Rainbow’s end?

So, was this just a Happy Shopper version of Rainbow, or something more substantial?  Well there’s only one man who knows the answer, and he was keeping very quiet on Saturday night, saying just two words* to the 10,000+ sold out NEC crowd, and that was merely to announce the name of his singer. Which was fitting really, as without him this version of Rainbow would certainly have been an awful lot less entertaining.
And from what I could see the audience took to him fairly quickly and were really up for it from the reworked version of Highway Star onwards; how much of this fervour was a determination to enjoy it or simply relief to have the man back playing rock again is hard to say, but there was something very comforting being in a crowd who knew all the words to all the songs (Spotlight Kid aside possibly!).  You forget how much shared experience there is in following a guy like this, and it’s nice to be reminded of it sometimes.
I deliberately steered clear of online video and audio clips so not to pre-judge the show (or lower my expectations any further!),  and from what people were saying, the vibe was far from positive so I’m glad I did.  An inside gig is a very different beast to outdoor festival slots, and I’m glad we opted for this – and that Rainbow decided to do it instead of a UK festival (look what was happening down the road at Glastonbury).
We had quite a relaxing drive down, neither of us wanted to discuss the show much I guess. We took the A roads as the rain was so heavy up our end, gave our lunch money to the nice people at Cromford Mill’s café and were getting lost in the poorly signed NEC road maze before we knew it. A couple of hours passed quietly at the hotel where our friend Dave Browne was booked in so he could nervously watch his home team in the Euros (sorry David) and this kept us occupied until it was time to saunter over to the Arena, having a quick word on the way with Jerry Bloom who was worryingly walking away from the venue, perhaps having been turned back for wearing a Tommy Bolin t-shirt (!), before meeting up with more old-timers in the foyer to natter until show time.
Rereading these thoughts now before posting on Monday morning, the whole event seems almost like something from a dream. Even as the lights dimmed, and into the concert itself, at times it just did not seem real at all. Twenty years wiped out as if they’d never happened, Rainbow back for another tour (feelings were running especially high at the time of Stranger In Us All, so I gave that one a miss. I’d followed him live every tour since 1971 up to that point…)
As the reality broke through, it was time to try and take stock. Certainly this was a Ritchie Blackmore in his seventies rather than in The Seventies. There is no getting away from the fact that some of the fluidity and speed isn’t there, and the occasional mis-fire could be heard, but he was still very much recognisable as our Ritchie Blackmore, one out on his own. He didn’t disgrace his legacy and worked with the restrictions time and age have imposed upon him rather than attempting anything too tricksy. And it was just so good to see and hear him with a Strat again.
If I did wonder during the odd moment why he’s been noodling away on a flipping hurdy gurdy for twenty years, then he must have his reasons.  Whatever they were it was good to have the rock Ritchie Blackmore back, if only for a couple of hours.
There too is little hiding the fact that this was primarily a pension fund operation. By excluding any big names, the outlay could be minimised and the revenue maximised.  With tickets and merchandise, he should have done well out of it and good luck to him on that level. It is a perfectly valid exercise; he has something a lot of fans wanted to see again and as it sold out in minutes then clearly there were more than enough of us ready to shell out our £55 squids plus expenses (£16.75 for a beefburger at the hotel if you were wondering. An extra quid if we’d wanted it in a bun!). But in turning up with scratch band and putting it on at the NEC you are in effect saying ‘this is a big deal’, and as such the audience deserved to be treated with some respect.  And whatever the long and protracted backstory to these shows, I didn’t feel patronised from the stage at any point.
Given the apparent eventual lack of ambition for the return of Rainbow, I’d fought against getting caught up in it all right until two weeks ago, but I suppose curiosity got the better of me.  That and perhaps the idea that by going I could close the circle on following Rainbow – sometimes avidly (I did around half the UK shows on the first couple of tours) – across 40 often turbulent years.  I did try one Blackmore’s Night show a decade or so ago to see if I was missing something, but if anything it was even worse than the records, so I hadn’t ever planned or expected to see Blackmore live on stage again, content to live with the memories of those often glorious early concerts.
But then I had also vowed never to bother paying to attend a stadium rock show again, so come Saturday evening I was already eating my words before we even got inside!
I’ll leave set lists to others, it certainly didn’t deviate much from those in Germany, but Rainbow did more than enough to please just about everyone. Sure the band are not top flight, and are hardly a proper band, but the singer coped with most of the material, arguably best on the Ronnie Dio era tracks. He isn’t Ronnie, nobody could be, but there was a lot of power there and he didn’t hold back. His was always going to be an interpretation, Ronnie helped bring those tracks to life so they were personal, but this new guy delivered and I doubt he had any voice left to order breakfast on Sunday morning.
The vocals were also high in the mix to cut through a sometimes turgid NEC and stage sound, and were balanced against the guitar, which also got pushed up so we could all hear of what was going on.  Blackmore then certainly wasn’t hiding or holding back, and while the playing wasn’t as spine tingling as it could be twenty years ago, it was mostly interesting and enjoyable. Overall his performance was very much a greatest hits sort of approach, little of the voyages off piste we used to enjoy so much perhaps, but more laying down a marker as if to decide whether this was something worth taking further in future or not.
He has said he wouldn’t want to do an album, but then he he has changed his mind in the past, and to give this much longevity it would need more commitment.  I’m sure there are other markets to take the Rainbow experience to should he feel the need, enough to keep this version of the band rolling as a comfortable retirement project for a few years at least, if his arthritis doesn’t prevent it. Rarely has the line “I feel I’m getting older…” seemed more poignant than it did here, Ritchie doing the track perched on a barstool with an acoustic.
And then, two thirds of the way through a show I’d been enjoying for what it was, out of nowhere came a sledgehammer version of Stargazer which showed what could be achieved. It slammed into the crowd with an intensity and drive which I really hadn’t seen coming and was as blissful a few minutes at a rock show as I’ve had for ages.  It reminded me of full-on Killing Joke or Ministry at their peak, and all at once you think, if they wanted to come back another time and do the full Rising album for us like this then you might just tap us for another couple of tickets. For me this alone was worth the price of admission and made me glad I’d bothered. If not, and he decides this is it, then it closed the Rainbow story for me on a good note.  A few questions remain.
Will I bother to buy the inevitable CD / DVD (I didn’t see any cameras at the NEC show but the German gigs were apparently filmed as well as taped – though I doubt they were better)?  Probably not.  Like that dull Gillan’s Inn CD from a few years back, why would I not want to put on the best versions to listen to?
Would I go again if they do more greatest hits shows next year (as has been mooted)?  I honestly doubt that with this band and the level of ability on show they would get much better, so I’ll be happy to leave it there.
Will the person operating the electric rainbow be able to get it right? It was funny to see even 40 years on that technology can still go wrong, with the timing and sequencing leaving gaps in the effects (which were pretty good) from time to time.  Unless it was a subtle tribute to all those thousands of 1970s lightbulbs!
Joking aside, Stargazer and other moments during the evening (a very hard edged and riffy Burn springs to mind as I write) reminded me why we all put up with his antics over those years, and for all the sublime guitar work he has delivered across his career, a heartfelt thanks. In the hard rock arena no one has ever really come close. My life wouldn’t have been the same without it, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that…

