You may wonder why – after the release last year of the German gigs – we have yet another version of Ritchie's hard rock comeback? As we commented in our original review, it is a shame that the compilers didn't include the additional two tracks performed in the UK as a bonus. But here they are now, and – what d'ya know – the latest UK tour is imminent...
Rather than be considered a cynical marketing exercise, you could argue that this is for completists only and the anally retentive who want to compare and contrast with the German recording. And of course if you attended the Birmingham gig, it is a useful keepsake to line up alongside the already purchased "first take". With a fair amount of crowd singalong – as with the German gigs – this is more of a celebration than a serious rendition of former glories.
But, read the small print: "This is a soundboard recording. Every effort has been made to achieve optimum and uniform sound quality." The "soundboard" tag is really the clue to all of this, as the album has a much cleaner and less atmospheric sound than the previous release and indeed most live recordings.
As with many soundboard recordings it all sounds a bit flat and a tad lethargic – even if superior quality than most – and probably approximates more to what the band were hearing in their in-ear monitors. Even with a "clean" live recording it is possible to process the sound to approximate "what was heard on the night" by the audience but it seems no effort has been made in this direction. It also begs the question: why wasn't this historic UK gig recorded properly in the first place?
Is this worth it for the additional tracks? Well, in truth, we've all heard better, more frenetic versions of ‘Burn' not least from latter-day Glenn Hughes and Coverdale. And ‘Soldier Of Fortune' is again spoilt by crowd noise which presumably couldn't be mixed out.
On this version, does Ronnie Romero compromise the start of ‘Smoke On The Water' as he did in Germany? Yes, as he leads a crowd singalong of verse/chorus, and – furthermore – it's compounded by Blackmore's somewhat perfunctory picking and a convoluted intro. Oh dear, no doubt "Live In Birmingham 2017" awaits...
David Randall, Get Ready to Rock! 2017
There was much revelry among the parapets of Castle Blackmore when Squire Ritchie of Weston-super-Mare announced he was going to dust down Ye Olde Electric Mandolin and perform sonnets by Rainbow and Deep Purple. And lo, it came to pass with a batch of live shows in the UK and Germany last year.
To the surprise of many, said shows were well received, despite the presence of obscure back-up minstrels and a relatively unknown frontman in the form of Chilean crooner Ronald ‘Ronnie' Romero. But stripped of the excitement of the occasion, how does the man in black's Stratocaster comeback fare in plain old audio format? Pretty well, actually. Blackmore has lost none of his mojo and any fears that he might be taking the piss, as is hiswont, evaporate as soon he fires his opening salvo: an appropriately turbocharged version of Purple's Highway Star. Spine-tingling? More like spine-tasering!
Romero's vocals are a minor revelation, although the rhythm section is more cruise ship than battleship. But who cares? Against the odds, this is more celebration than abomination.
Geoff Barton, Louder Sound - May 19, 2017
RAINBOW • LIVE IN BIRMINGHAM 2016 (Eagle Records)
Billed as a "return to rock", and under the name RAINBOW, legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore tantalized his fans with three highly anticipated sold-out shows last summer. Admittedly financially motivated, Blackmore assembled a live band that featured current and past members of his folk/medieval outfit BLACKMORE'S NIGHT. The first two German performances were filmed with the highlights released on DVD as "Memories In Rock", and the audio of this third and final U.K. date, widely considered the strongest of the three shows, now being released as a double CD.
Since the last RAINBOW reincarnation, '95-'97, featuring the versatile Doogie White in the vocal position, there had been many rumors of a reunion with co-founder Ronnie Jame Dio. Sadly, that never materialized. Dio's death in 2010 would seem to exhaust all possibilities of seeing any version of RAINBOW, Blackmore being content pursuing the Renaissance-flavored direction of BLACKMORE'S NIGHT with his wife Candice Night. But the urge returned, and a vocalist was needed. The unpredictable Blackmore passed over both White and former RAINBOW/DEEP PURPLE pal Joe Lynn Turner for a wild-card choice: Chilean-born YouTube discovery Ronnie Romero.
