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The status of Rainbow as one of the most challenging British heavy metal acts was consolidated by the mid-70’s with a spectacular record, Rising. Blackmore & co. demonstrated their potential and inspiration creating an own epic sound that influenced following subgenres as speed & power metal. Times definitely changed for classic rock, most standards were getting predictable and exhausted, inspiration escaped from most legendary groups as the changes in the scene demanded straighter heavier music. These guys along with Scorpions and Judas Priest determined the concept of the renewed heavy metal of the 80’s, though what made Ritchie’s project different from those 2 was the incredible progression and perfectionism of their live performances. On Stage reflects the extraordinary talent of the group with no studio tricks or overdubs, offering absolutely surprising versions of their classics which doesn’t sound much like the studio work.
The group attacks hard from the very beginning with “Kill The King”, the most fierce and violent of the set-list, the pioneer thrashy cut that features Blackmore’s most relentless riffing and Cozy’s double bass-drum kicks combined with inevitable sophistication and harmonies, Dio’s voice is totally powerful and astonishing as well. That composition is pure energy and aggression; it clearly revealed new elements for the genre, more intense speed and insistent loose riffs that sound amazingly harsh on stage. Although you’d better not expect any other like that, the concise straight configuration of that killer song has nothing to do with the general predilection of Ritchie for intricate arrangements, melody and alternative structures that deny the studio schemes. “Man On The Silver Mountain” for instance is 6 minutes longer than the album version, interpolating a casual bluesy section and a superb vocal solo with Ronnie at his best, which I’m sure none of the fans expected, So Ritchie refuses to execute the music exactly as we heard it before on the record, repeating the same patterns is out of question. Elements as incredible jams, impossible improvisation, thousands of classical & baroque licks, harmonies and pickin’ can be found during the whole recording, on “Still I’m Sad” or “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” for instance, which are configured distinctly, incorporating new riffs and extended instrumental passages of admirable skill and inventiveness, performed here with greater energy and power, generally more energetic and vigorous. The Deep Purple cover “Mistreated” and “Catch The Rainbow” are quieter, truly touching with Dio’s voice really sweet, other times tortured and harsh in his versatile performance while the Man In Black makes use of his trademark whispering lyrical lines in the background, simply charming.
All those fans who were familiar with the epic complicated performances of Deep Purple might expected all those massive changes and song-structure modifications but the remarkable originality and innovation are still surprising. Who could predict all those exquisite arrangements, the superb pickin’ on the diverse lengthy instrumental sections or compositions that on the studio were executed in no longer than 4 or 5 minutes mostly easily reaching 10 here! So this is real art and virtuosism, not easy listening music or radio pop straight songs, you find here something completely different from the studio records, 70’s live gigs were so fascinating and ambitious. Even though the audience started demanding heavier simpler music, Ritchie would never renounce to complexity. Certainly, Rainbow reach a higher level of musicianship on stage, avoiding the limitations of the studio, they can perform without restrictions and honestly prove their true abilities, check out the Carey’s keyboard solo on the final track, the impressive work of Dio on those vocal solos or the precise powerful drumming of Powell, they didn’t have the possibility to develop such skills on 4 minute studio numbers. The climax of the show is also special; Tony’s keyboards define a stratospheric atmosphere that constantly accompanies Blackmore’s stunning lines ideally, playing vivid harmonies in total synchronization. That’s not the same way Jon Lord played his Hammond organ parts, Carey‘s texture is more modern and his methodology different, so you see the Man In Black never intended to emulate or copy the characteristic Purple patterns, he’s presenting a new sound and an own pattern with a more notable classical music reminiscence, specially. And luckily the sound quality of those Japanese tapes is clean, well-engineered with proper balance between instruments, even though it is said the band had problems on that aspect due to the ambitious stage design, which featured a colorful huge rainbow in the back, it didn’t affect these recordings at least.
