In A-side/B-side, two Milwaukee Record writers tackle various city issues in an informal, crosstalk style. Insults are hurled, feelings are hurt, and everyone learns something in the end. Maybe.

Tyler Maas: After a particularly brutal winter and a mostly unsatisfying spring, festival season is finally in full swing and it will continue through the summer and into early fall. The steady six-month run of block parties, large-scale festivals, weekly concerts, and other sources of entertainment will feature tons of live music from world-renowned acts, a wealth of comedians, and a heft of other entertainers. Along the way, traditional year-round venues will continue to offer folks opportunities to see performers in the flesh and, for one of the first times ever, in digital format.

That right, on June 16—roughly nine months after “In Dreams: Roy Orbison in Concert, The Hologram Tour” brought a pixelated performer to Pabst Theater—the same venue will play host to “Dio Returns,” a show that will bring moving images and pre-recorded vocals of another deceased rocker to the theater’s stage. Of course, I have some thoughts on this futuristic phenomenon that’s suddenly become commonplace in Milwaukee (and various other markets). It’s impossible to not have a feeling about it. However, when “Dio Returns” was announced, Cal, you seemed to be especially vocal on the matter. Before I explain my opinion of hologram concerts, I’d like you—Milwaukee Record‘s resident metalhead—to address your thoughts on digitized Dio.

Cal Roach: First, allow me to admit that if you were to ask me who I’d like to see reanimated as a glorified filmstrip, Dio would not spring to mind. The pint-sized legend was known as a larger-than-life frontman for whatever band he happened to be singing for; an ethereal projection of him behind the band for only parts of the show is guaranteed to underwhelm. To non-metalheads, Dio verged on self-caricature just walking around; a venture like this that casts him as a guest at his own concert seems like a recipe for doom in the least metal sense of the word.

Considering the hologram concept in a more general sense, though, I’m reminded of seeing the band known as Zappa Plays Zappa at The Rave back in 2007. Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil was the still-living guitar hero of that show, but over the course of the evening, he and the rest of the band would occasionally jam along with old video footage of Frank himself, wailing away at some show from the ’70s or ’80s. I went in thinking it was going to be lame; as it turned out, I was very moved by the experience. Having never seen the Zappa patriarch in the flesh, maybe this was the closest I could get.

Ostensibly, that wasn’t the closest, though, as holo-Zappa is also making the rounds these days. The concept is the same: If you missed out on seeing your idols when they were alive, or simply miss seeing them, this is the next best thing. The big difference, in my mind, is the suspension-of-disbelief requirement. With Zappa shredding on a big TV screen, you’re not being asked to pretend he’s actually there. You’re not subconsciously looking for flaws and inconsistencies. With a hologram, how can you help but do so? How can you surrender to a gimmick whose sole purpose is to fool your senses unless it does so to perfection?

TM: I’ll admit that when I first heard that an artificial Orbison was making the rounds last year and learned that digi-Dio was “on tour” too, I took it for no more than—to take a term you just used—a “gimmick” that was done to squeeze a few extra dollars from the decaying husk of an expired artist. However, after giving it some thought, I’ve come around on the concept of holograms shows because, at the end of the day, it’s simply just a tribute concert with a more technological wrinkle incorporated. Though bound by blood and an iconic surname, the same can be said for the Zappa Plays Zappa show you experienced as well. Whether you’re seeing a real-life person doing their best imitation of another musician, taking in a laser light experience that’s set to a band’s catalog at your local planetarium, or “looking for flaws and inconsistencies” with a hologram, isn’t it all kind of in the same, vague neighborhood of a tribute show?

Once I considered that, it stripped away any need for these hologram concerts to be significant or to uphold and honor the legacies of those who’ve been given on-stage immortality. Some will surely be brought to these sorts of shows for the sheer spectacle of seeing a hologram. Others might just miss the likes of Orbison, Zappa, Tupac, and, yes, even Dio and are willing to accept an inauthentic version of the performer they knew and loved opposed to nothing at all. Beyond the futuristic elements involved (and, it’s worth noting, the accompaniment of still-living bandmates playing the songs), I don’t really think Dio Returns is much different than the literally dozens of other cover groups and tribute bands that are booked at various venues around Milwaukee throughout the year.

Granted, these aren’t the sort of shows I’m personally interested in attending, but if people are routinely paying good money to see a Brit Floyd at Riverside Theater, U2 Zoo at Shank Hall, and whatever cover shows local bands cook up every Halloween weekend, then I’m not about to knock a hologram concert. In fact, the hologram factor actually makes the prospect of seeing a show without the presence of original members more appealing to me. If it’s the right artist, I’d check out a hologram sometime. However, I don’t imagine it’s something I’d make a habit of. I’d try it, check it off my list, and return to my pattern of watching bands with original music that’s played by, you know, living members.

How about you, Cal? Are you opposed to attending a hologram concert? Moreover, do you think this is a sustainable form of entertainment? Is this new-ish feature just a flash in the pan or do you think automated artists will stick around and challenge the longstanding model of live music?

CR: I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone the desire to catch a projected performance of their deceased heroes, that’s for sure. Like you say, it can’t be any worse than a regular tribute act. Who knows, maybe a hologram of Syd Barrett could’ve lent a degree of authenticity to Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets, for instance. I’ll admit that I probably put too much significance on honoring artists’ legacies. Queen or The Germs or Alice In Chains carrying on with imitators of their legendary singers infuriates me, and it really shouldn’t. I just wish they’d admit that they’re tribute bands and change their names to something stupid like “The Doors Of The 21st Century.” At least the Dio hologram is, y’know, Dio himself, in a sense. However, a living tribute singer can at least feed off crowd energy and interact with fans, whereas a hologram can only do whatever it’s programmed to do. It’s the exact same thing every night. At least, at this current moment in history.

My guess is that as the technology advances, we could end up with more interactive (as well as more lifelike) holographic rock stars—maybe not quite on a Star Trek holodeck level, but still, the experiment is in its infancy. The reviews I’ve read regarding Dio Returns have been lukewarm at best, so I probably won’t be coughing up any money on a holo-concert any time soon. I’m generally a scoffer when it comes to tribute and cover bands as well. I can’t deny that my curiosity is piqued, though. The whole idea is fascinating to me. I just want to wait a while until I can go into the experience with a less cynical mindset. I know I’ll cave eventually. I can’t imagine going to see the digital specter of an artist I got to see in the flesh, but I can daydream about an immersive, visceral experience of a holographic Freddie Mercury or Ella Fitzgerald. Maybe the whole band will be holograms. Maybe it will be more of a virtual- or augmented-reality thing in the future. I’m pretty sure that the current prototypes will seem very primitive relatively soon.

Whatever the future holds, I doubt this fad will go away, unless the holographers truly can’t create anything more realistic and vibrant than Dio Returns. Even if they can’t, the industry is a nostalgia factory aimed at old people. As their senses dull and their interest in young artists wanes, they’ll still hobble out to try and recapture those old feelings, and any potential criticisms will seem less and less pertinent. Holograms might eventually make crappy cover bands obsolete, but is that such a bad thing?

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