Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Genting Arena, Birmingham, 25/06/16

When Ritchie Blackmore announced he was forming a new incarnation of Rainbow for 3 shows, his first hard rock performances for over 20 years, he admitted it was primarily for the fans’ benefit; while he’s made a happy career out of playing Rennaissance-folk rock with his wife Candice Night in Blackmore’s Night, his status as a rock legend is primarily based on his genre-defining work as a founding member of both Deep Purple and Rainbow. Fans have come to Birmingham tonight from all over the world though (the other 2 shows last week were both in Germany), so this can’t afford to be just another tired nostalgia show.

Consisting of Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen/Stratovarius) on keyboards, David Keith and Bob Nouveau (both of Blackmore’s Night) on drums and bass respectively, and relative unknown Ronnie Romero (originally from Chile, he fronts the Spanish band Lords of Black) on lead vocals, this incarnation displays a chemistry that you’d expect of musicians who’ve been together for years, rather than for just a handful of shows. They position themselves compactly on stage (a la the cover of Deep Purple’s seminal live album Made in Japan) and no one moves around much throughout the show; now aged 71, Ritchie Blackmore opts to perform far less Pete Townshend-esque acrobatics than he did in his earlier days! This hardly matters though, nor does the lack of video screens; the 5 men on stage (plus 2 female backing singers, including Candice Night) might look like dots from the back of the cavernous Genting Arena but the classic Rainbow arch lighting rig, a much welcomed nod to previous Rainbow shows, provides an impressive visual spectacle nonetheless.

While it’s no doubt an obvious move for promotional/marketing reasons, a look at tonight’s setlist (see below) does make you wonder why the “Rainbow” name was chosen for the band; Deep Purple songs outnumber those by Blackmore’s other band. It does mean that those fans who were expecting more of their favourite Rainbow songs (there are plenty of calls for “Kill the King” from Long Live Rock & Roll for instance) might be somewhat disappointed. In practice though, songs by both bands are perfectly performed and enthusiastically received, with seemingly every single one of the 10,000-plus fans here tonight in fine voice; Ronnie Romero doesn’t even need to bother singing much of “Child in Time” at all, as he is thoroughly drowned out in what is undoubtedly one of the most memorable live music moments I’ve ever experienced. The bits where the crowd does his job for him aside though, Romero’s performance tonight must be singled out for particular praise. He has the task of handling the work of 5 respected, but very different, singers but luckily he has the vocal range and stamina to pull it off with ease. Whether it’s David Coverdale-style chest-bursting on “Burn” or soulful Ronnie James Dio-esque crooning on “Catch the Rainbow”, Ronnie Romero’s rich tenor voice is well-suited to the task. Ritchie Blackmore said that, when he announced Romero as Rainbow’s latest singer, he hoped he could introduce a new star to the world; based on tonight’s performance, he’s done just that.

I only really have a couple of small pieces of criticism to make about this show. Blackmore only ever intended to form this incarnation of Rainbow for these 3 shows; this is not a well-oiled production and that does show in places. While the sound quality in the Genting Arena is excellent, Blackmore’s guitar does not come through clearly at times; maybe decades of concentrating on acoustic, rather than electric, music has something to do with this? Moreover, while the band manages to cram a lot into 2 hours tonight, they could have trimmed a bit of time off the title track from Difficult to Cure (the instrumental one that’s essentially a rock version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”). If the solo section in the middle was a bit shorter, they could have found space for another song or two. But hey, tonight’s all about reliving the glory days of 70s and 80s arena rock; if you can’t have a gratuitous instrumental section, what’s the bloody point!?

As the end notes of “Smoke on the Water” are still ringing throughout the arena, I doubt anyone’s left tonight with any real disappointment. We came to see one of rock’s greatest musicians and most enigmatic characters play timeless songs to loyal fans, and no one can say that neither Ritchie Blackmore nor the rest of the band failed to deliver. It remains to be seen whether more shows (or maybe a new album?) will follow tonight but the signs are promising if they do. The rainbow has risen again, shining as bright as ever.

