year Of The Gun’, ‘Give Up The Ghost’ and ‘Black Out The Sun’ was hard, taut and uncompromising though lacking memorable hooks.
Singer Andrew Freeman also has a strong metal voice and though far from a Dio clone – other than sharing his small stature – he seamlessly slotted into the master’s old songs. He also won friends among this predominantly male and fifty-ish crowd by name checking Iron Maiden and other British greats and wearing a jacket with ‘stay metal’ emblazoned on the back.
Of the Dio classics, ‘Holy Diver’ and their eponymous song were given a very authentic treatment, then bassist Phil Soussan paid tribute to his late predecessor Jimmy Bain before ‘Starmaker’ which for me was the pick of their own songs, segueing straight into a Dio classic I’d forgotten about in ‘Evil Eyes’.
Indeed the ‘Last In Line’ album was well represented with ‘Egypt (The Chains Are On)’ before perhaps the ultimate Dio anthem in ‘Rainbow In The Dark’, but a heavier version notable for the absence of keyboards.
I knew what two songs were missing as they went into encores, but after ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ in which Vivian excelled himself even by his high standards there was an added number in ‘Devil In Me’, one of the best of the newer songs with the evergreen Vinny Appice powering it forward with some aggressive drumming, before the inevitable closer of ‘We Rock’, many of us punching the air with those trademark RJD horns.
I found myself enjoying this gig way more than expected. Last In Line are far more than a nostalgia act, though it was hearing those Dio songs, and Vivian’s solos in particular that made it special. As a legacy to the great man it certainly knocks a hologram out of the park any day of the week!
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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