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Friday, August 26, 2011

Album Review: Rainbow - Live in Germany 1976

Rainbow - Live in Germany 1976
2011 Eagle Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

As we've come to learn through the passing of a legend, Ronnie James Dio enraptured his public like seldom few performers have, pick your genre. Since Dio has left us, a score of final days collaborative recordings and live documents have poured into the market and to this point, they've all been welcome. We just can't get enough of Ronnie, and that's appropriate for a man who gave himself to his fans and a man who defines the front position. Were there no such thing as Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio would forevermore be the king of metal. God help us when Halford and Bruce Dickinson pass on, because the realm will be sorely vacant without its proper lieges governing them.

Then again, Dio really is a sovereign lord of heavy metal and though he's not amongst us in a living sense, he continues to wail and whisper into the ears of those who love him. 'Nuff said.

In the case of Rainbow, however, there's more to the story than the enigmatic leadership of Dio on the mike. You're talking about Ritchie Blackmore's playground, an unchained smokehouse of creativity and freeform. Critics and fans alike have debated over the years which band Blackmore leaves his true legacy with, either Deep Purple or Rainbow. While his Purple years remain a blueprint for which all future heavy metal guitarists from Adrian Smith to Lita Ford to Yngwie Malmsteen and generations beyond aspire to, it's to be said Rainbow offered Blackmore's fans better insight into the person, not just the guitarist.

Another thing we've come to learn over the years is that Rainbow really kicked up a storm in Europe circa the mid seventies, well-focused upon Germany. We've already had numerous Rainbow live albums descend upon us over the years and a fair chunk of them originate from gigs belted out in Germany--most recently Live in Munich 1977 from a couple years ago.

Perhaps German rock fans of the day were more reverential of Ritchie's Blackmore's need to preen onstage than others, but it's evident Blackmore and his Rainbow horde summoned an uncanny energy from Germany that propelled some the band's greatest moments.

Live in Germany 1976 is, to this point, the most accurate representation of Rainbow at this halcyon time in its history. We say this because a lot of Rainbow live albums have been edited and pared down for economical reasons. Not so in this case. Here you have a double album featuring only eight songs, stretched to full elasticity by Blackmore, Dio, Cozy Powell, Jimmy Bain and Tony Carey, considered by most as the quintessential Rainbow lineup.

Consider that one of the songs tramped out through 16 minutes of agitated purging is Deep Purple's "Mistreated." You get the long-obvious impression Blackmore was out to prove something beyond his neoclassical and blues-hungry prowess. On the heels of Burn and Stormbringer, Blackmore's last Purple affiliations, there is a decided angst towards his former bandmates (which of course included then-newbies David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes) on Rainbow's rendition of "Mistreated." It comes off as venomous instead of slinky and seductive as the original track conveys and at 16 minutes. You can almost feel Blackmore deliver a thumb bite to his past by lingering on it and lingering on it in a somewhat reserved jam session before ripping "Mistreated" to pieces. What his audience must've beheld that night had to rival Blackmore's tirade at the California Jam in 1974.

And the same might be said of the Rainbow selections on Live in Germany 1976. Blackmore teases the crowd with a snaking thread of Deep Purple in the middle of his rockout section on "Man On the Silver Mountain" but otherwise, he distances himself far away from Deep Purple and even the reality of his gargantuan Rainbow stage, one would assume.

It might be said Ritchie Blackmore found his soul in Rainbow, while others might say he eventually lost his mind once lineups shifted and his Rainbow, Rising and Long Live Rock 'n Roll albums turned into closet classics for future metal freaks. When you're listening to Live in Germany 1976, you can well bet Blackmore tapped into his aura and set it free in the company of Dio, Bain, Carey and Powell. Somewhere, his invisible half was spiraling overtop, summoning otherworldly notes through prolonged solo sections that were probably forgotten by the next gig.

It's not just the fact "Kill the King" is the only song on this collection that clocks in at the tasteful five and a quarter minute mark--ironically a minute longer than the future 4:27 minute studio version appearing in 1978 on Long Live Rock 'n Roll. It might be better said that Live in Germany 1976 could carry the subtitle "Extended Versions" as Rainbow free-floats on elongated solo sections, improv and jam for much of the ride.

The fact three minute Rainbow songs such as "Still I'm Sad" and "Do You Close Your Eyes" check in at the improbable live intervals of 15:00 and 9:45 seems pretty damned wankerish. "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" hits a 7:50 mark, while the already long "Catch the Rainbow" and the immortal "Stargazer" are likewise jerked out towards fifteen minutes and more each.

Veteran listeners of Rainbow aren't going to think anything wrong about these long-haul trips. In fact, they'll likely picture themselves in the arena wherever they caught Rainbow and remember the good times. While many might've been stoned at the shows, it's to their chagrin the songs really were as dragged-out as they faintly remember them.

While more hurry-up-oriented audiences don't necessarily savor the opportunity to hear Ritchie Blackmore grease his frets for minutes on end, there is a historical element to his performances beyond the obvious. Seldom few bands beyond The Black Crowes, Phish and the Dave Matthews Band can jam with any kind of meaning. While Deep Purple, Santana and Canned Heat made jamming an art form, there was something nearly religious about Blackmore's six string incantations in Rainbow that's worth submitting yourself to. It's also fun when the rest of the band gets their cracks at soloing, particularly Cozy Powell, whose piledriven drumming is still astonishing thirty-plus years later.

Endpoint, Live in Germany 1976 is for the Rainbow connoisseur, as well as a devout Dio fan. Any opportunity to hear Ronnie rip into his audile canvas is something to step up to. It's only whether or not you have the fortitude to bear minutes long each of another master working his brushstrokes that determines what kind of listener you are. The thing with Rainbow is that Ritchie Blackmore originally intended it to be disciplined with the loose parameter of changing sections up or fusing new solos at will. This is why we excuse the outrageousness of Live in Germany 1976 and instead look upon it as a textbook study in spontaneous craftsmanship.

Rating: ****

1 comment:

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