Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow

Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany   June 18, 2016

On June the 18th I made the 6 hour drive from my home in the Netherlands to just outside Stuttgart in Germany to attend the long and eagerly awaited return of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. It has been 19 years since Ritchie played with a rock band, preferring to concentrate on the very successful Blackmore’s Night, as is his right. The usual social media frenzy ensued when he announced this tour and until the band line up was revealed, many observers reckoned on a familiar list of protagonists. They were proved wrong, but more of that later!

Of course before the main event, and because this was a festival, we had the rest of the bill to enjoy. First up was Thin Lizzy. Purists still argue that Lizzy have no relevance without Phil Lynott. However surely no one can argue the quality of the songs they have in their back catalogue; they must be heard by the latest generation of rock fan. Does this latest incarnation of the band do the music justice? Well in the main, yes they do. For their ‘Anniversary Shows’ (40 years since the release of ‘Jailbreak’ and 30 years since Phil departed) they have recruited a new rhythm section. From Aerosmith we got Tom Hamilton on bass and Judas Priest’s Scott Travis on drums. I have to say that although Scott does not ‘swing’ like Brian Downey, it was the best engine room the band have had since the original line up. Helped by a great sounding PA, the guys sounded big! The rest of the line up (for those who are not sure) is Scott Gorham (gtr), Damon Johnson (gtr), Darren Wharton (keys) and Ricky Warwick (vox and gtr). The set list was largely (and happily!) predictable except for a few gems such as ‘Killer on the Loose’ and the keyboard heavy ‘Angel of Death’ which were great to hear.

The band bask in the late afternoon sunshine and hammer through many numbers from the classic ‘Live and Dangerous’ album and score well with the enthusiastic, expectant and thankfully, dry German audience which numbers around 12,000. I would happily see Thin Lizzy on every tour; the music is timeless, classic and as stated earlier, deserves a quality group of individuals to do it justice. The credibility of any Lizzy line up will be ever debated but this legacy must live on. Of course it is natural to compare front men and Ricky is an admirable understudy to the much missed Phil Lynott. I just wish he would be more measured in his in between song audience address. He does tend to shout rather a lot (am I getting old?). A small negative in what was a great show.

After a short change over (during which time we had a man dressed as a woman singing oom-pah songs!?) we got Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. To most, this may seem like a strange choice for a support act on this bill. However, first consider that this band is massive in Germany and regularly sell out large venues as headliners and secondly, they are utterly sublime.

From the opener ‘Captain Bobby Stout’ thru classics such as ‘Martha’s Madman’, ‘Father of Day, Father of Night’, ‘For You’ and the obligatory ‘Blinded by the Light’ and ‘Davy’s on the Road Again’ this band showed that class is permanent; each a true master of their instrument and non-more so than vocalist Robert Hart who was on fire. The crowd went from a ‘metal sign’ slinging mob (for Thin Lizzy) to an attentive, appreciative and regularly dancing sea of smiles. The only criticism is that the set was too short, but I guess that is just a minor complaint; a thoroughly enjoyable set from a great band.

Just before 9pm and after a relatively short changeover a short classical interlude (Land of Hope & Glory) heralds the entrance from stage left of Mr Ritchie Blackmore. With trademark black attire and hat in place, the expectant crowd welcome an old friend. With the full seven piece band on stage we hear the immortal words “Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore”. Those two seconds of audio track was enough to send the crowd crazy; Rainbow are back! Joining RB on stage are vocalist Ronnie Romero, keyboardist Jens Johansson, drummer David Keith and bassist Bob Nouveau. In addition we have 2 female backing singers, one of which was Mrs Blackmore.

‘Highway Star’ is preceded by a short singalong, and then the band kick into the first verse; it is like a train has just left the station with 12,000 people on board. We are off. The sound is tremendous and the band immediately sounds tight and rehearsed (this contradicts reports from the previous (first) night). We soon find ourselves at the guitar solo in ‘Highway Star’ and Ritchie is in great form. His playing is a return to the 70’s, his guitar sound is powerful without being overly distorted and hence sounds clear and defined. I could swear I heard a collective sigh from the crowd as if to say “yeah, he’s still got it”….like anyone should have ever doubted it.

