Genting Arena, Birmingham

25 June 2016

I tried really hard to avoid all mention of the shows in Germany last week—not easy in the Internet age—and almost entirely succeeded, coming to tonight's show with almost no knowledge of the set list, and no idea how well received the shows were by fans. Because there was a chance everybody had been disappointed. The man is 71, he hasn't played a full rock gig in 20 years, it's a new, untried band, and most importantly there was the sneaking suspicion that he was just doing this to pay the bills and his heart wasn't in it. I didn't want to hear that the whole thing was a disaster.

So I went in with an open mind, and with perhaps slightly lowered expectations. I didn't think it could be 1976 again; you'd have to be delusional to think that. All I knew is that I was going to see the best guitar player in the world play some of my favourite songs one more time, and as long as that's all I wanted then I didn't see how I could possibly be disappointed.

So, was I disappointed...?

Before I get to that, you'll have to forgive me for discussing the support band for a moment. I've followed Mostly Autumn for 16 years, they've been undisputedly my favourite modern band for all that time, and when I heard they were supporting Rainbow on this date it was like Christmas. Reduced to a four-piece band for some bizarre reason, they played a 40-minute set of mostly hard-rocking songs to a half-full hall, and I think they were as well received as any support band can expect to be. I loved the set, and I'm pretty sure most of the crowd was impressed. Set list, for those that know the band but weren't there: In For the Bite (weird choice, I thought), Deep in Borrowdale (unfortunate guitar tuning moment that killed the momentum slightly before the vocal climax—but the climax was worth waiting for), Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts (brave choice of soft piano ballad in that setting), Evergreen, and Heroes Never Die. Hmm. I've missed something. Oh well, never mind. No, wait, Drops of the Sun! Star of the show was Iain Jennnings, who covered the bass line on keyboards (why no bass player? beats me) as well as playing enough keyboard lines to fill in for the rest of the band (normally a second keyboard player, second guitarist, flautist, bass player, and two more lead/backing vocalists, for those who don't know the band). People who do know the band will have noticed the absence of the other half of the band, as the sound wasn't as rich and deep as we're used to (and it made me realise—taking nothing away from Iain's efforts tonight—how much Andy Smith adds on bass guitar, how "busy" his playing is). But I was very happy with the set, with how they sounded, and with the emotional kick I got out of seeing "my" band up there on Rainbow's stage.

So then a long build up to the main event, until Rainbow takes the stage to the sound of a Pomp and Circumstance intro tape, and Ritchie walks on just as Dorothy is telling Toto they're not in Kansas anymore, and he plays two perfect notes, "some—where"...and the band crashes in with the Over the Rainbow theme, and there's a rainbow on the stage behind him, an actual big giant lit-up rainbow came from out of nowhere, and, honestly, it's 1976 again, lowered expectations be damned.


Sorry, if you weren't there, I can't communicate the feeling. You'll be sitting there and picking apart how bad Highway Star sounds on youtube clips, but all I heard was:

He's playing HIGHWAY STAR! He opened the show with Highway Star, I can't believe it, and he's standing in front of a rainbow, and a little part of my mind is telling me the band's not 100% tight, and he's actually underplaying it, holding something back, but I honestly don't care. He's got the old tone, even if not the old fire, and that's what I'm here for.

The next song is Spotlight Kid, it's still a bit messy, and Ritchie still seems to be holding back. He's planted in the middle of the stage, not moving, and it's impossible to guess his mood. Maybe he's not inspired, maybe this is the best we'll get tonight, and that's ok, I'll still be happy, he sounds good even if not inspired.

Then it's Mistreated, and he wakes up, or maybe just warms up, and rolls into the most beautiful solo, and from here on everything is perfect, not just the "good enough" that I was half expecting, but perfect, as he fluidly switches back and forth between the crunching riff and melodic soloing, and he's not underplaying, or at least no more than he ever did (because why should he play the rhythm part when he's got a keyboard player to do that, right?). All the solos are shorter than they might have been in the old days, but they're still Ritchie Blackmore solos, and that's all that matters. He gets more animated, to the extent of tapping his foot and occasionally strolling across the stage. No he's not throwing himself around like a kid again, nor do we expect (or need) him to. But if you know him, and you watch him, then yes, he's happy I think. He's not just going through the motions, he's really into this. And it's obvious in his playing from here on.