Blackmore's unpredictability is well known. A sadistic practical joker to his bandmates, a nerve-racking terror to music journalists worldwide, a pilgrim-hatted madman and a walking contradiction who can't seem to decide if he has the biggest ego on earth or no ego at all, Blackmore is at risk to storm off the stage whenever he is performing, among other stunts.
And so here we are at the NEC in 2016. The last time Blackmore was here with PURPLE in '93—just weeks before ripping his visa up in front of the band and quitting for good—he baptized an annoying cameraman with a pitcher of water on stage, then soaked him with beer behind the amps for good measure. That was then and this is now.
Things started off in familiar fashion with the sound of Judy Garland's voice coming through the P.A.: "We must be over the rainbow, rainbow, rainbow," before the first non-RAINBOW twist comes with PURPLE's Mark II opener "Highway Star". It's an odd choice to be sure, but Romero's voice stands out immediately. Throughout the set, he comfortably handles the unenviable task of recreating the voices, and registers, of Ian Gillan, Dio, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Joe Lynn Turner and Graham Bonnet: nailing it. His sharp South American accent intact on almost every syllable. If nerves were an issue in front of a crowd this size, it didn't show.
The band, still in the development stage, performed mostly modestly. Drummer David Keith and bassist Bob Nouveau struggled to gel at times, possibly due to a non-rigorous rehearsal schedule, and song arrangements occasionally were tentative and endings awkward or abrupt. But these offenses were minor to the festive attendees who drank it all up and sang along impulsively.
Then there's Blackmore. If you show up for this sort of thing expecting him to kick a security guard or throw his guitar, well, you just have to wait, don't you? Inspiration can come from unexpected sources, and Blackmore has historically been content to lay back and listen for that opportunity. When it happens, it's the reason that everyone is there. Never a "safe" guitarist, Blackmore always searches for that new source of inspiration—even in a song that he's played hundreds of times before. This particular evening was no exception. Four months after finger surgery on his fretting hand, the fully recovered Blackmore displayed a deliberate and melodic phrasing to his guitar solos.
"Mistreated", originally a PURPLE song, perhaps got more mileage from the version from RAINBOW's 1977 double live album "On Stage". In fact, most of the Dio-era RAINBOW material presented here seems to use "On Stage" versions as a template. But "Mistreated" has a deliberate 1974 "Burn"-era feel, with Blackmore finding that sweet zone, and Romero rendering a Coverdale "California Jam" flashback, with crowd assist.
"Difficult to Cure", the instrumental title track from RAINBOW's 1981 album also worked well with this lineup. It supplied the intended old-school nostalgia, including a shredding keyboard solo from Jens Johansson, the only other non-BLACKMORE'S NIGHT alumni besides Romero. The drum/bass solo then progressed into a sort of bass and keyboard smash-up while Blackmore took a break.
"Catch the Rainbow", from the first album, kept the best part of the evening's momentum going. A tribute to the "On Stage" version. Elsewhere, fan favorite "Stargazer" starts off a little slow but gains steam showcasing background singers Candice Night and Lady Lynn, correctly introduced as Christina Skleros by Romero. A stout version of "Man on a Silver Mountain" along with PURPLE classics "Child in Time" and "Burn" kept the celebration going.
The verdict? It's a rough one. Longtime RAINBOW fans will surely have a lot to bitch about here: a setlist with too many DEEP PURPLE songs, a drummer who doesn't play like Cozy Powell or even Blackmore not using Marshall stacks—he hasn't since '93. Maybe the question is, what does Blackmore think about this? He has expressed surprise at the turnout for these shows. On this night, he encountered a packed Genting Arena with a collective gathering who appeared to know all the words to PURPLE's "Soldier of Fortune" from "Stormbringer"! That's a very hard-core fanbase. With another handful of RAINBOW shows this summer, including a return to Genting Arena, better performances could render this set obsolete. So, do you need this? Maybe not now, but someday you just might.