Next up we get ‘Spotlight Kid’ and it is apparent that, while this band may not have the power of previous Rainbow incarnations, the musicality remains and the songs sound fresh and more interesting. Bob Nouveau instantly adds an extra dimension and is far less straight up than a Glover or a Daisley. His approach to the music is quite fantastic.

Next we are straight into ‘Mistreated’ which was, for me, one of the highlights. Played impeccably and vocalist Ronnie Romero delivers a brilliant performance and already has the crowd in the palm of his hand. He has been called ‘Adam Lambert in sneakers’ but this guy is a great singer and frontman. He will spend the evening more than ably singing the Deep Purple tracks (of which we get six) and absolutely nailing the Rainbow tunes. The comparison with Ronnie James Dio is unavoidable and one that any singer would appreciate. Honestly, this guy is great.

‘16th Century Greensleeves’ starts with a funky guitar/vocal intro before the rest of the band come in. It is a great version with some lovely extended soloing from Ritchie and if it was possible to put all of the collective audience smiles together at this point, they would have reached Luxembourg.

A truncated version of ‘Since You Been Gone’ was both a surprising and welcome inclusion. It was slightly down tempo which (in my view) worked as it gave a little more breathing space for the band make it their own. From there we were into ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ and that opening riff in the key of ‘G’ from Ritchie had the immediate familiarity of an old pair of shoes; fantastic. Again the soloing was Ritchie at his best and I am beginning to run out of superlatives.

‘Difficult to Cure’ encompassed drum and keyboard solos which I guess are obligatory and welcome especially at festivals where toilets are scarce! In all seriousness this is the ‘marmite’ part of the show. I enjoy it and would have enjoyed it more had the people around me not insisted on spending the whole of the keyboard solo talking! Anyway…..

‘Perfect Strangers’ was the weak song of the set and the only negative from the evening. The vocals were not up the high standard that Romero had already set for himself and it somehow it didn’t work.

‘Catch the Rainbow’, ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’ were all delivered with intensity with some great playing from the whole band reinforcing (if it were needed) just how good the Rainbow back catalogue really is.

‘Child in Time’ must be every vocalist’s nightmare when it appears on a set list. To his credit Ronnie Romero did a great job and the up tempo middle part of the song was a joy to witness; again this is testament to a great band of musicians that had been assembled.

I guess we all could have guessed that ‘Black Night’ and ‘Smoke on the Water’ would make up the show’s finale (the latter being accompanied by fireworks) and whilst long-time fans of Mr Blackmore may have ‘Smoke overload’ it is fair to say that there really is only one way to bring the proceedings to an end.

So did it live up to the hype? Well I have to declare an interest here; I am a Blackmore fan and have been since I was a kid. In fact his influence on me goes further than my own guitar playing as my late mother swears I could frown before I could walk. That said, I did approach this gig without rose tinted glasses. I did, sadly, expect nothing but a lightweight nostalgia trip orchestrated by an old eccentric with only a passing historical interest in this genre music. I believed the doubters who could not see past the need for Ritchie to call up ex-members. I read too many opinions on social media. I even thought maybe, he was past it.

In reality I got to see the best gig of my life; yes, really I just wrote that. It wasn’t nostalgic at all. I didn’t watch this gig and spend my time making direct comparisons to all band line ups that came before. I took it at face value. Ritchie was inspirational; the band was brilliant; the song choice was (95%) spot on and the sound was perfect.

The other epiphany I had? Well the Rainbow material was far stronger than the Deep Purple songs…without question.

Here’s to next year’s Rainbow tour. Well one lives in hope!

© Ian Dunbar, Sound Clash
© Photo: Clemens Mitscher

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow

Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany   June 18, 2016

"I thought I'd just get back to playing the old songs one more time."

Hard to tell if he or his fans enjoyed the experience the most. Anyway, Ritchie Blackmore kept his word and, as he had told us in our last interview, he went back on stage proudly holding his Fender Stratocaster with a gigantic rainbow behind his shoulders.

For those who have forgotten, the last Ritchie's Blackmore's Rainbow show dates back to almost 20 years ago. The band was then headliner at the Danish Esbjerg Rock Festival where the bill featured Jerhro Tull, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Sweet and Dirty Deeds. While Japan was excited by the first turns of Blackmore's Night carillon, Ritchie had to face the anger of a frustrated crowd whom was denied of the inviolable "Smoke On The Water" by an outrageous curfew inflicted by the festival management.

