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Saturday, Feb. 24; Pop's.

Say what you will about Ronnie James Dio -- criticize his flair for the dramatic, mock his short stature, note that his glory days were six heavy-metal fads ago, make the obvious Spinal Tap jokes; to his fans, it matters not. We know that The Man is a solid-gold entertainer, a true original in a world of imitators, and that there isn't a damn thing his detractors and their petty sniping can do to take that away from him.First and foremost among his talents is the Voice. Dio is not a Bruce Dickinson screamer, a Vince Neil whiner or a James Hetfield growler. He can sing -- really sing. Check out Rainbow's Long Live Rock 'n' Roll. Dio performs the soft, wistful "Rainbow Eyes" with that Thom York melancholy about 20 years before York made it popular. But on that same album, Dio rips out the epic title track, going throat-to-fret with Ritchie Blackmore's sledgehammer guitar, and comes out on top.

The Dio-vs.-guitar conflict plays out over all his albums. From Blackmore's Rainbow into the Sabbath years with Tony Iommi (twice) to his solo career and his revolving-door guitarists, Dio and his clarion voice continue the eternal struggle between man and machine. Dio hooks up with a guitarist, then spends a couple of albums pitting his voice against their amps and distortion boxes. When he cuts loose with that tenor roar, Nigel Tufnel and his goes-to-11 amplifier couldn't drown him out. Is it any wonder he burns guitarists out so quickly?

Whoever is playing Grendel to Dio's Beowulf this tour is sure to have his work cut out for him. Dio's catalog stretches back to the early '70s, and there are certain songs the fans expect to hear, and we'll be screaming for them, Zippo in one hand and the infernal horns in the other. And the name we'll be chanting between songs ain't gonna be that guitarist's. Nobody ever yelled out, "Nelson Riddle!" when Sinatra was onstage, either.

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