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