Sunday, 26 June 2016

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow - Birmingham Review

Ritchie Blackmore has long been one of my favourite guitarists. His work with both Deep Purple and Rainbow helped to define what a hard rock lead guitarist was, and has written many extremely memorable riffs and solos. Despite building his career on hard rock music, for the past twenty years, along with this wife, he has been playing renaissance-inspired folk rock music which has always been a passion of his. Blackmore's Night showcases another side to Blackmore's playing and writing style, and has been extremely for successful for him. There were always calls for him to return to rock and, despite numerous refusals to do so, last year he announced to re-form Rainbow for three special gigs for, as he called it, some nostalgia. When I say re-form I should actually say re-create, as this version of Rainbow is totally different to any to have come before, with only Blackmore returning. Rainbow has always been a glorified Ritchie Blackmore solo project however, so this news came as no surprise. While this disappointed some, I knew that Blackmore, being the perfectionist that he is, would have made the right decisions. The bulk of the band was made up of Bob Nouveau (bass guitar/vocals) and David Keith (drums), both who have played with Blackmore's Night over the years, and Jens Johansson (keyboards) who is famous for being one of the original members of Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force and has since played with the Finnish power metal band Stratovarius for many years. Fronting the band was the Chilean vocal sensation Ronnie Romero, who fronts the Spanish band Lords of Black, and is set to be a big star in the future. Candice Night and Lady Lynn, both also of Blackmore's Night, also appeared with the band provide some extra ethereal backing vocals. This show at Birmingham's Genting Arena was the final show of three that Rainbow is currently playing. The previous two were in Germany, a favourite place of Blackmore's to play, so this exclusive UK show was not to be missed. Luckily a friend of mine managed to get some tickets through a pre-sale, so this is something I have been looking forward to since November! The seats we had turned out to be excellent too, on the level with the stage but quite far back up the side wall. This actually gave us a great view of the stage, and the sound never suffered from the slightly strange position.

Before Rainbow hit the stage however, the growing crowd was treated to 40 minutes of rock from Mostly Autumn. Regular readers of this blog will probably be sick of hearing me talk about Mostly Autumn but they, like Rainbow, are one of my favourites and I have seen them many times over the years. An acoustic version of Mostly Autumn have supported Blackmore's Night in the past, so their connection with Blackmore goes back somewhat, but it was still a big surprise to see them announced for this show! This too was a slimmed down version of the band, with four of the band's current seven members appearing, but this was a rock arrangement as opposed to the acoustic version I assumed would appear. Despite the truncated line-up Bryan Josh (vocals/guitar), Olivia Sparnenn-Josh (vocals/percussion), Iain Jennings (keyboards), and Alex Cromarty (drums) put on a stellar show and probably made themselves a few new fans in the process! The first half of their set really rocked, with the spiraling riff of In for the Bite from Josh's new solo album getting things going. This was a new live song for me, and it worked well with Sparnenn-Josh's vocals gradually building as the song went on. Drops of the Sun and Deep in Borrowdale from the band's more recent albums followed and ensured the energy remained high. The second half was more 'epic' with Evergreen being reintroduced after being left out of the sets so far this year. It was wise to play the song here though, as it contains everything great about Mostly Autumn, especially Josh's extended guitar solo outro. The delicate Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts followed, before the set came to an end with their signature song Heroes Never Die which Josh sung with plenty of emotion. Despite not sounding as big as usual due to being three members down, Mostly Autumn did themselves proud and held their own against one of the giants of hard rock that followed them. I hope they sold a few albums and shirts after this set! The setlist was:

In for the Bite [Bryan Josh solo material]
Drops of the Sun
Deep in Borrowdale
Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts
Heroes Never Die

Despite the fact this show was billed as Rainbow, the show was more of a Richie Blackmore rock anthology, with the set fairly evenly distributed between his times with both Deep Purple and Rainbow. After the legendary Over the Rainbow intro, which saw the band getting warmed up, the Deep Purple classic Highway Star started the show off with a bang, and introduced the crowd to Romero. Despite this show being all about Blackmore, Romero often stole his limelight with a breathtaking vocal display. He had to sing material originally sung by six different singers throughout the show, and he showcased his diversity, vocal control, and power from the off. Highway Star was a real crowd pleaser, and saw plenty of singing and cheering, especially as Blackmore ripped into that trademark solo. Despite a few wobbles here and there, he played flawlessly throughout, and played with plenty of passion and energy. The mid-era Rainbow AOR rock of Spotlight Kid followed, and this was the only song I felt was not right for Romero's voice. His hard rock grit was so different from Joe Lynn Turner's smooth voice that is clashed somewhat, but he still did a sterling job singing it. There were so many highlights throughout the set, but the bluesy Mistreated, which contained some of Blackmore's best guitarwork of the night, and the hard rock of Man on the Silver Mountain were highlights of the early part of the set. The crowd had a bit of a breather with the beautiful ballad Soldier of Fortune, before the instrumental and band showcase Difficult to Cure (Beethoven's Ninth) took the roof off. Keith, Nouveau, and Johansson all had a chance to solo. While this was impressive, I did feel this section went on for a little too long (especially the keyboard solo) but then Blackmore shows have always contained plenty of extended soloing. Catch the Rainbow was the first highlight of the second part of the show, and things only got better from then on. Romero's vocal display during the song was stunning, and his harmonies with Night and Lynn made for a massive sound. Long Live Rock 'n' Roll saw the first, and biggest, crowd participation moment of the night, as the capacity crowd at the Genting Arena screamed the chorus back at the band with gusto. A rare outing of Deep Purple's Child in Time was truly stunning and saw Romeo own the beginning and end, while Blackmore showed why he is one of the most respected rock guitarists in the instrumental mid-section with some fluid soloing. Romero's wordless screams were jaw-dropping, and were almost as good as Ian Gillan's on the original recording. The real highlight of the night however was Stargazer with Romero sounding almost as good as the late great Ronnie James Dio throughout. That song has been such an influence on many of the progressive and symphonic metal bands that I love, so to hear it live was fantastic. Blackmore's gothic riffing and neo-classical soloing, and the soaring chorus just all came together perfectly, and it all added up to one of the greatest individual songs I have ever seen live. After that gargantuan tune, the main set ended with the more light-hearted Black Night and the crowd sung the main riff long after the band had left the stage. There was time for a couple more however, with two more Deep Purple songs wowing the crowd. Burn was dusted off for it's first appearance on this mini tour, before Smoke on the Water (with arguably the most famous guitar riff of all time) finished the evening in hard rocking style. The setlist was:

Highway Star [Deep Purple cover]
Spotlight Kid
Mistreated [Deep Purple cover]
Since You Been Gone [Russ Ballard cover]
Man on the Silver Mountain
Solider of Fortune [Deep Purple cover]
Difficult to Cure (Beethoven's Ninth)
Catch the Rainbow
Perfect Strangers [Deep Purple cover]
Long Live Rock 'n' Roll
Child in Time [Deep Purple cover]
Black Night [Deep Purple cover]
Burn [Deep Purple cover]
Smoke on the Water [Deep Purple cover]

This was a gig that I never thought I would see, so to finally see Blackmore rocking again was a bit of a dream come true. I am sure many had doubts as to whether this new line-up of Rainbow could compete with history, but they more than held their own as the packed Genting Arena crowd will tell you. Blackmore has unearthed a star in Romero too, and I really hope this is not the last we see of this line-up of Rainbow!

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