When I first heard the original Rainbow albums back in the ‘70s, I thought Richie Blackmore’s new group was doing a better job of carrying on the classic Deep Purple sound than what Purple itself was doing without him. The new re-issue of Rainbow’s Live in Germany, recorded in 1976 but not released until 1991, reminds me of why I came to this conclusion.
After Blackmore jumped the Deep Purple ship in 1974, Rainbow was essentially intended to be a backing band for Blackmore with rotating members during its short run. Bassist Jimmy Bain and keyboardist Tony Carey had joined for the second album, Rising, and are featured on this live set, but most of the selections are from the 1975 debut LP, appropriately titled Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow. However, two gents made this incarnation of Rainbow almost an all-star congregation. For example, drummer Cozy Powell—the only other member to appear on all of Rainbow’s studio releases–is on hand, having co-written several tracks for this live show. At this time Powell was in between stints with Jeff Beck, Emerson, Lake & Powell, and Black Sabbath.
The other prime contributor to Rainbow was vocalist Ronnie James Dio, lyricist for all the band’s original material. He was something of a cross between Deep Purple’s first two leads—the ballsy, bluesy Rod Evans (singer of “Hush” and “Kentucky Woman”) and the more theatrical Ian Gillan. While Dio didn’t have the range of Gillan—especially the high notes—he had the power and delivery to offset Blackmore’s heavy guitar solos and driving rhythms.
As demonstrated in this concert, Dio’s presence is what makes Rainbow more than a Blackmore solo project with supporting players. To repeat an oft-used adjective, Dio gives his lyrics a magisterial presence, and how could he help it with songs like “Kill the King,” “Man of the Silver Mountain,” and “16th Century Greensleeves” with a melody allegedly composed by Henry VIII? “Mistreated,” a Deep Purple cover written by Blackmore and David Coverdale, would have been just another example of a guitar god workout if not for the Dio/Blackmore vocal and guitar exchanges echoing what Blackmore and Gillan had done back in the day. This isn’t to say Blackmore isn’t the star of this program. For example, paying homage to another master of the fretboard, “Catch the Rainbow” begins like a re-imagining of “Little Wing,” perhaps a statement from Blackmore addressing many other guitarists championed as being rock royalty: “Hey fellas, look over here! You’re forgetting someone! Remember ‘Space Truckin’’ and ‘My Woman From Tokyo’?”
Opening disc two, “Man of the Silver Mountain” is as Deep Purplish as one can ask for. The track is the album’s first band showpiece, with full-throated vocals and full-bodied organ work from Carey. With strong nods to Rick Wakeman, Carey also gets to shine on organ synthesizer on the next track, “Stargazer,” as well as on “Still I’m Sad,” a re-working of the Yardbirds hit. The original studio Rainbow recording was an instrumental; for the stage, Dio sings the lyrics with a pumped-up pace, and we get an extended drum solo from Powell to boot. It serves as a great finale for the show, followed by a rather lackluster encore of “Do You Close Your Eyes?” Well, not every rocker can be a jewel.
In the main, disc one of this concert is a good warmup for what is to come, with Blackmore pulling out all the stops and tricks to be as dazzling as an axeman can get. Disc two is the main course, with all band members called on to demonstrate that rock bombast and fireworks are more than one man and a touring ensemble. Rainbow could be a great band when the spotlight widened to include all the musicianship from some of the best in the business. Gratefully, this performance keeps this short-lived unit alive for listeners who remember when and those who would have loved to be there. Now, you too can go somewhere over the rainbow . . .