RITCHIE BLACKMORE'S RAINBOW
During the summer of 2016, Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow played three long and eagerly-awaited live shows with Rainbow - two in Germany and one in Birmingham (which I was fortunate enough to attend), the first since 1997. Blackmore has, over the intervening years, released material and played live under the banner of Blackmore's Night but the music played in this guise is somewhat removed from the heavy rock/metal style of Rainbow and, thus, fans have been hoping for the day when he would strap on the famous white Stratocaster and ramp up the wattage once more. The gigs in Germany, one in Loreley and the other in Bietigheim, have been captured for release and are available on CD, DVD, Blu-ray and vinyl. For the purposes of this review, I am reviewing both the CD and DVD.
Of course, in order for Blackmore to tour as Rainbow, he needed to put a band together. Blackmore himself aside, this includes Ronnie Romero, a young Chilean (he was born in 1981, the same year that Rainbow released ‘Difficult to Cure’!), plucked from relative obscurity by Blackmore who has compared him to a cross between Ronnie James Dio and Freddie Mercury, but is probably closer in style to Graham Bonnet. The lineup also includes drummer David Keith, who also plays drums for Blackmore's Night and who, rather incongruously , sports a Depeche Mode t-shirt for the Bietigheim show on the DVD; bassist Bob Nouveau, also of Blackmore's Night; and Jens Johansson, an acclaimed keyboardist who has played for Yngwie Malmsteen, Stratovarius and Dio in his time.0 The band is supplemented by two female backing singers, Candice Knight, aka Mrs Blackmore and Blackmore's Night vocalist, and Lady Lynn, a classically trained singer who also provides vocals in Blackmore's Night.
The DVD begins with an excerpt of 'Land of Hope and Glory', something of a risk considering the gigs in Germany were a couple of days after Brexit! Then, and this is where the CD starts, the familiar strains of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' accompanied by the voice of Judy Garland uttering the immortal lines, "I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" are heard. The band then launch into the first song of the night, 'Highway Star' from Deep Purple's 1972 classic, ‘Machine Head’. The playing from the off is very tight, with Romero showing no nerves and it is clear that he has the audience in his thrall right from the start.
Next up is 'Spotlight Kid' from the aforementioned ‘Difficult to Cure’ album. Again, the band perform this exceptionally well but it strikes me as a slightly strange choice of song, given that the singles from this release, 'I Surrender' and 'Can't Happen Here' would have made more sense. However, I have a feeling that Blackmore's sense of humour (yes, he does have one!) was at play here, given the song's lyrics, "You walk out on stage, your first time alone, the crowd's going wild" and Romero's inexperience of playing gigs of this magnitude.
The following song, 'Mistreated' from Purple's 1974 release ‘Burn’, shows that Romero can handle the bluesy stuff before Blackmore plays the opening chords to 'Sixteenth Century Greensleeves' from the first, eponymously titled, Rainbow album, released in 1975. This is clearly a crowd favourite as the reaction to it on the DVD is incredible and this was matched at the Birmingham gig that I attended.
'Since You've Been Gone' from Rainbow's 1979 commercially huge ‘Down To Eart’h is next and Romero again demonstrates his versatility. Remember that he is singing songs that were written for and by various vocalists (Dio, Coverdale, Joe Lynn Turner, Bonnet, Gillan), each with their own distinct style and he acquits himself well at each turn. The band return to the first Rainbow album for a flawless rendition of the timeless 'Man On The Silver Mountain', Romero respectfully name checking Dio during the song.
A change of pace ensues with the gentler 'Catch the Rainbow', again taken from the first Rainbow release. Here, for the first time, Romero shows that he doesn't quite have the range of the incomparable Ronnie James Dio, who could sing ballads as beautifully as he could deliver the heaviest of songs, but any rough edges are smoothed out with the help of the backing singers who provide the softest of harmonies.
'Difficult to Cure', an instrumental taken from the album of the same name and which is Blackmore's interpretation of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, gives Romero a chance of a well earned break and an opportunity for the musicians to each showcase their abilities, which they do with aplomb. Normally, solos during gigs are a bit of a turn off but, on this occasion and given the skills on display, this is a joy both to listen to and watch.