Dave VH, Blabbermouth 2017
RAINBOW • LIVE IN BIRMINGHAM 2016 (Eagle Records)
Now the complete '16 tour has been released on CD, this being the third, and final, date by last summer's reactivated Rainbow, with newcomer Ronnie Romero (Lords Of Black) behind the mic. Much like the earlier issued dual disc compilation, culled from the pair of June festival appearances, in Germany, these two CDs rely heavily on the Dio era of the band, as well as other Blackmore classics. That said, there was some disappointment with augmenting (dominating?) the setlist with non-Rainbow material, as that was the name advertised and the one fans undoubtedly hoped to see. What if Sting announced a Police reunion, only to predominately perform solo material? Sure, there's some fandom overlap, but it's not really the same. Only an abbreviated "Since You've Been Gone" comes from the Graham Bonnet days and "Spotlight Kid" (not "Stone Cold, nor "Street Of Dreams", both huge North American hits) from Joe Lynn Turner's tenure. Back home in England, meant an even greater emphasis on Deep Purple, including "Solider Of Fortune" and "Burn", as well as juggling the German running order, already stocked with five Purple gems.
While last November's release was also available as a concert DVD, there's precious little, in the way of visuals (and no liner notes), accompanying the Birmingham show: just four live photos, one with Candice Night (Blackmore's Night vocalist, who added backing vox here) barely visible in the background. The only other "known" player in the band was keyboardist Jens Johansson (Stratovarius, myriad more). Strange to hear a "new" voice handle tracks you've been listening to for 35+ years. That said, "Highway Star" is an energetic start (in the vein of historic opener "Kill The King", unfortunately absent this night). The aforementioned "Spotlight Kid" always struck me as a bit of pop, not Blackmore's best, but "Mistreated" gives both the Man In Black and new boy Romero the opportunity to strut their stuff.
Granted Blackmore is now a generation older, but the fire inherent in some of the originals is now reduced to merely perfunctory. Witness the synth-pop Bonnet track faring, by far, the worst of the old chestnuts. Maybe that's why it lasts only 2:49! In the hands of a novice (witness his banal stage banter) like Romero, Dio's signature "Man On A Silver Mountain" comes across flat. In fact, the new singer is better adapted to the slower Coverdale/Gillan (i.e. Deep Purple) material, but few could ever hold a candle to the late great Ronnie James Dio. After an acoustic run-through, "Soldier Of Fortune" proves to be Romero's calling card (far from a hard rock/metal tune), the crowd adding their voices along the way. The instrumental "Difficult To Cure" (aka Beethoven's 5th) gives the band a chance to jam, including a drum solo, bass and keyboard spotlights (all unnecessary). At 14:32, it's the longest rendition of the 15 offerings.
The second disc commences with keyboard laden "Perfect Strangers". Another song strongly associated with Dio, "Long Live Rock n Roll", sees Romero defer to the audience, for long stretches of the repetitive lyrics. "Child In Time" sees Romero increasingly stretch his upper register, with each scream. The back-to-back pairing of "Stargazer" (with its extended guitar break) and a cappella crowd begun "Black Night/Woman From Tokyo" is the highlight of Disc #2. A blistering (if vocally strained) "Burn" ends the proper set, returning for obligatory "Smoke On The Water", once again, audience singing first verse without any band accompaniment. When the instruments do kick in, they launch right into the second verse, Romero jazzed up, imparts a few leftover, "Burn" style caterwauls. Band is supposed to play another string of European dates, this June, so expect to see some more CDs (as well as continued vintage raids of the ‘70s tours) next year.
Mark Gromen, Brave Words 2017
RAINBOW • LIVE IN BIRMINGHAM 2016 (Eagle Records)
Last year, Ritchie Blackmore made a long awaited return to rock after years of only playing folky medieval music with his band Blackmore's night. He played a tiny handful of gigs in Europe and none elsewhere, with a new Rainbow lineup that featured an unknown singer, Ronnie Romero on vocals. The only UK date was in Birmingham on 25th June.
After the tour, a DVD was released from the German dates, and most of the songs on that were the songs they played in the UK, but there were some differences – the German shows included "16th century greensleeves" which wasn't played in the UK, and the UK show included "Burn" and "Soldier of fortune" that didn't get played in Germany, so till now fans who weren't at the Birmingham date haven't heard the new lineup play those songs.