Here’s another amazing album to include in the huge list of fascinating live recordings Blackmore took part on during his long career. The endless catalog of concert albums of Deep Purple and the many of Rainbow Dio years (Live In Germany 1976, Deutschland Tournee 1976, Live In Munich 1977 or Live In Düsseldorf 1976) is justified, each one is offering something special, preserving the outstanding talent and stunning creativity of this guy. On Stage remains as one of the most splendorous, featuring the most solid line-up this band ever had, though omitting huge classics the fans would’ve loved to hear (No “Stargazer”!?). However, the set-list is consistent enough to satisfy, just listen to the enthusiastic reaction of the crowd at the end of the show, it speaks for itself.
This, Rainbow's first live foray onto vinyl, is a mixed bag of sorts. Recorded after Rainbow had released only two albums, On Stage indeed captures some, but not all of the power and majesty that was Rainbow, 1977.
The barnstorming rocker Kill The King first appeared here, before the studio version on Long Live Rock and Roll. The keyboards are a nice touch, and the drums totally kick your ass, but at times there's no guitar! The guitar is buried deep within the mix, only appearing prominently during certain times and during solos. Nevertheless, an essential tune.
Next we have a medley of Man on the Silver Mountain (solid), a "Blues" (okay, kind of pointless), and Starstruck, again not bad but I wish they would have included the other "Star" song, namely Stargazer.
Catch the Rainbow and Mistreated, a Rainbow and Coverdale-era-Purple song respectively, are both long and self-indugent. This can be good or bad, depending on how much you like hearing Ritchie Blackmore play guitar solos. Personally I wish they would have trimmed these down a bit.
Then, from the debut album Sixteenth Century Greensleeves and Still I'm Sad (Yardbirds cover), two songs I always kinda liked, but I mean, come on! A cover tune on a live album, when there's a handful of other killer tunes they could have included? Eh.
Anyway, this really is a fairly decent live platter. However, if you aren't familiar with Rainbow I would recommend the first album or Rising.
I usually dislike live albums. Why? Because the production is usually worse than on the studio albums, the band plays the same songs the same way, so what you usually get is the same as on the studio albums but worse. There are exceptions of course. This is one of the best live albums ever recorded. The production is very good (mine has the words 'Rainbow remasters' printed on it). Produced by Martin Birch. Sounds familiar? Martin Birch was responsible for much of Maiden's production.
So why should you have this record? The song Catch The Rainbow, Sixteenth Century Greensleeves and Still I'm Sad are better than the versions found on the Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. That's one reason. Another is the song Mistreated. That song can't be found on the other albums. Let's take a closer look on the album. While it only has 6 songs it plays for more than one hour.
It begins with a cool intro, a small portion from the movie "Wizard Of Oz" which is merged with the song Kill The King (later released on the 3rd studio album). While it's a great song, it's not better live, I prefer the studio version.
Continues an excellent 11:15 long medley with the songs Man On The Silver Mountain and Starstruck, another two classics with other words. Between the songs there's a nice blues section that adds to the feeling, the songs and the blues part is merged in a perfect way, with a short pause between the blues and Starstruck, which by the way is very different from the original, due to some parts with more or less only the vocals.
Follows an upgraded version of Catch The Rainbow. The song is 15:36 compared to the originals' 6:36. Some might think that this is just a prolonged version of the same song. Truth is that the live version builds up the atmosphere a lot with long calm guitar parts. I never feel that it would become boring. While it's basically the same song, the original is more compact. Here it feels like the song has the room to become what it was meant to be, an epic masterpiece.
Mistreated is the next song in line. A classic heavy ballad with long calm parts building up the atmosphere. Pure excellence for 13:07! I don't think there even exists any release with this song not performed live.
Sixteenth Century Greensleeves is almost like another song, if you compare this with the version found on the debut. 3:29 has become 7:37. So, what's the difference? First of all, it has a calm two and a half minute long guitar intro. There's so much more emotions here than in the debut!
Still I'm Sad is the last song on the album. It plays for 11:05 compared to the originals' 3:53. More of the great stuff by Blackmore and Dio with other words!
Highlights: Catch The Rainbow, Mistreated, Sixteenth Century Greensleeves and Still I'm Sad