We would like to thank Rob and Martin for giving us first refusal on spare tickets. It was also great to meet up with them and a number of the old crew. Mike, Dave, Andy, Russ and others helped relieve the inevitable pre-concert tension many of us felt as we tried try to work out just why we were there!

*Apparently Ritchie did sing along in Long Live Rock & Roll according to bassist Bob Curiano who posted a photo to prove it! As the band were too mean to pay for screens most of us missed it…

I have added a separate page for all the reviews and everything Rainbow show related. This has early comments on the first show, etc. There is a set spoiler too BUT I have buried this at the end of the page, so you will not stumble on it by accident!

rainbow loreley 2016 copy

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24 Responses to “Rainbow’s end?”

  1. Leftin Says:

    Simon: Thanks for the enjoyable and fair-minded review (and the mention of burgers, which reminds me I’m hungry – shades of Graham Bonnet there!). Mention of Stranger In Us All gives me the chance to apologise for something of 1995 vintage. You see, I honestly believed (and still do) that SIUA was the best Rainbow work since Long Live R’n’R, and I thought your review of the thing wasn’t as objective as usual. I mentioned when subscribing to MBTP that I thought the album had been “ridiculously scorned by DTB” (or something similar). I wasn’t expecting him/them to print the comment, and felt a pang of remorse when you later expressed something along the lines of hurt at these criticisms. If I didn’t apologise then, I do now! This is a rather cowardly way of trying to make amends, but I really was hoping to carry on subscribing to DTB and the Blackmore ‘zine. Since then, I’ve let both lapse through my own uselessness! Anyway, no offence or slight was intended. I’m glad you’re still doing what you do, with that little frisson of humour which should make album reviews as trivial as they’re designed to be.