Luckily this shortcoming was fixed in Stuttgart as soon as the first chords of "his monster" opened the one and only encore of the setlist.

Second night of the German Monsters Of Rock, and second to last show of this tour, the Bietingheim-Bissingen concert was anticipated by the negative comments made on the Loreley show. Despite the doubts cruelly insinuated by the criticism on the previous show, the drive to attend The Man In Black performance, in his original frame, was not diminished.

Once arrived at the venue, the traditional, and impeccable, German organization is more than welcoming. Free attended parking lots, just a few steps away from the arena, perfectly indicated itinerary, thorough safety checks at the entrance and multi-ethnic food stalls. There is no inconvenience to flag. The sound is perfect as well.

We are greeted by the Monsters Of Rock logo which dominates proud both the stage and the whole location. Although this time the only "monster of Rock" is Blackmore, such a symbol can still moves a hint of nostalgia.

Let's start from the last tracks by Thin Lizzy, second act out of the four listed in the bill. We unfortunately missed the Hans Werner Olm performance but he was playing on his own field. The view is impressive: the show went sold-out. Thin Lizzy definitely offered a captivating and dynamic act. It was a real shame how most of the public lacked of reactiveness as it was more interested in beer than in what was happening on stage. Luckily, the first rows roar was enough to move Ricky Warwick all-star band.

Then Manfred Mann's Earth Band stepped on stage cheered by the German audience, definitely more interest in them than in the previous act, as proved by the enthusiasm raised by Mick Rogers and the South-African keyboard player Manfred Mann. A triumph doubled by a perfect performance.

It's 8:57pm when the time everybody was waiting for finally comes: Ritchie Blackmore and the new Rainbow line-up conquer the stage.

To be honest, the start of "Highway Star" wasn't one of his best. The band was clearly out of time but a few notes sufficed for them to gain control of the situation. The scenic set-up is not stunning but it is still acceptable: two mega-screens at each side of the stage and a minimal modern-style rainbow made by colored LEDs part of an amazing light set-up.

The first round of applause and positive comments are all dedicated to "the perfect stranger" Ronnie Romero. The young Chilean singer, discovered by Blackmore, left the audience speechless thanks to a great vocal and stage performance. Romero was more than capable at filling the illustrious absents shoes. To tell the truth, at the time being, the feeling is that he would be able to eat to Joe Lynn Turner, Doogie White and Graham Bonnet for dinner. Anyway Romero has nothing less to offer than Ronnie James Dio and Ian Gillian as well. Hearing is believing.

The setlist is thrilling. We knew the show was going to last for two hours, not a minute more, and Blackmore selected his very best: six and eight songs from Deep Purple and Rainbow discography respectively. Nobody dares calling them covers: he owns the credit for this music, the tribute band is the other one.

Jens Johansson (Stratovarious) did very well at the keyboards too. More than once it seemed the scores he was given were even too simple for his amazing skills. Conversely, the performance of David Keith (Blackmore's Night) at the drums did not match the expectations. He seemed too constrained and unable to sustain the rhythm of a such fast concert, this risking to affect the performance of a bass guitarist as funky and expert as Bob Curiano. This would have never happened with Ian Paice or the departed Cozy Powell. And Ritchie would have never been forced to dictate the time for the whole show. Probably a more experienced drummer was required.

As far as Blackmore is concerned, we must point out that he is 71 years old, he has been suffering from arthrosis at his hands and he is recovering from a surgery to a finger of his right hand aimed to remove an excess of uric acid which prevented him from playing for a month. All this considered, he returned on stage in front of a crowd which has been longing for his old-school rock for almost 20 years. He is not a robot, he was evidently touched. Despite a few wrong notes, his performance was magnificent. Perhaps somebody was expecting pyrotechnics or Ritchie rotating the Stratocaster above his head as in the good old days but this wasn't the case. Nowadays, the one Blackmore stepped on stage lingering on the right to stare at the audience at first and then to catch the gaze of his band mates. He plays for himself and then for everybody else. And he makes choices. For his Fender he prefers the soft sound of Engl instead of a rough Marshall amplification. His solos were neat, free from overdrive, just with a hint of distortion. But still his solos, mostly improvised as usual. He prefers the members of the chorus, his wife Candice and Christina Lynn Skleros (Blackmore's Night) to be marginal to the main show, they were absolutely relevant for "Child in Time". In 2016, he wants Rainbow to be more elegant and less crude. Is this something for him to be blamed? We must admit he was slightly stiff for the first half of the show but from "Catch The Rainbow" on he loosen up and returned to be the Ritchie Blackmore we all know.

