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Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow - Live in Birmingham 2016 (Album Review)

Tuesday, 27 June 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

Is this a joke?

Back in 1997, guitar god Ritchie Blackmore abandoned the world of rock ‘n’ roll in order to ply his trade in the pastoral fields of renaissance folk music with Blackmore’s Night. Fans feared they’d never again hear the guitarist cranking his Fender Stratocaster through a wall of amplifiers, performing the signature riffs and solos that had inspired scores of young guitarists.

So, when the enigmatic icon announced he was briefly returning to the genre to perform some Rainbow, as well as Deep Purple, classics over the course of four gigs, there was rejoicing at the second coming of a man who subsequently proved his ability to frustrate and baffle hadn’t withered with age.

Aside from Blackmore, there weren’t going to be any former Rainbow members in the new line-up. Granted, they always had a revolving door policy when it came to musicians, but this cheapened the reunion experience before a note was struck.

That said, Blackmore always surrounds himself with exceptionally talented individuals, so he wasn’t going to mess this up was he? Well, to be frank, yes.

This live document shows that the hired hands here are perfunctory players at best. Setting aside their screwing up the swaggering, precise instrumental break in Burn and a ghastly 12 minute medley that includes drum, bass and keyboard solos, we can hear throughout just how rote the cover band musicianship is.

The notable exception is lead singer Ronnie Romero. Described by Blackmore as sounding like “a cross between Ronnie James Dio and Freddie Mercury”, he boasts a great set of pipes, particularly during Mistreated and the Dio numbers, and is the only saving grace on one of the worst sounding non-bootleg live albums you’ll ever hear.

There is an apologetic disclaimer of sorts: “This is a soundboard recording.  Every effort has been made to achieve optimum and uniform sound quality.” We’d hate to hear it if they’d done a half-arsed job as there is a complete lack of atmosphere and excitement here. The mix is flatter than a pancake, with the drums, bass and vocals annoyingly loud and the keys inaudible at times, too pronounced at others.

Most bizarrely, Blackmore’s guitar – the one thing you want to hear – is often muffled, his riffs lacking power and presence and solos so quiet it sounds like he’s playing in a different room to the rest of the band. What we can hear, though, isn’t the awe-inspiring axe maestro of yesteryear. Highway Star’s dazzling lead has rarely sounded so lacklustre and, even worse, Smoke On The Water’s tension-building intro is amateurishly truncated and its usually iconic solo finds him noodling away like a sub-standard bedroom wannabe. Some may cite his 71 years as a factor, but compared to Michael Schenker’s fearsome and passionate playing on his recent live albums, it feels more like Blackmore’s heart isn’t it.

That is a huge shame, because Man on the Silver Mountain, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Stargazer are fantastic songs that shaped the lexicon of hard rock and metal and deserve to be played and presented much better than this. Far from capturing Blackmore’s triumphant rock ‘n’ roll resurrection, this live release is the equivalent of Jesus rising from the grave, promising to turn water into wine and serving up piss instead.

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