O2 Arena, London
In the two decades since Ritchie Blackmore’s very final departure from Deep Purple in 1993 the classic rock press have expressed exasperation, puzzlement and, at times, guarded admiration for the old contrarian’s pointy hatted medieval minstrel meanderings. Column inches have opined on the prospect of Purple reunions and whether he would stop diddling about with lutes and flutes and, for God’s sake, just play what he was put on God’s earth to play: meat and potatoes classic English hard rock. Some even speculated about a Rainbow comeback – maybe with Ronnie Dio, before he sadly passed away, or Joe Lyn Turner – with Ritchie reportedly claiming that he would never play hard rock again.
On Saturday night at the O2 Arena, the Man in Black (yes, he still dresses exactly as he did in 1977) led a 21st century ensemble called Rainbow in order to relive his past stargazing glories with the earlier Dio, Graham Bonnet and Turner line-ups. Basically, the maestro gave us a wonderfully fluid and melodic master-class on a Fender Stratocaster which was a delight to savour.
Fronted by a denim waist-coated Chilean Dio sound-alike, Ronnie Romero, the band played a greatest hits set, opening with “Spotlight Kid” and closing with “Smoke on the Water”. In between, fans were treated to Dio classics “Man on the Silver Mountain”, “Stargazer”, Long Live Rock and Roll” and “Catch the Rainbow”, the Graham Bonnet chart hits “Since You Been Gone” and “All Night Long”, tracks from Rainbow’s 1980s so-called Foreigner phase “I Surrender” and “Difficult to Cure”, as well as a few more Purple anthems “Child in Time”, “Mistreated”, “Burn” and “Black Night”.
The press have since reported that Ritchie’s guitar was very prominent in the overall mix. If this is true, I didn’t notice any particular lack of balance in the band’s sound which was as good as one could expect in the O2’s aircraft hangar auditorium. Anyway, I was there to hear Ritchie play Rainbow riffs and generally oblivious to what the other guys were doing.
Like me, mostly 50 plus males with plenty of disposable income to spend reliving late 1970s teenage glories, who not only knew all the riffs and lyrics, but every keyboard solo, bass run and cymbal beat. One chap only a few rows away struck a rather dramatic Christ on the cross pose during the whole of “Stargazer”. He repeated it for Blackmore’s reworking of Beethoven’s 9th on the instrumental “Difficult to Cure”. Folks, this classic hard rock stuff is not just music, it’s a belief system.
It made me think..
…about the first time I ever heard Rainbow. It was a track called “Tarot Woman” from the band’s peerless Rainbow Rising album, which a lad at school once played to me on a cassette player. I’ve been “Starstruck” about Ritchie Blackmore ever since.