Live Review: Rainbow Live at the O2 Arena, Prague, Czech Republic 2018-04-20

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Tracks/track lengths:

  • Over the Rainbow (0:54)
  • Spotlight Kid (5:00)
  • I Surrender (3:56)
  • Temple of the King (5:39)
  • Since You Been Gone (3:03)
  • Man on the Silver Mountain (with “Woman from Tokyo” snippet) (6:22)
  • Street of Dreams (4:30)
  • Perfect Strangers (4:47)
  • Black Night (4:35)
  • Mistreated (10:32)
  • Difficult to Cure (with keyboard solo) (12:10)
  • Child in Time (12:26)
  • Stargazer (7:45)
  • Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll (6:10)
  • Smoke on the Water (3:40)
  • Burn (6:43)

Personnel:

  • Ritchie Blackmore – guitars
  • Ronnie Romero – vocals
  • Jens Johansson – keyboards
  • David Keith – drums
  • Bob Nouveau – bass
  • Candice Night – backing vocals
  • Lady Lynn – backing vocals

Analysis:

I’m very fond of Rainbow’s live output from the 1970s-early 80s. Ronnie Dio and Graham Bonnet had fantastic, infectious charisma. Ritchie Blackmore’s work circa 1976 was in my view the strongest of his career. Cozy Powell is my favorite rock drummer of all time, so enough said. Roger Glover and Don Airey’s presences are always welcome things, as they were for significant portions of the band’s heyday. I’ve greatly enjoyed other concerts from Rainbow’s past.

Imagine, then, my surprise when I heard that Ritchie Blackmore has asserted that the current lineup of the band is in fact the best. I decided to check out a recording for myself to see if these claims stand up.

Ritchie Blackmore has been very harsh on ex-bandmate Ian Gillan for his inability to sing as he used to. Regardless of the truth of that claim, those in glass houses ought not cast stones, and Blackmore is lucky if he is half the guitarist he once was. This is painfully clear once the band reaches “Spotlight Kid” or later “Difficult to Cure”. Even with accommodating tempos by David Keith, Blackmore is unable to handle the more demanding portions of the songs. On “Spotlight Kid”, Jens Johansson is left picking up the slack left by their fading frontman, which he attempts to do with mixed success.

In areas where he does less work, such as on “Difficult to Cure”, Blackmore’s issues are clearer. A clear wipeout can be heard heard later in the piece. A similarly-crawling “Temple of the King” actually gives him a moment in the middle to recover. He does alright in the middle sections of “Black Night” and “Mistreated” as well, soloing with little backing from Johansson. However, he is rather sparse throughout the concert and when he does take solos, they are quite simple. Perhaps he is tired. This is, after all, the fifth and final concert on their Memories in Rock 2018 tour.

As stated above, Blackmore has claimed that the current lineup of Rainbow is the best in their history. If this is because his wife is involved, it is a statement that could have been made for nice reasons. However, it’s wrong. One need look no further than Ronnie Romero to prove this. This new singer was apparently found by Candice Night on YouTube and selected that way, and it shows. He no doubt has good enthusiasm and energy, and does a fairly good job engaging with the audience.

The positive comments end there, however.  He seems to sometimes lack the vocal power of some of Blackmore’s former frontmen. Night and Lady Lynn have to support him throughout the concert, notably on “I Surrender” and “Perfect Strangers”. When they don’t, the vocal line gets rather lost, as in parts of “Black Night”.  “Street of Dreams”, meanwhile, is woefully out of key. His relatively weak command of English is also somewhat noticeable. I will let this go as they are performing largely in countries where English is not the first language. It is still a bit distracting for an English listener.

As for the rest of the band, well…they’re there. Bob Nouveau does not particularly distinguish himself either way. He’s decent throughout and a short bass solo during “Difficult to Cure” passes just fine. That being said, he is not incredible, and the shaky pass between him and Johansson detracts from it somewhat. David Keith, meanwhile, is a definite step down for the repertoire of Deep Purple and Rainbow, much of which has been written for some of the finest drummers rock ‘n roll. He does not always keep consistent tempos, nor does he do anything particularly original. He avoids any true wrecks, however, and does his best to keep things together, so I suppose those are things in his favor. Overall the rhythm section is a solid part of the band, holding things together.

