Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow
Genting Arena, Birmingham, UK June 25, 2016
It was unfortunate that the first thing I noticed after entering the impressive Genting Arena for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow was a seriously poor collection of t-shirts at the merchandise stand. How difficult would it have been to produce a nice black shirt with the Rising cover on the front and the single NEC date splashed across the back for a smugness level of 11? Mind you, you did get a free Blackmore’s Night CD with every purchase, so there was that, I suppose.
Support act Mostly Autumn were up first, and shorn of a member or two, could realistically have been called Mostly Mostly Autumn for the evening. Hard rock with a celtic edge, singers Bryan Josh and Olivia Sparnenn sounded fantastic, but you felt they would have been far better suited to a much smaller stage.
And so to the only reason people were in attendance. Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Arriving on stage to a recording of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ the lengthy intro was completed by a sound clip of Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz followed by Blackmore playing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ while accompanied by the loud and rapturous applause of everyone inside the sold out venue.
Opening properly with Deep Purple‘s ‘Highway Star’, it was lift-off inside the arena as everyone sang along with relatively unknown vocalist Ronnie Romero at the top of their voices. However, even at such an early stage in proceedings it was clear that Ritchie was not on top form. Well, how could he be? He’s 71 with the onset of arthritis and recovering from a recent operation on one of his fingers. This wasn’t Blackmore at the height of his pomp, this was an ageing Blackmore doing his very best his fingers would allow. His guitar sound wasn’t great, he stayed pretty much rooted to the spot, steadfastly refusing to move to the other side of the stage even for a couple of minutes, and he appeared to be playing everything a little slower and a lot more staccato than the studio material everyone knows so well. But he was there. It’s a distinct possibility that Black Sabbath won’t sound their absolute best when they play their final show here next year, but you know it’ll go down as a classic regardless of their performance, and it was the same for Rainbow last night. Blackmore might not be able to let his fingers fly like they used to, restricting his solos to bluesy licks and scales, occasionally throwing in short bursts of speed when needed, but he still gave it his all and the gig will still be talked about for a long time to come.
If it wasn’t for Blackmore, vocalist Ronnie Romero might well have stolen the show last night. I’d never heard of him or his band Lords of Black until very recently, but if there’s any justice in this world then he’ll have a big future ahead of him. He belted out Ronnie James Dio‘s Rainbow tracks with complete authority and his voice was nothing short of spectacular. He handled the Ian Gillan stuff incredibly well too, showing the right amount of power and emotion, with only ‘Child In Time’ being a bridge too far for his ability as he let the two female backing singers take the ridiculously high notes for him while he continued in a lower register. Keyboard player Jens Johannson, stolen for this brief run from Finnish Power Metallers Stratovarius excelled in his role as Ritchie’s foil, playing off the guitar parts and taking over when he needed to. His playing even turned a predictably tedious drum solo into something actually worth listening to.
Mixing just about the right amount of Purple and Rainbow material, Blackmore always had the audience on side, and God help me, I’m sure I even saw him crack a smile on a couple of occasions. ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’, ‘Spotlight Kid’, ‘Mistreated’, ‘Perfect Strangers’, and ‘Soldier of Fortune’ were brilliant. ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’ turned into a massive sing along, and ‘Stargazer’ was phenomenal. However, ‘Black Night’ sounded a little twee, and you’d think the guy who wrote ‘Smoke on the Water’ would be able to play it in time. The few first bar was off by about half a beat and it took a few seconds to get back into it. ‘Since You Been Gone’ was another huge sing along and ‘Catch The Rainbow’ although played well, just wasn’t as good as when Opeth played it at Bloodstock Open Air shortly after Ronnie James Dio died. That version was a serious shivers down the spine moment, while last night it just lacked something special. Thankfully, the omission of the hugely overrated ‘I Surrender’ helped make up for this.
A massively enjoyable evening where everyone went home with daft grins, thoroughly happy that they’d seen someone called Ronnie sing Rainbow songs with Ritchie Fucking Blackmore on the stage.
© Gary Alcock - Ghost Cult Magazine