Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – ‘Live In Birmingham 2016’ (Eagle Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Friday, 07 July 2017 04:30

ritchieblackmoreliveinbirminghamcdHave you ever seen those YouTube videos where pop stars have pissed off the sound engineer and the latter has wrecked his revenge by releasing the undiluted audio feed, minus all the AutoTune and other fancy computer trickery that too many artists today use to make them sound far better than they really are? Well, unfortunately, that is one abiding similarity that can be drawn with this CD only release of Ritchie Blackmore’s hometown comeback gig of just slightly more than a year ago. Because, quite simply, the vocal performance by Ronnie Romero is woeful: I can think of no other way to put it…


Let’s step back a moment. As we all know, Blackmore had more or less retired from the rock business, deciding instead to retreat into the relative reclusivity of baroque/mediaeval/renaissance era in a bid to rediscover his inner self (or, as many argued, keep his wife happy). So, when it was announced that the notoriously temperamental maestro was to pick up an electric instrument again and play a handful of shows – two in Germany and one in England – there was understandably mucho excitement all ‘round, particularly from aging rockers hankering to relive their youths… A DVD containing highlights of the two German shows were released toward the end of last year – and, to be honest, it was an adequate, but not overwhelming, re-enactment of Blackmore’s history.


The shows, of course, did raise one big question. If this was the resurrection of Rainbow, just why the fuck were there so many Deep Purple songs included in the setlist? On this soundtrack alone, nine of the 15 tracks are drawn from the various incarnations of Purple… The other big question was why Blackmore chose a bunch of relative unknowns to support him and not to include any of his former bandmates in the reincarnation: the likes of Don Airey and Graham Bonnet are on record as saying that they would have loved to have been involved, but the ‘phone calls never came. After all, if Michael Schenker – one of the most notorious grudge holders in the business – could bury the hatchet with his former frontmen, couldn’t Ritchie be equally magnanimous? But, then, who are we to argue with superstar egos?


Now, there is no doubt that Blackmore can still play guitar, as he proved consistently on the release of the German shows and does so here again. Some of the old fire may have gone, and sometimes you get the feeling that he is counting up the pounds (and Euros) as quickly as the notes he is playing, but dammit, the flair and the ability is still there. And, by and large, the band act as a decent supporting cast: Jens Johanssen is worthy of particular mention, as the fairly can rattle the old Hammond and does his level best to evoke the spirit of Jon Lord on the likes of ‘Mistreated’ and ‘Child In Time’.


The big problem, however, as I mentioned at the top of the review, is Romero’s vocals. Now, don’t get me wrong: I think he has, under normal circumstances, a decent voice. I really enjoyed the last Lords Of Black album – but, I just can’t figure out what the absolute hell is going on with his performance here… Throughout the majority of the first part he is flat and not in same key as either Blackmore or any of the rest of the band: ‘Highway Star’ far from shines while ‘Spotlight Kid’ and ‘Since You Been Gone’ are very painful listens. In between, ‘Mistreated’ is just that, while the first of the Dio-era songs, ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’ is saved only by David Keith’s superbly taut drumming and Johanssen’s excellent keyboards.


The awfulness of the mix is heard in the lull between ‘Man…’ and ‘Soldier Of Fortune’, where a lone voice in the crowd can be clearly heard to refer to someone on the stage as a “motherfucker” (surely, they could have mixed that out): the song, apart from Romero being more off key than Coverdale these days (his attempted scream near the end is truly excruciating), is faithfully delivered. Having said that, he does a decent stab at 'Catch The Rainbow'; but, overall, it’s little wonder that the best moments are the instrumental interludes and jams. Blackmore’s first interjection comes in early, saving ‘Spotlight Kid’ from disappearing up its own arse, while the combination of various solos during ‘Difficult To Cure’ allows the supporting musicians to truly stretch themselves for the first time.


The second half of the set, which is dominated by Purple tunes, does wander a lot, but does again manage to show off the virtuosity of the band leader and his assembled cast, and is more pleasing to the ear, especially to diehard fans of the genius that Blackmore was able to produce, and cajole from those with whom he worked. I suppose it’s a great tribute that, given the calibre and the legacy with those with whom he has collaborated in the past, this group of relative (perfect) strangers have been able to step up to the mark and gain the master’s seal of approval.  But, maybe Ritchie shoud have checked his ego and done a Schenker...


‘Live In Birmingham 2016’ is out now.


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