Happily, ahead of the new tour dates announced for this month, a new live album is being released via Eagle records –"Live in Birmingham 2016". As the name suggests, it's the Birmingham show, and so fans can hear those two missing songs. More importantly, for those fans who were at the show it's a chance for us to enjoy the show again and again.
The sound quality is excellent, the setlist is a great mix of Deep Purple and Rainbow songs, and Blackmore shows that despite his advanced age he hasn't lost any of his guitar playing skills. The band sound great and I think Ronnie Romero does an excellent job of covering songs originally sung by some of the best vocalists in rock – such as Ian Gillan, Ronnie James Dio, and David Coverdale. That's a tough list of singers to try and follow but he does a great job.
A set that includes Deep Purple classics such as Highway star, Soldier of fortune, Perfect strangers, Child in Time, Black Night, Woman from Tokyo, Burn, and Smoke on the water was always going to appeal to Deep Purple fans, many of whom aren't old enough to have seen Deep Purple with Blackmore still in the band, and when you add in the Rainbow hits there is even more to enjoy. The only criticism from some fans was that they'd have preferred to hear more Rainbow songs and less Deep Purple ones on the basis that Deep Purple still tour and play many of those songs (even if it is without Blackmore) whereas this was their only chance to hear the Rainbow songs played live. It's a valid argument, and it'll be interesting to see if the set list for the new shows changes to include more Rainbow material. Either way the setlist on this show has plenty to appeal to Rainbow fans and Deep Purple fans.
It's a great album from a great show. Definitely one that's worth buying.
Ant May, Planet Mosh - June 4, 2017
RAINBOW • LIVE IN BIRMINGHAM 2016 (Eagle Records)
Finally, the moment all Ritchie Blackmore fans have been yearning for, a return to the hard rock arena for the Man in Black. Last year, Blackmore felt a need to revisit part of his legacy as one of the finest hard rock guitarists to ever grace the instrument. A new version of Rainbow was assembled and several one-off concerts were held in the UK and Europe.
Joining Blackmore was vocalist Ronnie Romero, drummer David Keith, bassist Bob Nouveau, keyboardist Jens Johanssen as well as Candice Night and Lady Lynn on backing vocals. This two-CD live set comes solely from the Birmingham show and contains material from almost all of the Rainbow records. Of course, to a lot of people, the brightest color in the Rainbow is Purple and Ritchie's contributions to that band are on full display in this concert.
The band starts things off on a fast pace on the first disc with a lively version of "Highway Star" where Johanssen shines on a ferocious organ solo and Ritchie does some tasty noodling. Romero definitely has a voice and with an edge to it sounds closer to Graham Bonnet in many cases.
"Spotlight Kids" keeps the pace going, setting up the more deliberate mood of "Mistreated" which features a lengthy Blackmore solo. The more radio-friendly "Since You've Been Gone" goes down well as does the very first Rainbow song, "Man on the Silver Mountain" where Romero recalls moments of Dio at times.
Romero sounds best on the absolutely gorgeous "Soldier of Fortune" where his voice fits the beautiful melody like a glove. The moment is mirrored by the equally impressive "Catch the Rainbow". The band gets a bit of a showcase with "Difficult to Cure" allowing each member to get some time in the spotlight (kids).
Disc two is stacked with Purple material. A very nice "Perfect Strangers", a restrained but powerful version of "Child in Time" and a well-received version of "Black Night" (with several lines from "Woman From Tokyo") delight the crowd. "Burn" is performed well but Romero doesn't sound in key for much of it. The mighty "Stargazer" and "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll" are both solid cuts, The show ends (of course) with the staple "Smoke on the Water" sending the fans home happy.
Altogether this is a good, if unspectacular, record. Perhaps since English is a second language to the Italian-born Romero is the reason for very little chatter in between songs or maybe he was just deferring to Blackmore but the concert comes off a little staid with the lack of interaction. And I hate to nit-pick on a legend but there was no fire behind Blackmore's playing. The material was played well but with no extra torque behind it which I expected after such a long time away from publicly playing this material.
At any rate, "Live in Birmingham 2016", is a great reminder of someone who set the standard for hard rock and heavy metal today with a truckload of riffs and anthems. Long live Ritchie Blackmore!!
Morley Seaver, Anti Music 2017