Review by Rick Ossian
Bochum’s Axel Rudi Pell has achieved quite a feat on this extravaganza. It will no doubt appear in several formats, but the one we shall focus on for today’s discussion is the 3CD/DVD package. The Blu-Ray version will appear in April, shortly after the other versions.
The main reason I say Axel has achieved quite a feat is because, with a couple of slight exceptions, he has assembled his entire musical past on this blowout. Not only do members of his band, Steeler, appear; assembled herein are an entire raft of legendary drummers and vocalists, not to mention one of my very favourite keyboard players, Mr. Tony Carey (Rainbow, Planet P Project)!
Also on board are tubthumper Vinny Appice (Derringer, DIO, Sabbath), former ARP drummer Jörg Michael (Running Wild, Stratovarious). The former has one hell of a ‘Drum Battle‘ with ARP main skin-basher Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow), by the way. Vocalists who appear in addition to stage singer Johnny Gioeli are Rob Rock, Jeff Scott Soto (Journey), Dougie White (Yngwie Malmsteen, Rainbow), Graham Bonnet (Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group), John Lawton (Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Lone Star), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids) and Michael Voss (Mad Max, Bonfire). Whew! The main branch of ARP are, of course, Johnny, Ferdy Doernberg (keys), Volker Krawczak (bass) and the aforementioned Rondinelli. Quite a line-up, you say? Wait till you hear what they play!
It should be noted here that, while there are considerable amounts of cover tunes here, there ARE some original moments (the Steeler material and the ARP tracks). The only thing that really concerns me is how derivative things can get at some points. It appears obvious on the first listen or two of this vast compendium of musical magical moments that Axel emulates, adores, and even worships one Mr. Ritchie Blackmore. Any of you who may be in doubt at this point need only listen to the tunes…
While we are dispensing with the technicalities, it should also be noted that this set was gleaned from the Bang Your Head Festival (Balingen, 11 July 2014). Though it could just as easily have been a Heavy AOR fest or a Rainbow/Deep Purple/Whitesnake tribute fest, we will stick with the facts. For example, on Call Her Princess, I was almost immediately reminded of the riff from Burn or even Highway Star. Amidst the feedback, squeals and reminiscent riffage, and recycled Purple memories, Axel DOES shine, shred, burn, wail and generally play his ass off! There are, as the title suggests, many magical moments. There are also some, well, not so mystical. It is one thing to emulate your heroes; it is another entirely to wear your influences on your sleeve(s). Without his own original material, this homage to Messrs. Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice and Blackmore (not to mention Coverdale, Dio, Schenker/Scorps) would simply NOT work nearly as well.
On the Purple cover Black Night, for example, we get to hear a faithful cover of the tune. However, to be perfectly honest, it is somewhat pedestrian, even for this outfit. Not that a fan, or punter, for that matter, should come to expect outstanding stuff at every turn; we should also consider the source. This was a HUGE production, as anniversary sets oftentimes are. It should not have had near the amount of covers that we witness here. The set should have been about 1/3 shorter, in this writer’s humble opinion — so, let’s just go with what we have.
Night After Night is another one of those pedestrian numbers, unfortunately. It sounds more like recycled latter-day Rainbow riffage than anything else. Strong as a Rock is more of the same, sounding more Purple-like than even the mighty Purple at times. Crowd participation is a given at an event like this, and though ARP was probably one of the bill’s main attractions, I’m sure there were others. Axel no doubt had the benefit of his own audience in addition to the myriad of other punters in the crowd.
Long Way to Go reminded me of Don Airey‘s keyboard style. The main riff is a nice one, albeit still reminiscent of the Blackmore/Lord pocket – they keys and the guitars are in the spotlight, as it should be. This tune features a surging, pumping main riff, and it also smacks loudly of 80’s-era hair metal (of course, Whitesnake comes to mind).
Rockin’ the City features a cool bass intro and more Blackmore adulation. This particular track sounds more like Perfect Strangers-era Deep Purple. It is compelling, and will be especially near-and-dear to Purple fans – but for some reason I feel the need for more. Let us plow forward, shall we?
Sympathy features much more German/English crowd banter, which again should probably be considered a given when one considers the venue. There is a cool main riff here that AGAIN bows down to the Blackmore altar. This one is mainly a long solo for Axel, one amidst MANY showcases for the six-string wizard.
The Neil Young (Hey Hey My My) and ZZ Top (Tush) covers are also faithful renditions of the originals, even though somehow Tush is played Deep Purple style (and just HOW in the fuck did they do that?), and Hey Hey My My features a gorgeous piano intro, but at first glance this could be any one of a number of bands – most of the bar bands in my good old farmland home of Nebraska can play a Deep Purple track or ZZ Top for that matter. Neil Young may be a bit of a stretch, however…
Undercover Animal comes off a bit like 2nd tier Def Leppard. There is a lead burst at the end, and a big boom, no doubt pyrotechnic in origin, explodes at the close. Probably to signal the end of the Steeler set, I’m assuming? I could be mistaken.
Mistreated is an absolute monster here, though I for one would have preferred Coverdale or even Joe Lynn Turner over Johnny and Dougie if I were the one picking vocalists. Too bad those cats weren’t in Germany that night, right? Some brilliant blues playing here, by the by.
Mystica was not nearly as inspiring as I had imagined. It is another monster, especially considering the sheer length of the track. I was again reminded of Rainbow and DIO, in particular. Nasty Reputation is more of the same. There is an obligatory guitar solo, as with every track save the marathon Drum Battle.
Since You Been Gone is a great vehicle for Graham Bonnet, as those of you who are familiar with Rainbow will know. (I always preferred Head East’s version, myself!) Warrior is another pedestrian track at best. The medley of Too Late/Eternal Prisoner/Too Late has a sweet main riff, and sounds for all the world like a more aggressive, progressive, even heavier Purple. Plenty of riffs, and a wicked duel between guitar and keys (surprise!). It is during this mega-monster track that the band is introduced while the bass and drums do a little milieu in the background… Fool Fool is more recycled Rainbow riffage, but is handled superbly in the more-than-capable hands of vocalist Jeff Scott Soto. Long Live Rock and Roll features Graham Bonnet again, and all I could think was that it was too bad that Ronnie James DIO wasn’t still with us (RIP).
Another timely monster is The Masquerade Ball Casbah, which features a really cool lead a couple of minutes in. There are some beautiful vocal and keyboard moments on the intro as well. Rock the Nation deceived me for a moment – I thought it would be a cover of the Montrose standard, but I’m not really sure if it was or wasn’t. I must have gotten distracted or bored during this one.
The finale, of course, is Smoke on the Water. Need we say more? This is a set primarily for Purple fans, and, of course, ARP fans. Those who are neither should tread other waters.