    Cheers, Anthony, aka Leftin

    • simon robinson Says:

      It was all a long time ago Anthony! What bemused me was that after crossing me off his Christmas card list – again – Ritchie later proclaimed that the album was boring and he’d been bored making it! So at least two of us didn’t quite get it. Looking back now there are a lot of ideas there but it just seems never to quite develop them to their fullest potential. Funnily enough I half expected / wanted them to do Ariel on these shows, esp with the backing singer there. And as it turned out the lead singer in the hall too.

  2. Mark B Says:

    Blackers is nowhere near as fluid as he once was due to (a) age (b) arthritis (c) a recent operation on a finger and (d) 20 years of playing “hey nonny nonny” on an acoustic guitar. However, when he was in the zone he played beautifully. As far as I am concerned Stargazer, Mistreated, Soldier of Fortune, Burn and Man on the Silver Mountain were worth the price of admission alone, as was his obvious joy at playing to the most enthusiastic crowd I have ever had the pleasure of standing amongst. Watching him tell the band to stop playing whilst we sang Child in Time for them is something that will stay with me for a long time.
    No major gripes from me. I could have lived without the drum solo (although it was mercifully brief) and the, largely dull, keyboard solo, but I quibble. The tiny amps and (even tinier) drum kit looked highly incongruous in such a large setting, but I loved the electronic rainbow! The sidemen were, mostly, anonymous but Ronnie Romero is a real find. A huge set of lungs – he showed due reverence to the late Ronnie Dio by singing his melodies as they were sung originally.
    I’m a happy bunny. Waiting 45 minutes to get out of the car park and having a section of the M25 closed, which necessitated a lengthy detour home, made me less happy!

    • simon robinson Says:

      We struck lucky; a wrong turn landed us in the South carpark in the afternoon but after the show we breezed out! But you’re right, I think Ritchie having to restructure his playing into the electric arena was more of a struggle than he’d imagined.

  3. Kazz Says:

    Thanks for your excellent story. I only made it to the Loreley show, which was OK but Birmingham was the best of the three, no doubt about that. PS Why is this review dated June 19? People who don’t scroll down might miss it!

  4. Mark Craig Says:

    Hi Simon – nice review, catching all the right points. Rainbow (with the rainbow) was my second-ever gig, at the Glasgow Apollo. Blackmore has been the soundtrack to much of my life and I loved seeing him play one more time.
    For me, Burn was the highlight – the first time I’ve ever heard him play it live.
    A nice moment at the woefully understaffed merchant stand – talking to others in the queue, happily agreeing that while in the old days that would have caused a riot (in Glasgow at least!), now we’re just too old to riot…
    How’s the reprint of your In Rock book coming along?
    Best
    Mark Craig

  5. Stuart Collins Says:

    Quite simply a very special night: from the intensity of CIT, the subtle tones of CTR and the intensity and sheer power of Stargazer, it was all I hoped for. Ronnie was stunning. I thought the light show was excellent too. Of course it would have been great to hear Kill The King, Tarot Woman and Starstruck, but at least Ritchie did the show and clearly enjoyed it. Was it taped? I couldn’t see any cameras. I guess they could add fan footage to the German shows?

  6. Scott Wood Says:

    Fantastic review Simon (and others)! Being in the States and my wife going thru cancer it was not something I could have even considered attending. The shows got progressively better so you witnessed “The One to See”! Cameras were at he second show in Germany so, when and if a dvd comes out, we will get to see RB in the pilgrim hat! I personally did not care for the way they eased into Highway Star as it sounds disjointed and under rehearsed in a way… Maybe a Queen influence (of Ronnie R’s I would think) of some sort it . CTR and Stargazer are simply stunning! The new ending of Stargazer is a treat, repeating the beginning of the track makes the band sound tight!

    • simon robinson Says:

      Thanks Scott, best wishes to you and your wife for a full recovery and Rainbow Stateside soon after. Simon

  7. Roberto Souza Says:

    Before I forget and I didn’t see anyone mentioning that: The concert was over, band had left the stage, people was leaving the NEC. I remained seated enjoying the momment, almost trying to believe what had just happened, when Ritchie Blackmore came back on stage and threw out T-shirts to the crowd. It was kind of a minute or so only, but some luck guys got T-shirts from the man in black himself. Thousands of people didn’t see that.

