Red Rocks Amphitheater
Denver, CO

With a line up spanning thirty years and millions of records sold this promised to be one of the hottest summer tickets for classic rock heads. In 1983 and 1984, three definitive albums were released: Dio's "Holy Diver", Scorpions' "Love at First Sting", and Deep Purple's "Perfect Strangers". Had this tour happened then it would have been the Superbowl of rock shows. Now, almost 20 years on, it still begs our attention with memorable results

With out hesitation DIO, featuring legendary icon, Ronnie James Dio took to the stage with pure gusto. He and bandmates, Jimmy Bain (bass), Simon Wright (drums), keyboardist Scott Warren and newcomer guitarist Doug Aldrich (ex-Lion, Hurricane) nailed an extended hour-long opening set. Among the favorites, "Long Live Rock n Roll.", "Heaven and Hell", and "Man On The Silver Mountain" were several tracks off their new opus "Killing The Dragon".

The album's title track rang in with dense thunder. Easily one of the best of the band's new numbers, the song is gigantic live. The hook-packed "Along Came A Spider" quickly followed as did "Push" co-penned by Jimmy Bain. Introducing the next number Ronnie commented, "This is one we wrote after the tragic events of 9/11. It means a lot to the band and to me personally, being from New York. It's called Rock 'n Roll." Then added another monster to the set.

"Egypt, the Chains are On" with its slow, plodding drive was the perfect medley to segued into Sabbath's "Children of the Sea". Other respected gems included "Stand up and Shout" and "Holy Diver" Dio is the consummate showman, full of class and completely in control of the stage. He scourges each beat with mic stand high in the air or twirling about like a helicopter coming in for a landing. Accentuating each phrase is his raised hand gesture "the sign of the horns" pointing, gliding, even making the sign of the holy cross. The band was tight and well rehearsed making it a true heavy metal event.

But it was during the encore that the magic of Dio overwhelmed the sold-out crowd. While the band burst into the intro of "Rainbow In The Dark" a "real" rainbow spanned across the sky. It was an awesome sight silhouetted against the setting sun above the rocky ridge of Red Rock Amphitheater. "Last in Line" closed the show taking the impact of the night one notch higher…and this was just the opening band.

*Photo by John Vinson

DIO - set list

Killing the Dragon
Egypt / Children of the Sea
Along Came A Spider
Rock 'n Roll
Stand Up and Shout
Man on the Silver Mountain
Long Live Rock n Roll
Holy Diver
Heaven and Hell
Rainbow in the Dark
Last In Line

After a brief intermission the SCORPIONS raced onto the stage like a jar of insects set free. Immediately the crowd jumped from their seats and surged to the front of the barricades. In less than 30-seconts it was obvious Denver was Scorpions domain.

"Coming Home" ignited the evening sky with a burst of energy that rushed through the crowd like a runaway train. Vocalist Klaus Maine strongly positioned himself under the spotlight and, flanked by the ever-fit Rudolph Schenker and Matthias Jabs, engaged the audience with an immaculate set of lungs. His voice and the German’s twin guitar onslaught jumped from "Bad Boys Running Wild" to "The Zoo" without taking a breath. Having been absent from the American rock scene for the last couple years the Scorpions were ready to reclaim any ground they may have lost.

Mixing old with the new "Burn The Sky" from Taken By Force (1977) made an exciting appearance as did the Crazy World (1989) rocker "Tease Me Please Me". "Coast to Coast" saw Maine picking up the guitar and joining the band to push a wall of instrumental sound over the edge like a giant tsunami. Jabs doesn't look a day older than he did in 1984. Schenker is still a raving maniac running around with his spiky bleached blond hair, mouth wide open and Flying V in your face. The Germans know how to have fun and deliver a set that prove they are the consummate rock stars still loving the limelight and bringing a pro show to the fans.

The stage was a stripped down affair with only drummer James Kottak perched on an elevated drum riser. However the light show was top-notch and actually became a spectacle during the whistling classic "Winds of Change". The song slowed the mood but had the night lit up with a swaying lighter-filled crowd. "No One Like You", "Big City Nights" and "Dynamite" marched in the titanic riffs that rocked the '80s.

For "Blackout", Schenker appeared with his head bandaged and two bent forks across his eyes, re-enacting the classic album's cover. An excellent visual to coincide with a blistering tune. The encores were the power-ballad "Still Loving You" and the scorcher "Rock You Like a Hurricane". For a set that is running damn near 20 years old it's amazing to see it so vital. Built on a solid catalog of catchy yet heavy rockers from a succession of classic albums, primarily “Lovedrive” (1978)” through “Love At First Sting”(1988) the arrangement fulfilled ALL expectations.

SCORPIONS - set list

Coming Home
Bad Boys Running Wild
The Zoo
Burn the Sky
Tease Me Please Me
Coast to Coast
Winds of Change
No One Like You
Big City Nights
Still Loving You
Rock You Like a Hurricane

DEEP PURPLE are entering their fourth decade of performing. Some would call it their twilight years as a band - even founding member Jon Lord has now retired. Yet, it is with amazing zeal that the remaining (long term) members Ian Gillan, Rodger Glover and Ian Paice, put in a solid effort to not only retain the good name of the band but challenge an audience to accept them with new(ish) members in primary spots. Replacing the irreplaceable Ritchie Blackmore has been Steve Morse who stepped in in 1994. Replacing Lord is veteran keyboardist Don Airey (Whitesnake, Gary Moore, Rainbow).

Opening with "Fireball," this 2002 version of Purple showed a very polished side. They played note for not with almost uncanny accuracy. Gillian’s voice was a bit faint but as the sound guy worked with the mix it was soon dead on. "Woman from Tokyo" came pounding from the stacked amps next and then "Ted the Mechanic" featuring the talents of Morse which were white hot. Airey was fitting nicely into Lord place though the visual took some getting used to. Glover/Paice/Gillian sounded as good as they ever did and surprisingly spry.

The instrumental "Well Dressed Guitar" showcased what a real working band can do with superior talent. Morse and Airey were embrace by the kinship of the band’s “old timers” making it all the easier for the crowd to accept them as well. Airey even managed to make his solo interesting and enjoyable by including music as varied as the Dracula theme (Bach's "Toca et Fuga") and Star Wars to the piano midsection from Ozzy's "Revelation (Mother Earth)", which he played on. It's a rare treat when a keyboard solo is anything but a bore. "Knocking At Your Back Door", "Perfect Strangers", "Lazy" and "Speed King" (complete with a stellar bass solo by Roger), all delighted the crowd.

Suddenly an electric charge surged through the capacity-filled amphitheater as the immortal riff of "Smoke On The Water" echoed down the canyon. A sea of aging rockers shot their first into the warm July air and started banging their gray hair with reckless abandon. It was euphoric and paved the way for a doubled-headed encore.

A 12,000-seated sing-along raised the level of "Hush" but it was the pumping throb of "Highway Star" that ripped a hole through cloud cover.

Editor’s note: A lot of people don't remember that Ian Gillan replaced Dio in Black Sabbath in 1983 resulting in the critically-panned "Born Again" album. Also it was Rodger Glover that produced Ronnie Dio’s band Elf in 1972. There was certainly a lot of history on the stage of this triple-header.

DEEP PURPLE - set list

Woman From Tokyo
Vavoom/Ted the Mechanic
Well Dressed Guitar
Knockin' at your Back Door
Space Truckin'
Perfect Strangers
Speed King
Smoke on the Water
Highway Star