The next song, and the most recent, is the title track from the ill fated Deep Purple Mark 2 reunion album, ‘Perfect Strangers’, which dates from 1985. This is one of my favourite Purple tunes and the band don't disappoint in their delivery of it. What follows is the highlight for me, a storming rendition of my favourite Rainbow track, and possibly the greatest heavy rock song of all time, 'Stargazer', taken from 1976's ‘Rising’ LP, which is, in my humble opinion, the greatest heavy rock album ever. The studio version featured the Munich Symphony Orchestra and, although this is very difficult to reproduce live, Johansson does his best with his keyboards.
'Long Live Rock N' Roll' from the 1977 album of the same name follows before we are treated to a run through of some of the best songs that Deep Purple recorded, namely 'Child In Time' (with a snippet from 'Woman From Tokyo' included), where Romero gamely tries to hit the high notes famously sung by Ian Gillan and is again assisted by the backing vocalists, 'Black Night' and the set closer, what else but the song with the most well known, and possibly most frequently played, riff ever, 'Smoke On The Water'. Versions of 'Spotlight Kid', 'Man On The Silver Mountain', 'Long Live Rock N' Roll' and 'Stargazer', taken from the shows that weren't included in the main disc, are included as bonus tracks.
When these gigs were announced, there were plenty of fans on forums and the like who were sceptical that the shows would be worth seeing as no-one had ever heard of the singer and Blackmore would just be going through the motions. However, as the DVD, CD (which is essentially the soundtrack to the DVD) and my own personal experience from the Birmingham show testify, this couldn't be further from the truth.
The DVD shows the band as a tight knit unit, enjoying themselves with Blackmore interacting with both fellow band members and audience alike, and giving a master class in how to play heavy rock guitar. There are plenty of camera shots of his technique for the guitarists out there but the camera doesn't just focus on Blackmore alone, each band member gets a fair amount of 'coverage' and this makes for a well-rounded presentation.
The DVD is of very high quality, well shot with a variety of camera angles, particularly making the most of scenery around the gig venues, which are both open air. The venue in Loreley, famous in its own right, is perched on the banks of the Rhine and the setting in Bietigheim has a nineteenth century viaduct immediately adjacent to the venue, and the director makes good use of both locations with panoramic shots. Footage from each concert is used, roughly on an equal basis, and switches between the two during the course of the DVD, almost seamlessly except for the landmarks in each location and the costume changes of the band from one gig to the next. The Rainbow itself, used for lighting and as a backdrop, is a 21st Century upgrade on the famous one used in the Dio years and is highly effective.
On a personal basis, both the CD and DVD are a fantastic reminder of the concert that I went to in Birmingham but, if you weren't lucky enough to get to one of the shows, this is a superb way to watch, or hear, a guitar legend with an extremely able supporting cast run through a catalogue of some of the most well known and significant songs in rock history. This is a must listen/watch for Purple and Rainbow fans!
Eagle Rock Entertainment
MEMORIES IN ROCK - LIVE IN GERMANY (CD & DVD EDITIONS)
Review by Dave Uphill
18th Nov 2016
CD ONE: 1) Highway Star; 2) Spotlight Kid; 3) Mistreated; 4) 16th Century Greensleeves; 5) Since You Been Gone; 6) Man on the Silver Mountain; 7) Catch the Rainbow; 8) Difficult to Cure (Beethoven's Ninth); 9) Perfect Strangers; 10) Stargazer
CD TWO: 1) Long Live Rock 'n' Roll; 2) Child in Time / Woman From Tokyo; 3) Black Night; 4) Smoke on the Water; Bonus tracks from alternative night: 5) Spotlight Kid; 6) Man on the Silver Mountain; 7) Long Live Rock 'n' Roll; 8) Stargazer
DVD: Same track listing as double CD edition
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...if you weren't lucky enough to get to one of the shows, this is a superb way to watch, or hear, a guitar legend with an extremely able supporting cast run through a catalogue of some of the most well known and significant songs in rock history."