Verdict: 9/10

Setlist

  1. Over the Rainbow
  2. Highway Star
  3. Spotlight Kid
  4. Mistreated
  5. Since You Been Gone
  6. Man on the Silver Mountain
  7. Soldier of Fortune
  8. Difficult to Cure (with Drum, Bass and Keyboard solos)
  9. Catch the Rainbow
  10. Perfect Strangers
  11. Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll
  12. Child in Time
  13. Stargazer
  14. Black Night (with Woman From Tokyo excerpt)

Encore

  1. Burn
  2. Smoke on the Water

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Volbeat – Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie

2016, Vertigo

First things first, Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie is definitely the best album title I’ve heard so far this year. It neatly encapsulates Volbeat’s upbeat attitude and general modus operandi; these Danes have spent over a decade fusing together the best bits of old school rock ‘n’ roll and European metal into a loud but accessible sound that leaves their listeners thoroughly unable to sit still.

Seal the Deal… is Volbeat’s 6th studio album and sees them at the cusp of superstardom. They’ve long been chart-toppers and festival-headliners in their native Denmark and other European territories, but it’s only in the past few years that they’ve become anywhere near that popular in the UK or USA too. It is plainly clear from listening to Seal the Deal… that Volbeat are attempting to appeal to a mainstream rock audience here, though it’s less clear whether this album will adequately cater to many long-term fans’ tastes…

A big part of Volbeat’s appeal is their ability to simultaneously be punishingly heavy and infectiously catchy; it’s a formula that’s generally pleased die-hard metal fans and mainstream rockers in equal measure thus far. What makes Seal the Deal… something of a let-down compared to previous albums though is that they’ve not quite got the balance right this time around. Many of the 13 tracks here just don’t have the same grit, bite and groove that characterise many of Volbeat’s most popular tunes. Tracks like “Let it Burn” and “Mary Jane Kelly” are fairly forgettable attempts at pop-punk accessibility; it’s hard to believe they were written by the same band that made “Mr & Mrs Ness” and “Hallelujah Goat”! A cover of “Rebound”, originally by US pop-punk band Teenage Bottlerocket, is also a mistake as it is so incongruous compared to Volbeat’s usual style. In all fairness though, this lighter approach does work in places: “Black Rose” is suitably catchy with an effective guest spot from Canadian garage rocker Danko Jones; he and Michael Poulsen intertwine nicely to create a decent slab of modern punk rock.

There are thankfully several other tracks though that are more the sort of fare one would expect from Volbeat. Opening track and lead single, “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown” may be quite simplistic musically, but it has the makings of a standard, catchy Volbeat anthem, with its call-and-response vocal and guitar interplay bearing a passing resemblance to Nickelback’s “Burn it to the Ground”. “The Gates of Babylon” is not a Rainbow cover, though there are definitely hints of Ritchie Blackmore in the guitar melodies; it’s probably the most technical song on the album, with its mythological lyrics making it seem like a more upbeat version of Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave”. Other highlights include the Georgia Satellites cover “Battleship Chains”, which showcases Volbeat’s rockabilly influences with its catchy chorus and use of slide guitar, and the title track “Seal the Deal”, a great up-tempo hard-rocker with huge riffs and solos aplenty; it makes you wonder why there are so few great riffs throughout the rest of the album? The album thankfully ends on a strong, heavy note with “The Loa’s Crossroad”, which is bolstered by a great chorus and plenty of old school metal elements a la Metallica, Rainbow, etc.

On Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie, we get to see both the light and heavy sides of Volbeat but the two elements do not dovetail together as effectively as they’ve often done in the past. On many tracks, mainstream rock and pop-punk elements are too prominent at the expense of more traditional hard rock and metal parts, which will inevitably displease many long-term fans. Moreover, several throwaway filler tracks make this album seem somewhat longer than its 52 minutes.

Nevertheless, the quality of many tracks here and the general competency of the band’s playing stop this from being a bad album. Volbeat could potentially usurp Foo Fighters’ crown as the world’s premier mainstream rock band but more consistent songwriting, as well as maintaining their signature sound, will be required in future in order to comprehensively please old and new fans alike.

Verdict: 7/10

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