    • simon robinson Says:

      I didn’t, we did stay in the arena a little while, but were too busy trying to calm each other down. Nice gesture! I half expected him to say a couple of words at the end but he stayed true to character.

      • Graham Cooke Says:

        We waited and saw Ritchie throwing T shirts to those who had waited. I was also taken by Ronnie Romero waiting at the edge of the stage long after Ritchie had gone. From where we were it seemed he was drinking in the atmosphere. He was also waving to the few still in their seats – nice one!

  8. Ariel barbanente Says:

    Hi Simon. Many thanks for your deep and detailed review. Everyone’s rushing out there to upload youtube clips, but at the end of the day, it’s well written and toughtfull pieces like yours are the ones which will give us the fullest picture. From what I’ve heard, Ritchie’s relative loss of ability shocked me. Everyone points out “this is a seventy year old fella” but if you take a look at some guys in other genres you’ll see many people who still have their fire after entering the third age. What about John McLaughlin? He’s three years older than Ritchie. I was fortunate enough to see Paco de Lucia’s last tour, and it was mind blowing! Chick Corea is also older than Ritchie and hasn’t lost any ability. I’ve many recordings of late Astor Piazzolla and he carried fire until the end. Returning to rock, did you see recent footage of Tommy Aldridge? Now in his mid~sixties! I think that besides his age Ritchie could have delivered a lot more.

    • simon robinson Says:

      I think it was as much his mind-set, trying to move from the largely acoustic style of material back to full on rock. I got the feeling that with more shows it would soon pick up. I’ve had our current car nearly ten years now, recently I had to drive a courtesy car for 5 weeks and I managed OK but still hadn’t properly mastered it. The difference being I didn’t charge my passengers £55!

  9. David Ridley Says:

    Hi Simon, as always a nice thoughtful review. I attended all 3 shows and of course the first at Loreley will remain with me for the level of anticipation and excitement after all these years. It was interesting to see how the band developed and gelled by the end of 3rd show at Birmingham . Even the opener, Highway Star was 2 to 3 levels higher in quality and intensity and I knew this last show was going to be special. As my good friend Steve Dawson remarked it would be interesting to see what they sound like after 10 gigs on the road honing their stagecraft. A fitting end to the legacy and I must admit to having a tear in my eye during Stargazer.

  10. Danielz Says:

    What a brilliant and indepth review of the whole day. I enjoyed the gig and kind of agree with most of the reviews, other than what was said about the vocals. Yes, I thought the singer did a good job on the Dio tracks, but was actually too low in the mix from where I was (Block B). Ritchie was really of course the only reason I went, and for an event, it was just fantastic to see him again on stage playing Purple/Rainbow tracks, that I never thought would happen. I am grateful that it took place at all and was happy to be part of something that I feel now will be remembered as an historic evening. Long live Rock’n’Roll and long live Ritchie Blackmore.

  11. Rune Olsen Says:

    Being an attendee on both German shows, and seeing most of the latter on web, I have to say the Rainbow was indeed rising fast. With two/three more weeks on the road bringing back more dynamics and helping them avoid errors this would be not just good but great! Only then a taping of the show would be justified. Will I buy the Blu-Ray? Of course!!! This is family business. Thanks for a really good and balanced review.

    • simon robinson Says:

      Yes it is a bit early to be taping shows, but to be fair as just about every note is already out there is some format, they might as well have their own version out there officially. Let’s face it, what wouldn’t we give for official recordings of the first three US Rainbow shows back in the day?

  12. Roberto souza Says:

    Perfectly right. Saturday night was an amazing performance of Ritchie & his kids. It was worth the costs I’ve spent to flew from Brazil. And I will be on the road if the ” umpredictable man” take a decision to do more.
    Nice to see so many Blckmore’s fans coming from all around the world, all at the Bullring at lunch time!
    Cheers to all RB fans!
    Roberto
    Brazil

  13. Martin Brennan Says:

    HIGH NOON, OH I’D SELL MY SOUL FOR WATER

    Having seen some of the video clips of the German Monsters of Rock gig, I’d be the first to admit that I had some concerns/misgivings about Ritchie’s return to the UK.

