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Singers showcase: Dio Disciples, San Antonio openers display powerful voices

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Dio Disciples with Jessikill, Bad Obsession @Backstage Live

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When witnessing a Dio Disciples concert, one can expect to hear a pair of vocalists doing their part to keep the spirit of the late Ronnie James Dio alive with the help of Dio's former bandmates.

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Thursday night at Backstage Live, many probably didn't expect the opening bands to have singers who would have their own powerful pipes on display. But that's what happened when San Antonio's Jessikill and Bad Obsession joined forces to set the table for Dio Disciples' first show of a brief southern and West Coast swing. (With apologies to Knights of Darkness, an Austin band that was on the bill between Bad Obsession and Jessikill, the SAMME missed their set after leaving the venue temporarily).

DIO DISCIPLES sported Tim "Ripper" Owens and Toby Jepson as the vocal pair chosen to celebrate the life of the former Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell and solo legend when they played the South Texas Rock Fest at Sunken Garden Theater in October 2011 (click here). Thursday's return saw former Lynch Mob singer Oni Logan and Mark Boals (Yngwie Malmsteen, Ring of Fire) share duties with guitarist Craig Goldy, bassist Bjorn Englen (Malmsteen), keyboardist Scott Warren and drummer Simon Wright in a 90-minute set that began at midnight after doors were pushed back 90 minutes due to a late and lengthy soundcheck.

Before they took the stage, the SAMME went 1-on-1 with a gracious Logan, then Boals decided to join us (watch here).

As Logan says in our chat, one singer alone cannot properly fill the shoes of Dio, which is why the band employs two vocalists. Boals did the honors solely for the first two tunes: "Killing the Dragon" and "Holy Diver." Logan then came out to sing the Black Sabbath tune "I," which he performs with former Dio cohorts Rowan Robertson (guitar) and Jimmy Bain (bass), and drummer Brian Tichy, on the star-studded tribute CD Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life that comes out April 1.

Although the timing was slightly off between Boals and the rhythm section during "Holy Diver," and though he appeared to be using a teleprompter (monitor with lyrics) at times, the vocalist known for his work on three of Malmsteen's albums -- including but not limited to the 1986 Trilogy CD that includes "You Don't Remember, I'll Never Forget" and "Queen In Love" -- rang true sonically all night and showed why he has always been one of the SAMME's favorites.

Boals and Logan teamed up on many songs such as "The Last In Line" and the "Tarot Woman/All The Fools Sailed Away" split, plus the first of two encores -- "Rainbow In The Dark" -- which was omitted from the set at the South Texas Rock Fest.

After final encore "We Rock," the band took a bow to the small, yet appreciative, crowd that showed up on a brisk Thursday evening for the indoor gig that felt as if it was outdoors. Boals and Goldy spent time afterwards posing for photos and conversing with those who stuck around, including with Jessikill. After introducing myself to Goldy, I asked him about whether the DVD that the band shot here at the 2011 concert would ever see the light of day.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not in any hurry for it to come out," Goldy said, chuckling. The veteran guitarist candidly explained that he began drinking while grieving Dio's passing to stomach cancer May 16, 2010. The South Texas Rock Fest gig was only a year and a half after that, and Goldy said that in taking Dio's death hard, he put on some weight and isn't proud of his physical appearance at that time. But he added, "I'm sure it'll see the light of day one day."

A fan then approached Goldy and shared that she cried during certain songs in the set, to which Goldy replied: "There are still certain songs that hit me too."

Given that Dio Disciples is all about celebrating Dio's legacy and keeping his vast musical catalog alive, it's surprising that management was fairly strict in not allowing fans to video the show, even with their phones. You would think spreading the word of Dio Disciples would be beneficial to the group, and the best way of doing so is by filming its live performances, particularly given the fact the band is only playing five shows on this swing before partaking in the Monsters of Rock cruise again. For instance, fan footage is available from the band's previous cruise. Further, Friday's gig in Fort Worth yielded footage of "We Rock." Suffice it to say the person who filmed that was smart enough to wait until the evening's final song.

Restrictions and politics aside, there's no denying a Dio Disciples show is worth witnessing. It's not difficult to imagine the King of Rock N' Roll himself perched on the silver mountain in the sky, looking down from above on his bandmates, friends and fans with pride.

As for the openers, female-fronted JESSIKILL combined covers and two originals ("Metal Knights" and "Just One Try") in an enthusiastic set that more than got the crowd pumped for Dio Disciples. Harlandale High School student Jessica Marie Espinoza gave an early indication as to what fans were in for with the band's energetic opener of Queensryche's "Queen of the Reich" -- a version that would've made Geoff Tate proud given that he no longer plays the 1983 classic live.

Joined by brothers and former RockStar Riot members Arturo Alvarado (bass/vocals) and Juan Alvarado (rhythm guitar/vocals), lead guitarist Anthony Carrillo and drummer Miguel Morales (drums), Espinoza and the band launched into Judas Priest's "Electric Eye" and Iron Maiden's "Run To The Hills" before unveiling an original track. While most of the musicians are of high-school age, Jessikill demonstrated that it takes its work seriously while still having fun on stage and isn't afraid to bring the audience along for the ride. Besides, how many bands with members of any age would dare tackle "Beyond The Realms of Death" with a female vocalist and do it well? Check out the SAMME's footage of "Just One Try" and set closer and Iron Maiden classic "The Trooper" by clicking on the video box (above, left).

BAD OBSESSION kicked off the evening with a 30-minute set that again demonstrated the wide-ranging talents of vocalist Mauricio "Malls" Contreras. Playing a set of all originals including "Curse of the Damned" and "Bad Obsession," the group (rhythm guitarist Daniel McCumba, lead guitarist Shawn McGovern, bassist Brandon Alexander and drummer J.J. Contreras) has played off and on opening for various national acts.

But its biggest endorsement arguably came when Mauricio Contreras, who also fronts the San Antonio Manowar tribute band Blood Of My Enemies, shared the stage for two gigs last spring -- one in San Antonio, the other in Laredo -- with Manowar co-founder and original guitarist Ross "The Boss" Friedman (see SAMME's coverage here). Last September, Friedman told the SAMME that the Bad Obsession vocalist has "a big future ahead of him" and "a fantastic voice" (read his comments here).

As such, Contreras reminded at least one person in attendance of another early 20s San Antonio metal vocalist from back in the day in style and sound -- Fates Warning's Ray Alder, who returned to play Backstage Live this past Dec. 4 at age 47.

Bad Obsession, Jessikill and similar San Antonio acts would be wise to scoop up whatever concert opportunities they can over the annual city-wide Fiesta celebration in the spring. With Fiesta being an extra week this year (April 11-27), gigs should be aplenty whether it's the Oyster Bake, Siesta Fest or Fiestas Fantasias at HemisFair Park across from the NIOSA (A Night In Old San Antonio) food fest. That means the crowds will be numbering in the thousands.

Even better for talented voices to be heard.

DIO DISCIPLES' setlist: Killing The Dragon, Holy Diver, I, Egypt (The Chains Are On), Gates Of Babylon, The Last In Line, Stand Up And Shout, Tarot Woman/All The Fools Sailed Away, Neon Knights, Catch The Rainbow/Kill The King, Long Live Rock N' Roll/Man On The Silver Mountain/Heaven And Hell. ENCORES: Rainbow In The Dark, We Rock

For more SAMME coverage related to this story, click on the "Suggested" links in blue below.

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