Fellow metalheads at Metal Hammer just published this article on how Ronnie James Dio Hologram is just the beginning of future touring for older acts.
Ten years from today, who will be playing your dream rock festival bill? David Bowie and Prince headlining? A young Kurt Cobain in full-throated roar? Led Zeppelin at their world-shaking peak? Queen led by Freddie Mercury in his imperial pomp? How about Janis Joplin duetting with Jim Morrison? Lemmy reunited with his old pal Jimi Hendrix? Or Elvis Presley fronting an all-star supergroup featuring John Lennon, Lou Reed and Sid Vicious?
This Night of the Living Dead fantasy is not some macabre future episode of Black Mirror. Thanks to advances in hologram technology, all of the posthumous comebacks listed above are not just possible but increasingly likely. Digital 3D doppelgangers have been creeping into concert halls for more than a decade now. Holographic simulations of Madonna and Gorillaz performed together at the Grammy awards in 2006. A hologram of rapper Tupac Shakur grabbed global headlines with his Coachella Festival appearance in 2012. A computer regenerated Michael Jackson moonwalked onstage at the 2014 Grammys. Many more are in gestation, from Abba to Zappa, Roy Orbison to Lemmy.
But way out in front of this technological revolution is the late Ronnie James Dio. A holographic replicant of the legendary frontman, who died in 2010, made a sensational live debut in front of 70,000 surprised fans at Wacken Open Air festival in 2016. A European tour followed late last year under the name Dio Returns, featuring Dio’s long-serving band alongside guest singers Oni Logan and Tim “Ripper” Owens, breaking new ground as the first ever live hologram rock show to go on the road. A more extensive world tour is planned for later this year.
The Dio Returns show in London, at the mid-sized Islington Academy, was a packed and warmly received affair. The set-list spanned Dio’s Black Sabbath, Rainbow and solo years with classic anthems like Heaven and Hell, Catch the Rainbow and Straight Through the Heart. Synchronised to vocals lifted from vintage live recordings, the Dio hologram was a distracting gimmick at first, a white-smocked phantom that seemed to hover behind the band, his gestures limited and repetitive, his not-quite-human features invoking the eerie effect that computer animation designers call the “uncanny valley”. But after a few numbers the alienating oddness faded and Digital Dio began to feel like just another visual effect in the modern rock-show toolbox. Though clearly still a work in progress, the latent potential is undeniable.
Fan reaction to the Dio hologram has inevitably been mixed, but Dio’s widow Wendy insists the new show is true to her late husband’s spirit. “We need to keep Ronnie’s music alive,” she argues. “Ronnie tried desperately to make a hologram way back in 1986. Anyone who saw that Sacred Heart tour saw the crystal ball with Ronnie’s head in there, which was done with rear projection, but he was trying to make a hologram. He was always very enthralled by Disneyland and the holograms there. So I think he would give this his blessing.”
To create the Dio Returns show, Wendy partnered with Eyellusion, an LA-based hologram company with links to Hollywood digital effects pioneers George Lucas and James Cameron. Wendy admits she initially had reservations about the project, but is now closely involved on the creative team. “I spent forever on his eyes and eyebrows because they weren’t right,” she laughs. “I’m always very critical. This is not perfect in my eyes. We need to make it perfect.”