And the revelation of the night is the new singer, Ronnie Romero, who has a really strong voice and has the presence of a natural-born frontman. He talks very little between songs, but within the songs he has the audience in the palm of his hand, judging every moment perfectly—whether it's exhorting us to make more noise, or just knowing when to shut up and let us sing the song for him. And his voice is phenomenal, you can hear Dio in it, but he handles the blues like Coverdale, he doesn't embarrass himself on the Gillan material, and his range and power when he opens up is incredible. He's a future super-star in the making (or would be, if this style of music was popular in this decade).

Ok, I'll try to get the set list in the right order. Since You Been Gone, played short and straight, and almost feeling like "filler" amongst all the heavyweights in the set. Then there's Man on the Silver Mountain, one of Ritchie's best riffs, and then...

A surprise, as Ritchie takes up an acoustic guitar, sits down on a stool, and plays Soldier of Fortune, a beautiful, beautiful version (and Romero sounds great). And should Ritchie be playing acoustic numbers at a Rainbow gig? Absolutely, yes he should, because this too is part of what Ritchie Blackmore does, and does better than anyone else, and anyone who only comes for the heavy metal riffs has clearly not been paying attention for the last 50 years. But I think it's safe to say that everybody in the crowd understands this; I've rarely felt such a great atmosphere in such a vast, soulless arena, so many people completely behind the band.

Catch the Rainbow. I don't know what to say. In my fantasy set lists for this gig, Catch the Rainbow was always at the top (well, let's say top two...), and it's just so good, well, maybe the guitar solo was 20 minutes shorter than I wanted it to be, but what we got was beautiful, and the arrangement is the right mix of power and subtlety with great vocal parts, just perfect.

Difficult to Cure (aka the last movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony), and in the middle of this Ritchie leaves the stage and lets his band take over. First, David Keith, who has been busy and powerful throughout the show, gives us a perfectly paced and well-structured drum solo and proves that he was the right choice for the band. Bob Nouveau begins a bass solo, but it doesn't quite work I think, until Jens Johansson joins in on keyboards and it turns into an instrumental jam that sounds really great, and then leaves us with Johannson alone to play a lengthy keyboard solo—I actually think he's been holding back throughout the show, but now he shows us what he can do, running through a variety of sounds and snippets of half-familiar tunes—and then Ritchie is back and they finish up Difficult to Cure.

Perfect Strangers comes next and if I'm totally honest I think (whispers because I'll get lynched) that other guy plays it more majestically, but I have no complaints at all about this version, and Ritchie is clearly into it, and getting more animated all the time.

And then

And then. Not on any of my fantasy set lists, not even a vague consideration, because I thought I would never hear this song again in my entire life, the greatest song that there has ever been, it's not introduced but we get it in the first three guitar notes and the crowd goes absolutely bonkers and sings it, yes, Romero shuts up and we all sing it, actually sing it. We must be insane.

Child in Time.

I've seen Ritchie Blackmore play a Child in Time guitar solo again.

There are some things you just can't some things that


Child in Time.

Oh my God.

I'm in tears again just writing these words. How could you all have

Child in Time.

I might have to stop the review here.




After Child in Time, Romero tells us, "That's all, I'm finished," and I'm not surprised, I think I am too, I'm completely wrung out of emotion, and it actually feels like that might be the end of the set (though I know we'll get Smoke in the encore), but, no it's not, it's straight in to the other top pick on my fantasy set list, but one I didn't honestly expect to hear: Stargazer. And what Child in Time is for Deep Purple, Stargazer is for Rainbow, it's the perfect song, it's the one everyone wants to hear, and it's more than we could wish for. It's all there: pounding drumming, Romero channelling Ronnie James Dio even down to identical phrasing, and Ritchie playing that solo.

Long Live Rock'n'Roll is almost an anti-climax, as is Black Night, but actually they work perfectly after the intensity of the last two songs, and I think it's superb set structuring: a couple of lightweight, feel-good favourites with extended crowd sing-alongs, and in the moment, in the context of the evening, they're exactly what is needed. And there's a beautiful bit of staging where the band simply walk off stage at the end of the set while we're still singing the Black Night riff, and with nobody left to conduct us we still sing it.

I'm expecting Smoke on the Water as an encore. You know he's going to play an encore tonight: it's not a forgone conclusion with Mr. moody, but you can see he's been in a great mood, and he must surely be able to feel the crowd atmosphere. I know he'll be back.

What I don't know is that he'll be back to play Burn! All my dreams are complete, and then some.

And then Smoke on the Water. In any other context, the greatest riff in the history of rock music. In the context of tonight, just one more riff from the man who wrote ALL the best ones.

Ok. That's all. I'm finished.