There is no reason to discuss each track individually: all the 14 songs selected are simply masterpieces of rock and the same amount was left out. In a few days Rainbow will play their last concert in Birmingham. And it may be the last one for good. The feeling is that with another ten shows played by this Rainbow line-up, the band could make history worldwide. And to the greatest guitarist of all time goes the credit for having found another marvelous singer. Today I'm confident that Rock'n'Roll still has a future thanks to Blackmore and Romero. We are looking forward to CD, DVD and Blue-Ray of this event because, I have almost forget to tell, video cameras were there to film the history of Rock.

"I think they are recording the show so I am hoping we don't play too many wrong notes as I haven't played these songs in 20 years" - Ritchie Blackmore

© Gaetano Loffredo / Costanza Colombo, Spazio Rock Italy
© Photos: Roberto Villani

Original Review in Italian Language: click here

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow

Loreley - Bietigheim Bissingen - Birmingham

When last fall it was announced that Ritchie Blackmore would play three 'reunion shows' with Rainbow one thing was clear for the writer: the agenda in June would be fully adapted to these three shows. Here we had indeed been waiting for twenty years. Once it was announced on the various social media there was busy discussion or Joe Lynn Turner, whether Graham Bonnet or Doogie White would pop up behind the microphone. Blackmore came up with one Ronnie Romero, an unknown Chilean from the band Lords Of Black. The big questions previously was therefore: how would this Romero do and - above all - would Ritchie Blackmore still have it in the fingers? Superfan Ludy Wetzl was there.


The Freilichtbühne, a beautiful outdoor amphitheater, located on a hill. Because all traffic has to go up on one single road and it does not go faster than walking, we miss in the real Aardschok tradition Thin Lizzy. At the last moment, Mr Blackmore himself apparently decreed that Manfred Mann's Earth Band must be moved a place up on the bill at the expense of Thin Lizzy. The site of the Freilichtbühne is turned into one big mud puddle and our eastern neighbors have not thought to throw down ramps or at least wood chips.

The prime location is changed into a mountain mud slide. About Manfred and his cronies I can be short: not Aardschok worthy. Moreover, the sound of the PA was so soft that it came barely above the clatter of raindrops. At half past ten finally it is so far: the intro tape of "Over The Rainbow" starts, the moment many have been waiting for twenty years. Opener "Highway Star" starts a bit more cautious rather than how we have the song in our memory. Also immediately noticeable drummer David Keith and bassist Bob Nouveau, both of the band Blackmore's Night, the two outsiders in our midst in this Rainbow lineup. Further there is Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) and two background singers, including Blackmore's wife Candice Night.

Keith and Nouveau are quite out of place. Carefully expressed: I've seen better rhythm sections. The set that follows is a balanced mix of Rainbow- and Deep Purple songs. The first time there are goose bumps is in the form of "Mistreated". Remarkably positive is that the songs from the Dio era are written perfectly for Ronnie Romero. Much more than several Deep Purple songs. Especially "Perfect Strangers" and "Black Night" are in my opinion not very good. Absolute highlight of the first day is "Stargazer", perhaps maybe the best made hard rock song ever . I never thought that after Ronnie James Dio anyone could sing this song so convincingly. If there are still doubters, Romero is the right man in the right place. Halfway through the inevitable encore "Smoke On The Water" we slink off. The game of singing in this song I've heard and seen too many times. After all, we still have a long way to go down the valley of the Loreley again.


