Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Genting Arena, Birmingham, 25/06/16

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Review: That lucky, lucky bastard, Tom Mead.

When Ritchie Blackmore announced he was forming a new incarnation of Rainbow for three shows, his first Hard Rock performances for over 20 years, he admitted it was primarily for the fans’ benefit; while he’s made a happy career out of playing Rennaissance-folk rock with his wife Candice Night in Blackmore’s Night, his status as a Rock Legend is primarily based on his genre-defining work as a founding member of both Deep Purple and Rainbow.  Fans have come to Birmingham tonight from all over the world though (the other two shows last week were both in Germany), so this can’t afford to be just another tired nostalgia show.

Consisting of Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen/Stratovarius) on keyboards, David Keith and Bob Nouveau (both of Blackmore’s Night) on drums and bass respectively, and relative unknown Ronnie Romero (originally from Chile, he fronts the Spanish band Lords of Black) on lead vocals, this incarnation displays a chemistry that you’d expect of musicians who’ve been together for years, rather than for just a handful of shows. They position themselves compactly on stage (à la the cover of Deep Purple’s seminal live album Made in Japan) and no one moves around much throughout the show; now aged 71, Ritchie Blackmore opts to perform far fewer Pete Townshend-esque acrobatics than he did in his earlier days! This hardly matters though, nor does the lack of video screens; the five men on stage (plus two female backing singers, including Candice Night) might look like dots from the back of the cavernous Genting Arena but the classic Rainbow arch lighting rig, a much welcomed nod to previous Rainbow shows, provides an impressive visual spectacle nonetheless.

While it’s no doubt an obvious move for promotional/marketing reasons, a look at tonight’s setlist (see below) does make you wonder why the “Rainbow” name was chosen for the band; Deep Purple songs outnumber those by Blackmore’s other band.  It does mean that those fans who were expecting more of their favourite Rainbow songs (there are plenty of calls for Kill the King from Long Live Rock & Roll for instance) might be somewhat disappointed.  In practice though, songs by both bands are perfectly performed and enthusiastically received, with seemingly every single one of the 10,000-plus fans here tonight in fine voice; Ronnie Romero doesn’t even need to bother singing much of Child in Time at all, as he is thoroughly drowned out in what is undoubtedly one of the most memorable live music moments I’ve ever experienced. The bits where the crowd does his job for him aside though, Romero’s performance tonight must be singled out for particular praise.  He has the task of handling the work of five respected, but very different, singers but luckily he has the vocal range and stamina to pull it off with ease. Whether it’s David Coverdale-style chest-bursting on Burn or soulful Ronnie James Dio-esque crooning on Catch the Rainbow, Ronnie Romero’s rich tenor voice is well-suited to the task. Ritchie Blackmore said that, when he announced Romero as Rainbow’s latest singer, he hoped he could introduce a new star to the world; based on tonight’s performance, he’s done just that.

I only really have a couple of small pieces of criticism to make about this show.  Blackmore only ever intended to form this incarnation of Rainbow for these 3 shows; this is not a well-oiled production and that does show in places.  While the sound quality in the Genting Arena is excellent, Blackmore’s guitar does not come through clearly at times; maybe decades of concentrating on acoustic, rather than electric, music has something to do with this?  Moreover, while the band manages to cram a lot into 2 hours tonight, they could have trimmed a bit of time off the title track from Difficult to Cure (the instrumental one that’s essentially a rock version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy).  If the solo section in the middle was a bit shorter, they could have found space for another song or two.  But hey, tonight’s all about reliving the glory days of 70’s and 80’s Arena Rock; if you can’t have a gratuitous instrumental section, what’s the bloody point!?

As the end notes of Smoke on the Water are still ringing throughout the arena, I doubt anyone’s left tonight with any real disappointment.  We came to see one of rock’s greatest musicians and most enigmatic characters play timeless songs to loyal fans, and no one can say that neither Ritchie Blackmore nor the rest of the band failed to deliver.  It remains to be seen whether more shows (or maybe a new album?) will follow tonight but the signs are promising if they do.  The rainbow has risen again, shining as bright as ever.

Verdict: 9/10

Setlist

  1. Over the Rainbow
  2. Highway Star
  3. Spotlight Kid
  4. Mistreated
  5. Since You Been Gone
  6. Man on the Silver Mountain
  7. Soldier of Fortune
  8. Difficult to Cure (with Drum, Bass and Keyboard solos)
  9. Catch the Rainbow
  10. Perfect Strangers
  11. Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll
  12. Child in Time
  13. Stargazer
  14. Black Night (with Woman From Tokyo excerpt)

Encore

  1. Burn
  2. Smoke on the Water

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