    Well, more fool me. Fitting really, that Blackers should choose the NEC as the venue for his first UK “rock” gig in 20 years. The NEC was the “beginning of the end” for MkII Purple – complete with flying water jugs. June 2016 was to be NO repeat performance.

    The “Rainbow” cast comprised Blackmore’s Night’s David Keith Bob Nouveau and Candice Night, Stratovarius Keyboard player Jens Johansson and relative unknown vocalist – Ronnie Romero.

    The setlist (see below) included a broad cross-section of Purple and Rainbow classics, which the band performed superbly. Special mention tho’ to Ronnie – who handled Gillan, Cov, Dio, Bonnet and Turner songs with commensurate ease. Some of those screams during Child In Time and Stargazer were perfect.

    The capacity crowd knew their part: From the responses in Catch The Rainbow, to the “Ooh Ooh Oohs” of Child In Time. Everyone played their part in a great night. A shout also for the lighting rig. It cerainly wasn’t the mega-rainbow of Dio’s days, but this arc allowed for subtle variations to suit the music coupled with the on-stage banks and spots, Child In Time, Spotlight Kid and Stargazer were given added edge.

    And, what about the Man in Black, himself? Well, amazing isn’t it, what happens when you surround yourself with people you trust and like. He played brilliantly – enjoying his solos and even a few occasions of interaction with the crowd. Hell or High Water, this wasn’t. If the old gunslinger was riding into town for one final HIGH NOON, then it’s safe to say he left Brum victorious – the ghosts of October 16th 1993 laid to rest in that rapid-fire shootout of Child In Time.

    It’s hard to complain about what was left out of the setlist. If we ALL had our own choices – they’d still be playing now, 8 hours later. There were a couple of really nice surprises; Soldier of Fortune and (the first encore) Burn. The latter showing that Ritchie can still do the high-octane stuff with no signs of any hinderance or limitation resultant from his hand surgery.

    And, what a way to finish the main set. Long Live Rock n Roll, Child In Time and the epic Stargazer. Black Night followed, but it was the preceding two that made my night.

    A genuinely great night out, God Bless you Ritchie for “missing the old stuff” just enough to make one last grandstand.

    SETLIST:
    Land of Hope & Glory/Over The Rainbow – Highway Star – Spotlight Kid – Mistreated – Since You Been Gone – Man On The Silver Mountain – Soldier of Fortune – Difficult To Cure – Catch The Rainbow – Perfect Strangers – Long Live Rock n Roll – Child In Time – Stargazer – Black Night (incl snippet of Woman From Tokyo)
    Encores: Burn – Smoke On The Water

  14. Kosh Says:

    Hello Simon, I was there along with my Brother and a lifelong friend on Saturday, and I agree with your fantastic review of the “occasion” as above. For me at 35 this was something I’d be waiting (praying) for since I was 15 or so – being a wee bit young to catch the Rainbow last time around. I’ve sat through 4 or 5 Blackmore’s Night gigs, left early from some, left frustrated at others, but I’ve also enjoyed one one or two… Overall Saturday was everything I’d hoped for and more. We discussed our feelings and expectations and went in with the idea of enjoying the moment, and not critically reviewing Ritchie’s every note. From Highway Star he played it safe, but well, very well. The gig built and built until Stargazer and Burn guaranteed the rapturous ovation the band and Ritchie deserved. I was left made up and somewhat emotional, as I suspect this will be the first and last time I’ll fork out to see him with the strat in hand. I also want to thank Ritchie, regardless of the financial reasons behind these gigs, as he gave the fans all he could. He was smiling and enjoying the moment, as were all 12000+ of the audience. He’s a legend for sure, and after this awful year of losing so many brilliant musicians I’m so glad he’s still with us! Lastly I want to offer my congratulations to the rest of the band, slight Spanish inflection aside Ronnie was astounding in his power and delivery of the whole back catalogue. As for the much maligned rhythm section (elsewhere on the web) – faultless and fluid in my book. Jens was perhaps a class apart, honouring Jon in particular with his performance and when needed helping Ritchie through some of those frenetic solos of yore!

    Long Live Ritchie and Long Live Rock and Roll!

    • simon robinson Says:

      I quite liked the way he rejigged Highway Star a bit, the changes worked musically I thought.

      • Kosh Says:

        I agree, I loved the whole show to be honest but I was most nervous re the opener… especially having heard the first run through in Germany – well I think he nailed it and played with the kind of composed precision required. Awesome stuff.

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