With somewhat mixed feelings about the night before we drive on the German autobahn much further to the south to Bietigheim, near Stuttgart. The Loreley show, despite some goose bumps moments, still has not returned the feel as hoped. Is it because of the appalling weather conditions that we had to endure or was it the lesser good playing of Blackmore than expected - afterwards we heard from an informed source that he suffered a lot of cold fingers during the show. Most likely a combination of both.

Beforehand I looked with frown eyebrows at the location of today - an overpass ?! - But on arrival it appears to be a revelation. The sun is faintly shining and there are plenty of eating and drinking places without long waiting times. And that overpass, projecting high above the stage and where occasionally a train goes past, this just makes a beautiful backdrop. Now we have plenty of time and the first thing you notice is that virtually all merchandise is already sold out. Thin Lizzy we miss this time not and although there are more Black Star Riders on stage than Thin Lizzy, it can be described as a very pleasant best-of-show, also because of the great vocal performance by Ricky Warwick.

Manfred Mann accompanies us in the background while we are eating. At exactly nine o'clock there is what we have come for: Rainbow. Right after the opening salvo of "Highway Star" and "Spotlight Kid" we know this will be a very different evening than yesterday. Once again the sluggish rhythm section, we won't mention that again, but Jens Johanssen today is in top form and Blackmore himself, however, is much better than yesterday. but stealing the show is singer Ronnie Romero. An absolute world singer, especially like he shows in "Mistreated", "Catch The Rainbow" and Stargazer". Romero is not nervous, it seems, and his announcements sound much more confident. In the form of "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" there is also an additional number in the set.

Although it sound different than the live version that we know from the distant past, but who cares, this is also fine. Furthermore, the set list is no different to yesterday. The Rainbow songs "Man On The Silver Mountain", "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll", "Since You've Been Gone" and Deep Purple songs "Child In Time"," Perfect Strangers","Black Night" and "Smoke on the Water" all over again and also here Romero sings these songs much better than yesterday. The only sleep moment, it is totally unnecessary drums / keyboard duel in the middle of "Difficult to Cure". It does not disturb me though for years. Rather, nice bathroom break. This time we did not leave the site before the end of the show, but we enjoy all and we see how the band is cheered massive and long after the show. With a big smile on our face we walk back to the nearby hotel, assuming this was just the show of the year.


With the fantastic Bietigheim show still fresh in our memory we get on the plane for a quick visit to Birmingham, where today the third show is scheduled in the Genting Arena. This show was sold out in a matter of minutes, as opposed to the two German shows, for which ordinary tickets were still available at the box office. After mild irritation about having to wait almost an hour before it was proved to go inside we see to have gotten a perfect spot fortunately. Sight and sound leave nothing to be desired. About the setlist I will be brief. "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" is removed again. Not a disaster, because in its place is "Soldier Of Fortune" which came one of the highlights this evening, and again an excelling Ronnie Romero. A certain David Coverdale can suck a very big point to this! Highlight this evening is however the entire venue is singing "Child In Time" along from beginning to end. Wonderful to see and hear! In the encore we get alongside the usual "Smoke On The Water" also "Burn". Told from the wildly enthusiastic response from the audience, no one is sorry about it. Was I last week still assuming likely to have seen the show of the year. Tonight I got that one seen clearly.

Conclusion after the three shows: Ritchie Blackmore played well, but nothing more than that. As in the 'good old days' it certainly was not. No shame for someone who already has already seen 71 springs. His backing band he should have chosen more carefully. Not a bad word about Jens Johansson, but the rhythm section left it severely to be desired. Especially drummer David Keith lacked the power of, say, the late Cozy Powell. Only the way he destroyed the legendary drum intro of "Stargazer" each evening.... my goodness.

Major surprise of these three shows was without any discussion singer Ronnie Romero. That boy is going to be a star, which Blackmore acknowledged again very well. Do yourself a favor and go see him when he goes on tour with his own band Lords Of Black and will play Weert The Netherlands) in September. In case there will be a continuation on this short adventure, I have a tip for my big idol: replace please some Deep Purple songs by a pair of Rainbow classics, so the set list is no longer in balance with both bands. The name Rainbow would do more justice to this. The Rainbow banner after all, was clearly on the posters for all three shows. Moreover, Deep Purple is itself yet around, so plenty of options to go and see these songs elsewhere.

© Ludy Wetzl - Aardschok no 8/9, 2016