Jens Johansson is the strongest member of the band, filling in when Blackmore has issues and keeping things chugging along. He may be no Jon Lord, Tony Carey, or Don Airey, but he is the one most deserving of admission into the Deep Purple-Rainbow rock ‘n roll family. Several of his solos are the high points of the night, particularly his work on the minimoog. His Hammond work is adequate as well, and he even pays homage to Lord’s and particularly Airey’s tendencies to work in classical quotes with one of his own in his one notable Hammond solo during “Difficult to Cure”.

Night and Lynn’s backing vocals, on the other hand, are all over the place. At some points, when Romero is having issues, they are a welcome shore-up. Other times, they add little, and yet other times, they are even distracting, as both women can get a bit shout-y at times. Also annoying is their tendency to sing along with the audience when most of the rest of the band has faded out. It makes the focus on the audience faded a bit.

What about unity? Well, the band as a whole has a few shaky spots, which is unfortunate given this is their third year together. The concert involves a few false starts and unpredictable tempos. The beginning of “Since You Been Gone”, for instance, is wildly out of tempo. Blackmore and Romero appear to only vaguely be together. The end of “Perfect Strangers” is, if put kindly, also a bit rough. They also appear to have a fairly thin connection to the audience at certain points, as in “Black Night”. When the audience gets singing, the band appears to have difficulty keeping control and stumbles a bit before getting back it. Solo spots are somewhat sloppily passed in between, as if the band is not 100% sure who is supposed to play when.

The repertoire hits all over Blackmore’s time with Rainbow, though a few Deep Purple hits appear as well. I will first cover the Rainbow songs. Ignoring anything the band did after Joe Lynn Turner’s tenure, this is firmly rooted in Rainbow’s classic work. At least one song off every album from Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow to Difficult to Cure makes an appearance. This portion of the concert is handled quite well from a nostalgia point of view. As this was the stated goal of this tour, well done.

Then we get to the Deep Purple segment of the tour. Interestingly, some of the songs are ones Purple’s current lineup chooses not to do, whether written in times where Ian Gillan was not singing (as with “Mistreated” or “Burn”) or ones the band proper no longer does, like “Child in Time”. With Glenn Hughes back on the tour circuit with many of these aforementioned songs, the novelty of seeing them with Rainbow has somewhat worn off. I am as of yet unfamiliar with Hughes’ current state, though given he asserts he is better than either Gillan or frontman David Coverdale, I will have to see for myself to compare properly.

As for “Child in Time”, it frankly should have stayed retired. Romero cannot really handle the crooning segments, and often drops out to let the audience have a moment. This is better when he attempts the higher sections, which are harsh and ugly, not to mention drowned out by Night on harmonies. Blackmore can barely handle his part either. This song’s time has truly passed for those originally involved in leading roles.

There are also songs which Purple still regularly performs: “Black Night”, “Perfect Strangers”, “Smoke on the Water”. Perhaps there is some advantage to hearing them performed with the original guitarist as opposed to the original drummer, bassist, and singer. However, given the comparative weakness of most of the rest of the band and the level of energy Purple can still muster even on their off nights, it’s altogether a poor choice. All songs are devoid of energy, while “Smoke on the Water” is awkwardly cut off. Not once do they manage to stand as equals.

There is, however, one high point. The arrangements of two songs are quite creative. The melding of “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Woman from Tokyo” is rather quirky and bizarre in terms of its synthesis, but points must be given for some creative daring. The arrangement of “Stargazer”, meanwhile is a genuinely creative thing with backing vocalists singing some of the parts once taken by keyboards. If you only have time for one song, that is the one to try. It is by no means good–the sluggish tempo robs it of much of its former energy and excitement–but their new way of playing it is kind of cool.

What about the recording itself? The sound is quite good. There are a few cuts and a few recordings omit beginnings, but it is still worth checking out if you are thinking of it. Moments in which the audience, still enthusiastic after all these years, are even a bit heartwarming. The sound falters with the bass a bit, but nothing ear-shattering.

In conclusion, if you want to see this band, be prepared for what you’re getting into. Blackmore’s heart appears no longer to be in rock ‘n roll, no matter what he says to the contrary. The rest of the band ranges from decent and attention-grabbing to decent but unimpressive. I may be at a disadvantage sitting in my dorm room listening to a recording rather than standing in a stadium with other enthusiastic people. It has, however, never proven a disadvantage to my enjoyment before.

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  • Edit on 2020-04-19: fixed formatting errors.
  • Edit on 2020-05-13: fixed grammatical/spelling errors.
  • Edit on 2020-08-20: optimized for new site

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